Former Koch mayor on coups, politicians and challenges

Mrs. Koch, good 30 years ago you decided to become the starost. You are almost an exotic woman when we look at the number of women who have been elected to office in Saxony so far. What made you do it then?

Renate Koch: It’s actually normal for women to be asked to be district administrators. I got the most votes in my constituency, and the CDU said to me, “We propose you as mayor.” I replied spontaneously, “You are crazy! I don’t understand.’ But my husband said, “Whoever says A must also say B. You can’t back down now.

It was actually my husband’s support. And I had a long discussion about it with the then mayor of Coswig, whom I met in 1989 or 1990. And he said to me at the end: “Whoever God opens the door to whom he also gives strength.” So I thought it was manageable. Then I agreed and was approved by the district council as the staroste.

How did you experience this time – especially in the beginning? Everything was shocked, great challenges awaited. How much creative freedom did you have?

In the first months and the first two years, we had a lot of creative freedom. Often we did not get rights until we had already done something. So it was really a spirit of optimism. Everyone took part. And I never had the feeling that anyone here – at least in the former East Germany – looked ridiculous because I am a woman in this position. It was completely different for me in the West.

What did you experience there?

For example, when we went to the German Circuit Assembly which is held every five years. We were five poviat starosts. The three of us stood together in front of the boardroom and talked because we knew each other from consultations in Berlin. And then a young man came up to us and said, “Lord, let the women’s program begin, he’s in the next room. Please come in! We didn’t pay attention, it was none of our business. We were governors.

And after a short time an old man with very nice gray hair came and said, “Come on, sir, please come in. They want to start! And then I turned to him and said, “We don’t belong there, we are the starosts.” He disappeared, then we went into the room and sometimes we had a little more fun when we saw each other again because he didn’t really know what to call us. Because we were the first women in this group of men.

It’s hard to believe that even 30 years ago it was like that!

Yes, it’s different today. Today it has also become more obvious, but I have never met my colleagues so critically attentively here in the former East Germany as I felt at the beginning during the consultations in the West. Needless to say, I was there as the staroste.

Later the structures hardened. So you knew more precisely who was responsible for what? First of all, in the first year there were no rules: What are municipalities, i.e. cities and municipalities, to do? What is the poviat’s task?

What specific challenges did you encounter during your term of office?

The main problem was the destruction of the economy. What was I fighting for to get some kind of surgery !? But it wasn’t possible. The plants were usually bought by West German companies. Sometimes competition was eliminated with her. They then continued for a while and then closed. This was the case in most cases. We had very high unemployment. And the social structure was not such that much could be helped. Of course, efforts were made to establish social welfare offices accordingly. Labor offices were, I would say, almost overwhelmed because they did not know: where to place people? There was no work. That is why the emigration was so great.

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