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After communism collapsed in Europe and Germany was reunited, many people in the former West Germany saw themselves as being on the right side of history. Many people in the former East Germany wanted to forget their communist past. Now more than 25 years later, a debate over a statue of one of communism's founding fathers, Karl Marx, is dividing a city in western Germany. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Trier.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS)
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: There's a saying that in Trier, it's either raining, or the church bells are ringing. Locals were probably saying the same thing 200 years ago when Karl Marx, author of "The Communist Manifesto," was born in this picturesque town near the French border. Conservative and Catholic, Trier has long had an ambivalent view of its most famous son, a radical revolutionary born into a Jewish family. But earlier this month, the city overwhelmingly voted to put up a 20-foot statue of Marx for the bicentennial of his birth next year.
WOLFRAM LEIBE: (Speaking German).
KIM: That's Trier's mayor, Wolfram Leibe. He says Karl Marx can't be held responsible for the perversion of his ideas after his death. Leibe says Marx didn't commit any crimes or atrocities. He was a philosopher.
LEIBE: (Speaking German).
KIM: Reiner Marz, one of a handful of councilmembers who voted against the statue, says he has nothing against a Karl Marx monument per se. His problem is that it's a present from China.
REINER MARZ: (Speaking German).
KIM: "The Chinese government tramples on human rights," Marz says. "I don't want to receive any presents from such a regime." It's no coincidence the statue is coming from China. Not only is the country officially still communist. It's also the largest foreign investor in Germany and one of the biggest sources of tourists for Trier.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking German).
KIM: A tour guide leads me around Karl Marx's birthplace, a stately three-story townhouse with creaky wooden floors. The museum says a quarter of its visitors are from China. The town reckons it gets up to 150,000 Chinese tourists each year, a number greater than Trier's entire population. That's one reason why so few politicians in this conservative town voted against the Karl Marx monument. Another reason, says Michael Schmitz of Trier's newspaper, is the passage of time.
MICHAEL SCHMITZ: (Speaking German).
KIM: He says a lot of people didn't experience the Cold War personally and only read about communism in history books.
KIM: Out on Trier's main square, the wine stand is opened after the winter. Over a glass of local Riesling, people open up, like Thorsten Domeier, who moved to Trier from the former East Germany almost 20 years ago. He says he's against the statue.
THORSTEN DOMEIER: (Speaking German).
KIM: Domeier says that for him, communism didn't have any positive aspects. He grew up not too far from an East German town once named after Karl Marx, and, Domeier laughs, it seems he just can't get away from him.
DOMEIER: (Laughter, speaking German).
KIM: "No, no, definitely not." Lucian Kim, NPR News, Trier.
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