Everyone in Germany has a story about where they were on November 9, 1989 — and most of these stories are in fact much more dramatic then the one told by Torsten Schulz. These days, Schulz, who is now 56, works as a foreman in Assembly at Mercedes-Benz Ludwigsfelde GmbH. He was also working at that same location 30 years ago in a three-shift operation at the plant. His story begins on that historic Thursday night.
“I was working the night shift,” he says, and then laughs. “We didn’t hear a thing at work about what had happened. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized what was going on. I then told my family that we should let everyone else head West and that we would go a couple of days later, since it wasn’t as if they were going to close the wall again so quickly.”
When asked whether he did not in fact realize what type of impact the sudden opening of the border would have on his life, he replies: “What can I say — my philosophy has always been to wait and see what happens; I’m flexible and like to take things as they come.” Schulz’ pragmatic nature also helped him in 1991, when the future of his job at the plant became an issue. He had completed a master foreman training program at Nutzfahrzeug Ludwigsfelde GmbH — the company established by the Treuhandanstalt (Trust Agency) as the successor to the DDR’s IFA (Industrial Association for Vehicle Construction) — in 1988. Schulz was then informed that the facility no longer had any need for him as a foreman. “They then offered to let me quit,” he says. “But I said, ‘why should I do that?’ I had trained as a welder and went to work in the assembly unit in the plant in Wörth for three months. Eventually we agreed that I would go back to Ludwigsfelde, to the new plant, as an assembly worker. I was able to handle the whole episode without any problems.” The way Schulz tells his story without any bitterness is impressive. Still, he finishes the story with the following statement: “To be honest though, we sometimes felt as if some people were basically saying to us that everything we’d done before the wall came down no longer had any value.”
True to his nature, Schulz never let things get to him. “I’ve done a lot since that time,” he explains. “I was there for the production launches of the Vario, Vaneo, and Sprinter — so I never got bored.” It’s been 40 years since Schulz started his initial training in the Ludwigsfelde vehicle plant — where he started working as a foreman again in 2006. His employees and superiors appreciate his social nature — his friendliness, empathy, and readiness to help — and his feeling for people. For his part, Schulz appreciates being able to work in Ludwigsfelde. “Unlike the large plants in Sindelfingen, Stuttgart or Bremen, our facility is close-knit and a bit of a small enclave,” he explains. “I really like that, and I think that people’s attachment to the plant here definitely gives us an advantage over other locations.”
Two other employees from the Mercedes-Benz plant in Ludwigsfelde share their experiences with us. Detlef Ludwig knows the plant inside out. Here, he reports about the time in Ludwigsfelde after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In addition, Thanh Nguyen Manh tells us how he came from Vietnam to the GDR in 1980 and experienced the fall of the Wall.