Chemnitz is an early industrial city in the metropolitan triangle of Halle, Leipzig and Dresden and the third largest city in the eastern state of Saxony. After being largely destroyed during WWII, Chemnitz has experienced socio-spatial fragmentation, intensified by a shrinking population and changing urban landscape. Today, the area is characterised by shrinking neglected neighbourhoods with high vacancy rates, existing next to (re-)emerging upper and middle-class environments, separated by parks and green spaces.
At its peak during the 1930s, Chemnitz had a population of about 360,000 inhabitants, but following the unification of Germany, the population decreased by a quarter. The population of under 29s only stabilised in 2015 at around 60,000, as the result of an increasingly attractive labour market. Although the university attracted some students in the past decades, young refugees have been the largest incoming group in the past 5 years. While Chemnitz’ old industry has all but disappeared, new knowledge driven industries and services have developed. The formerly very high unemployment rates have more than halved in the last decade, but still, incomes remain considerably lower than in western regions of Germany.
Today, young people in Chemnitz are still impacted by the history of the region. The post-unification period has not been experienced as positive by all. Some individuals have thrived in this new free market society, whereas others struggled and associate it with disorder and a loss of guidance. Many describe Chemnitz as ‘non-inviting, fractured and in decline’.Much hostility exists between the political left and right and recent events - such as young men being killed in 2018 - have intensified the tension. The political centre is dominated by a diverse, but weak majority trying to avoid conflict altogether, withdrawing into private life. In recent years, however, the far right has been gaining support from parts of mainstream society.
Many of the opportunities for the physical, social and cultural development of Chemnitz, especially on neighbourhood level, have been driven by specific groups that have emerged in response to the challenges of the past 3 decades. Integrated strategies have been introduced in the areas of housing, youth-work, schools, training and cross-generational communication. Non-profits in social and youth work have been key in the delivery of local services. Understanding how young people organise themselves in such groups to act against inequalities may allow for more cross-group and cross-sector collaborations.