In this ex-Communist town of 10,000, sharp church steeples pierce the horizon and empty lots have replaced the factories that once put the region to work. The native Geithners fret about inflation, tut-tut about what they see as America’s rat-race culture and say the American who shares their last name has strayed far from the herd. They would welcome him back any time.
“We have another mentality in Germany,” said Yvonne Geithner, 43, who owns a hair salon that is tucked at the end of what was once a sprawling textile factory. Americans are far more comfortable living on borrowed money than her fellow Germans, she said. “We’re much more worried about security, about stability.
“We are brought up this way. We get it with our mother’s milk,” she said.
Zeulenroda looks on its grandson with a touch of civic pride and a bit of bemusement. No one left in town can claim with certainty a relation to the man who shares their unusual last name, and curious Geithners who have written to the American clan say they have heard only silence in return. Still, there was a flurry of excitement in 2008 in the local news media when Geithner was nominated.
More workaday concerns soon intruded, such as: How do we keep our young people from moving away? Will the euro survive? And why is America, among others, pushing Germany to use its hard-saved money on bailing out other, less prudent countries?
The ladies who stop by Yvonne Geithner’s Talking Heads beauty shop try to avoid their worries as they get their highlights and haircuts, she said, but sometimes the chitchat turns more serious underneath posters of American movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn.
“Everybody fears that the money that has been saved will be gone or only worth half after the euro crisis,” Geithner said. “You only have to put one and one together and you know what’s coming,” she said, referring to the hyperinflation in 1920s Weimar-era Germany and the shaky currency after World War II and Germany’s reunification.
A community of skeptics
Timothy Franz Geithner’s family steamed across the Atlantic on a ship called the Kaiser Wilhelm II before Germany’s currency troubles started. Now, he and President Obama have pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to ease calls for harsh austerity in countries such as Spain and Greece that are in a deep recession and to do more to foster economic growth in her country and elsewhere.