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German City Slowly Going Under - Literally Photo BER1 of Jan. 3.

January 4, 1992

STASSFURT, Germany (AP) _ Stassfurt has fallen into a deep depression that cannot be measured by economic indicators. A tape measure might help, though.

Slowly but surely, Stassfurt has been sinking for nearly a century. The Adler Pharmacy, level with the rest of the city after World War II, today rests on the bottom of a steep grade.

Streets dip and bank like cobblestone roller coasters. Parts of downtown are farther down than others. City Hall was so crooked it had to be demolished.

Residents recall almost boastfully that the church tower, which also has been demolished, outdid the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Stassfurt is a city of 30,000 people about 90 miles southwest of Berlin, in what used to be East Germany. While the countryside is flat as a Kansas cornfield, Stassfurt rolls like a low-rent San Francisco.

Bad mining is to blame, officials say.

″It’s astounding,″ said Werner Zacharias, a city administrator. ″This town used to be flat.″

Stassfurt sits on deposits of potash, and mining it has been the city’s chief industry since the early 1900s. The Communists who ruled East Germany intensified the mining after World War II, causing faults below the city center.

In the 1960s, the ground became so shaky that the government began ripping down buildings.

″Since then 850 buildings have been destroyed, many landmarks from the 17th century,″ said Martin Kriesel, the city manager.

The rift under Stassfurt is about three miles long and 800 yards wide. Some streets have fallen more than 22 feet.

For some reason, the Communists pretended there had been no topographical changes. It wasn’t until the peaceful revolution of 1989 that they acknowledged the obvious and disclosed the reason.

But residents always knew something was wrong. The Johanniskirche tower, dubbed ″the leaning tower of Stassfurt,″ was on the verge of collapse when it was torn down in 1966.

City Hall followed the next year. Houses grew more askew. Foundations resurfaced. Then, in 1976, the train station was razed.

″They destroyed a lot of large, beautiful homes,″ said resident Elvira Ludwig, 31. ″When they demolished the train station, they couldn’t keep it a secret any more.″

Although some sections still sink nearly an inch a year, Kriesel insists the slide has slowed. Since the 1970s, the city has been injecting saline into the faults for support.

Kriesel, a former engineer at the potash works, said city officials have sunk seismic equipment into the ground to detect new downward trends.

Each hollow has been mapped. Stassfurt knows its faults and is learning to live with them.

The most unstable sections will be turned into parks. Areas believed to have bottomed out will be redeveloped. The huge Aldi grocery store chain plans to build on one sunken expanse.

Kriesel, 41, is hopeful, but not everyone is convinced. A new mini-mall built last year houses a pharmacy and other shops. It is perched on a downtown hill.

″I hope we won’t sink,″ said pharmacy employee Doris Conrad, 57. ″Look what happened to the other pharmacy.″

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