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WORLD

German border town split on growth

By Stephanie Halasz
CNN Berlin Bureau Chief

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The German-Polish border at Goerlitz

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GOERLITZ, Germany (CNN) -- The Hoinkis candy factory in Goerlitz, Germany has been mixing up sugary delights for more than 100 years.

Hoinkis sweets can be found on store shelves from the Czech Republic and Scandinavia to Libya and Canada.

Soon, the market will get even bigger.

When the European Union expands, trade barriers between Germany and 10 nations --- including neighboring Poland -- will come down.

"There are 48 million consumers in Poland, 10 million of those are potential consumers for us, for our products for children," says Rudolf Hoinkis.

"It is a huge market that you cannot ignore."

Goerlitz straddles Germany's border with Poland. Once completely inside Germany, the city was divided into two halves --- one Polish, the other German -- when the border was moved after World War II.

Despite being on the same side --- the communist side --- during the Cold War, there has been little contact between the two sides of Goerlitz.

Bad feelings left from World War II kept the German and Polish sides of town apart. But Goerlitz is fighting that.

At one school, German and Polish students learn in each others' language. Soon, all of the town's youngsters will be citizens of the European Union.

Goerlitz is about as far east as you can go in Western Europe now. That will change on May 1, when the border moves 650 kilometers (about 400 miles) further east, to the edge of Ukraine.

A passport will still be necessary to get from one side of Goerlitz to the other, but the town is moving closer together.

A bus takes passengers from the German to the Polish side in just a few minutes. And after EU enlargement, goods will move more freely across the borders.

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The Hoinkis candy factory will soon have new markets.

But Hoinkis wonders whether all the results will be sweet.

"We have gotten Polish products which have the same quality as ours, and when I think that the labor and utilities are considerably cheaper over there, we have a problem," Hoinkis says.

In a town where almost every fourth person is out of work, there is mixed reaction to EU expansion.

"We live in a border area, and they will be able to come over here and work for less," says one unemployed woman.

But this real estate agent is more positive: "I hope something good happens for us, that the investors don't just go to the east but already stop here. Trade may profit, I think it's positive."

This town, witness to some of Europe's most tumultuous history, is split on whether the new winds of change will change lives here for the better.


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