"Our society is only partially de-communised," says East German dissident Wolfgang Templin. The many streets from the era of the former GDR still named after Rosa Luxemburg, the famous revolutionary killed in the workers' uprising in Berlin in 1919, are not the streets that worry him.

The real problem rests with the likes of Ernst Thälmann, head of the German Communist Party, who was shot in 1944 in Buchenwald concentration camp, and with Wilhelm Pieck, the first president of the GDR.

“I’m prepared to tolerate Rosa Luxemburg, because her biography also contains some glorious pages. But Thälmann was a loyal apparatchik of Stalin, and Pieck was instrumental in the founding of the terror state that was the GDR. It’s as if in Poland today streets were still named after Wanda Wasilewska [Polish writer and Soviet Red Army Colonel] and Bolesław Bierut [the first leader of communist Poland after the war],” he adds.

How many Communist streets are there in the former GDR? Neither Länder [federal state] nor local authorities keep statistics. In 2006, researchers at the Stasi Museum in Berlin, trying to gauge the scale of the phenomenon, concluded that thousands of street names had indeed escaped de-communisation.

The name of Thälmann thus still adorns 613 squares and streets and that of Pieck, 90. Dozens of second-string apparatchiks from the same era keep them company. Not forgetting, of course, Marx and Engels who, besides the dozens of streets that bear their names, also have a monument in the centre of Berlin.

No street dedicated to dissidents

Hundreds of streets continue to commemorate "friendship" and "peace" between socialist countries. About 90 streets are still dedicated to the pioneers of communism and some fifty to the Society of German-Soviet Friendship, which went out of business 21 years ago.

Worse, many streets named after Otto Grotewohl and Walter Ulbricht, the leaders of the GDR notably responsible for the bloody repression of the workers' uprising in East Berlin in 1953, have survived German unification.

For Hubertus Knabe, director of the Stasi Museum, it's a real scandal that in the entire ex-GDR there is virtually no street dedicated to dissidents who opposed the regime and paid for it with their lives.

Such a state of affairs would be unthinkable in Poland. There, for years, the Institute of National Memory (IPN) has gone through city plans looking for unworthy patrons and formally requesting name changes. This happens sometimes with excessive zeal, like two years ago when an attempt was made to rub the name of the poet Bruno Jasieński [a communist militant who went to live in the USSR, where he fell victim to the purges of the 1930s] off the map of his native town of Klimontów.

“There were very few street names in the GDR that were named after non-communists," says Markus Meckel, East German dissident and last foreign minister of the GDR. "Shortly after reunification, we began to replace them en masse. But the first flush of enthusiasm soon faded. Some voices were raised, saying that it should be up to history to judge the former communists. We got to the point that any name change for a street brought on a real battle in the town council."

"People are forgetting the past"

Resistance came particularly from local activists of Die Linke (The Left), a post-communist party and successor to the Socialist Unity Party (SED). Die Linke is the fourth largest party in the Bundestag and sits in the governing coalition in the state of Brandenburg, which borders Poland. Its leaders, some of which have collaboration with the Stasi on their consciences, defend the achievements of socialist Germany tooth and nail.

The stiffest battle is over Thälmann, murdered in 1944 by the Gestapo on the orders of Hitler, after having spent 11 years in Nazi prisons – a destiny that has conferred on him the status of a victim of Nazism. “Nevertheless, not every victim necessarily deserves to be lauded", says Meckel.

Local authorities and housing administrators, however, dodge the issue. When the question of honours reserved for former communists was recently raised in the German press, the head of the main housing association in Brandenburg said the case was closed.

"Nothing is closed. The fact that such names are on display in our streets proves that Germany does not want to settle accounts with its past," comments Professor Klaus Schroeder, historian at the Free University of Berlin and specialist in the history of the GDR.

Even more seriously: "People are forgetting the past. They have no idea of it. They ignore, for example, the fact that Unity Square, just a stone’s throw from their homes, celebrated the unification of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, which was forced on the Social Democrats by the Communists after the war. People think the name refers to the unification of Germany,” Wolfgang Templin says regretfully.