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Economics

Can a Marxist Bring Berlin Back from the Dead?

Gregor Gysi's tie is loose, and he keeps glancing nervously at a six-inch-thick stack of papers waiting in front of him. He pours himself a cup of coffee but neglects to offer any to his guests. A chain smoker, he crumples an empty pack of Marlboros, chucks it in a metal wastebasket, and tears open another. Gysi is busy, he explains. His first appointment as economics minister for the city/state of Berlin begins at 9 a.m., and the last one is at 9 p.m. Then he has to prepare for the next day. "It's a stressful job," he allows, dragging on another Marlboro.

It's especially stressful when you come from a party that, in principle, is opposed to the whole idea of capitalism. Gysi represents the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), which took over the assets and much of the mission of the defunct Socialist Unity Party, which ran East Germany and built the Berlin Wall. Now, after winning 22.6% of the vote in October elections--just a percentage point behind the center-right Christian Democrats--the party is back in power in Berlin. In January, the PDS formed a coalition government with center-left Mayor Klaus Wowereit. Gysi, the best-known PDS leader, is the man responsible for wooing investment to the financially prostrate city.