An East German stockbroker wrestles with his fate

9th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Two decades on from the demise of the country he grew up in, Thomas Nagel buys and sells shares for banks and hedge funds, seeking always to get the best prices, faced with 10 blinking computer screens and multi-coloured index graphics.

Frankfurt -- Born in communist East Germany well before the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, Thomas Nagel is not your typical German stockbroker.

"No one in my family had ever worked in a bank," he told AFP. "It was an essentially non-existent sector in East Germany: we had an account at the (state-owned) savings bank and that was it."

When he was born in Chemnitz in 1973, it was known as Karl-Marx-City after communism's founding father, and was the industrial heart of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). His father was a postman and his mother worked in a company cafeteria.

"My parents were not critical of the regime. They belonged to the generation that built that state. Many things improved after the war, people had enough to eat, there was housing for all ... When you have not known luxury you don't ask for more."

He describes his youth in East Berlin as "normal", growing up in the atmosphere of young communist organisations, being thrilled by the conquest of space, a passion he has conserved ever since.

What he retained from his youth in a communist state is the "young pioneer" camps where "we met others, we carried out projects, we learned we were stronger when we worked together."

He regrets however that the regime sought to indoctrinate even its youngest citizens.

Nagel, now 36 years old, remembers only vaguely the moment that would change Germany, and him, for ever: the peaceful revolution that toppled the Berlin Wall 20 years ago this November 9.

Less than a year later, the GDR was consigned to history and Germany was unified as one country. Families were reunited, people were free, and capitalism had triumphed over communism.

"I must have seen it on television. Maybe I was too young to get excited," said Nagel.

In the 1990s, he then discovered "by chance" his passion -- the buzz of the financial markets.

Two decades on from the demise of the country he grew up in, he buys and sells shares for banks and hedge funds, seeking always to get the best prices, faced with 10 blinking computer screens and multi-coloured index graphics.

He lives and works in Frankfurt, the epicentre of German finance and a symbol of the capitalism so decried by the former east German regime.

As a sideline, the broker occasionally presents television stock market reports for the US media group Bloomberg and German rolling news channel NTV.

"It allows me to stay in contact with people," Nagel explained.

He dreams of hosting a mainstream TV show on the stock market, because small investors could be in a position of force if there were more of them, he says.

It was in Frankfurt that Nagel met his partner, journalist Linda Behringer.

"We are a real unification couple," she jokes, given her origins near Stuttgart in southwestern Germany, home to automakers Daimler and Porsche, among other companies.

But something of his upbringing remains, however, in his somewhat ambiguous relationship with money, somewhere between embarrassment and fascination.

Conspicuous consumption still bothers him and he is proud to drive a used car, to have bought his home on credit and of his parent's modest origins.

He remains reserved about the benefits of capitalism, sorry that "the dominant economic dynamics function according to a logic of confrontation.

"We should realise we can achieve the same results if we worked together."

The problem, he notes with a laugh, was that "when I say things like that I am quickly labelled a communist."

AFP/Expatica

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