Thirty years ago this spring the people of Karl-Marx-Stadt in East Germany went to the polls twice. On 18 March 1990, they took part in the nationwide elections for the Volkskammer — the Berlin legislature which presided over the affairs of the German Democratic Republic. Five weeks later, they were back in the polling booths, where they voted to change the name of their city from Karl-Marx-Stadt to Chemnitz. It had been called Chemnitz until 1953 when, on the 70th anniversary of Marx’s death, the city name was changed to Karl-Marx-Stadt.
The disappearance of Karl-Marx-Stadt from the map of Europe was part of a flurry of renaming in the 1990s. Another 1990 change was the eastern Ukrainian town of Gotwald, named after the Czech Communist leader Klement Gottwald, reverting to its original name Zmiiv (Зміїв). The following year, Leningrad morphed into St Petersburg. That latter change applied merely to the city itself. The wider area around Russia’s second city is still called Leningradskaya oblast (Leningrad region).