On a lonely hillside in the Thuringian Forest, Robert Kress, 34, steers his car past gray, concrete blocks that look as if a temperamental giant had carelessly thrown them there.
In fact, the blocks were what was left of Communist-style, prefabricated houses that have stood empty for years. Where kindergartens, a drugstore, a savings bank and a supermarket once stood, now there are only piles of snow and an icy wind.
“Here!” Mr. Kress shouted, making a sweeping gesture with his outstretched arm, as if he were casting an invisible fishing rod. “This is where the ‘cannibal’ once stood.” Outside his car window, there were only empty fields. He drives on, through the area where he spent his childhood. A full 30 seconds later he says, “and this is where it ended. Huge, right?”
The “cannibal” is what Mr. Kress calls the towering residential buildings that the eastern German city of Suhl once erected to house a growing number of workers. That was back when the city was home to a number of manufacturing plants for the automobile and firearms industries.
After the fall of Communism, the companies that once employed so many of Suhl’s residents went bankrupt and people began to leave. That exodus continues to this day. In 1995 there were 50,000 left the city; in 2015, there is a population of 36,000.