For years, Germany has been fretting about an ongoing migration of youth from east to west. Young women, especially, have been turning their backs on the region in droves and politicians have proved powerless to stop them.
Until now. The mayor of the eastern German town of Freital -- population just under 40,000 -- suddenly has 50 letters on his desk from women living in western Germany who would like to relocate to his town.
His secret? Money. Earlier this year -- following a May study indicating that many more women were leaving the region than men -- Mayor Klaus Mättig said that one should offer women from Germany's west €2,000 ($2,791) if they were willing to sign a three-year lease on an apartment in Freital. The comment made it into the local newspaper and, before long, the letters began landing on his desk.
"I never expected such a response," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
The response was especially unexpected because Mättig's offer was only half serious. Freital, after all, has not been overly hit by the mass movement westwards and, as the mayor says, "it's not like there aren't any women on the streets here or that there are only singles wandering around." It is also unclear whether the Freital electorate would even put up with such an offer. They aren't getting paid to stay, after all.
Still, Mättig's offer is yet another in a series of ideas aimed at slowing down the depopulation of eastern Germany, which has seen 1.5 million leave since 1990 largely due to a lack of jobs. Wolfgang Tiefensee, the Berlin minister responsible for eastern German development, even suggested that, to keep women from leaving, the state might consider setting up mobile libraries to drive around the countryside.
And according to the study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, it is a question that needs to be answered sooner rather than later. The growing lack of women is leading to rising frustration among the men who remain, driving many of them into the arms of the neo-Nazis, the study concluded.
Even if Mättig's offer never actually comes to pass, he may nevertheless be on to something. Many of the letters he received were from former eastern Germans who were dissatisfied with their new lives in the West. "I want to come back as soon as possible," one wrote. "When one leaves their home, it doesn't automatically mean that everything will be better," penned another.
The letters, though, have also made Mättig take his own idea more seriously. He has responded to every one of the inquiries received, explaining that the initiative has yet to be passed.
"But," he says, "we are going to keep the idea in mind and will take a closer look at it here at city hall."
With reporting from Barbara Hans