The city of Trier is no stranger to many thousands of tourists from all over the world, as it is home to some of the most amazing Roman ruins outside of Rome itself. This beautiful German city was once one of the Roman capitals, and it is still apparent in the ruins, culture and surroundings of the city.
Another major drawcard is the fact that the local vineyards produce wines of outstanding quality, but neither of these facts explain why Trier holds such a fascination for tourists from China.
Trier attracts over 150,000 Chinese visitors each year — far more than any other city in Germany — but what is drawing them there? The answer to this question is quite simple: It is the birthplace of Karl Marx, the acknowledged father of socialism.
Marx’s theories about the private ownership of goods inflamed the antagonism between those in power and the oppressed people. His theories were based on the premise that to reduce this oppression of one class by another, all goods and services should be transferred to ownership by the state.
People’s Republic of China
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has Marx’s theories as a guiding ideology for their form of government, and Marx is seen as a hero by the people of the PRC. President Xi Jinping uses Marx’s writings in his speeches and has made it clear that he and his government believe that a deviation from Marx’s theories will mean a loss of direction for the party.
This hero worship has created something of a dichotomy in Germany, where human rights abuse in many communist countries has somewhat dimmed the luster of Marx in his home nation. This unhappiness is especially evident in many people who lived in the former East Germany, where they were subject to abuse and extreme violence courtesy of the communist regime.
The head of Trier’s Tourism Board, Alexander Schumitz, said in a recent interview that the city’s decision to trade upon the fact that Trier is Marx’s birthplace is a recent one. They have decided to emphasize the fact that Marx was a prominent philosopher of the 20th century and not responsible for the evils done by others in his name.
Chinese tourist euro, the Trier Chamber of Commerce and Industry
To assist traders with capturing the Chinese tourist euro, the Trier Chamber of Commerce and Industry have been running lessons in Chinese etiquette so they do not inadvertently offend their visitors. Lessons included facts such as not using white paper to wrap goods, as white is the color of Chinese funeral robes.
Also, avoid any use of the number 250, as this is a slang term for stupid in Chinese culture. Such lessons have allowed traders in the city to sell Marx memorabilia — from cookie cutters to piggy banks and everything in between.
The gift of a statue of Karl Marx resulted in some delicate negotiations between the City Council of Trier and the Chinese. Not wanting to offend one of their significant trading partners, they were also not keen on having a 6.4 m statue of Marx in the city.
After protracted negotiations, they came to an agreement that the statue would be 5.5 m high (including the base) as a tribute to Marx’s birthday, which is May 5, 1918.
In addition to the statue, which can be seen in the city, look at the traffic lights on Fleischstraße. They have caricatures of Marx imprinted onto the lenses of the lights. Also, enjoy one of the several exhibitions dedicated to Marx that celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.
The most popular exhibit can be found at Karl Marx House on Brückenstraße, an elegant gabled house that was Marx’s birthplace and is now a museum dedicated to him. Karl Marx House houses the very well-known bust of the philosopher sculpted by his great-grandson as well as a scarce first edition of Das Kapital, Marx’s influential book.
The gardens around the house are planted with flowers that Marx enjoyed and reminded him of his favorite places, such as Hampstead Heath in London.
Many of the exhibitions about Marx will soon be closing, but Trier has plans to launch another festival of remembrance — this time for Friedrich Engels. The 200th anniversary of his birth is due in 2020. Engels is best known as the co-author, with Marx, of The Communist Manifesto and the editor of Das Kapital.
It is unlikely that the controversy surrounding Marx will calm down anytime soon. The systems of government based on his philosophy have caused great discontent among many people, and that is likely to fuel the debate for decades to come. This does not detract from the fact that he was an influential philosopher of the 20th century and born in Trier — two indisputable facts.