News / Europe

Polish City Offers Lifeline to Struggling German Neighbors

Jozef Walukiewicz, his wife Anna and daughter Katarzyna stand inside their renovated house in the village of Rosow, Germany, located near the Polish border, April 7, 2013.
Jozef Walukiewicz, his wife Anna and daughter Katarzyna stand inside their renovated house in the village of Rosow, Germany, located near the Polish border, April 7, 2013.
Reuters
Like most people in Szczecin, a port city on the western edge of Poland, businessman Zbigniew Sawicki thought that when his country joined the European Union a decade ago, wealthier German neighbors would pour in and buy up the city.
 
But events took an unexpected turn. Large numbers of well-to-do Poles from Szczecin, including many of Sawicki's friends, are moving into Germany and buying properties on such a scale that sleepy Prussian villages are taking on a Polish air.
 
“Polish people are buying a lot of houses. Thousands of houses,” said Sawicki, in his metal-working factory near the border. “It is a positive surprise.”
 
Polish migrant workers have arrived in huge numbers all over western Europe over the past decade. But what is happening around Szczecin is different. What flows from east to west here is not cheap labor but capital and economic influence.
 
Szczecin, which until borders were redrawn at the end of World War II was the German city of Stettin, has become the economic center of gravity for a chunk of eastern Germany now struggling with decline.
 
The trend might hold clues about future trends in the continent, showing the potential for Europe's poorer east, with its rapid growth and younger population, to catch up with “old Europe'' with its aging workers and less dynamic growth.
 
Last year, Poland's economy slowed dramatically as it felt the effect of the euro zone slowdown, but it still grew by 2 percent. Germany's economy flat-lined with 0.7 percent growth.
 
“We look to Szczecin. For us, it is a kind of hope,” said Frank Gotzmann, the local government chief in a German district near the border who is so keen to tap into Szczecin's dynamism that his business cards are printed in German and Polish.
 
About 80 percent of property transactions in German areas adjacent to Szczecin involve Polish buyers, according to real estate agent Radoslaw Popiela. German schools are providing classes in Polish to cater for their Polish pupils, mostly the children of professionals who commute to jobs in Szczecin.
 
Meanwhile, German families are making the trip across the border to Szczecin to visit the opera or philharmonic orchestra, or drink coffee at Starbucks - diversions not available at home where investment is sparse.
 
The half-hour drive from Szczecin, across the border into Germany, illustrates the differences between old and new Europe.

Heading south-west through the city's suburbs, the roadsides are a messy riot of fuel stations, car dealerships and newly-built houses, all festooned with advertising billboards.
 
Cross the frontier into Germany and, instantly, the scenery changes. Szczecin's suburban sprawl gives way to chocolate-box villages that do not seem to have changed for centuries.
 
  • The general view of the village of Rosow, Germany located near the Polish border, April 5, 2013.
  • A border crossing between Poland and Germany near the village of Rosow, April 6, 2013
  • Jozef Walukiewicz, his wife Anna and daughter Katarzyna stand inside their renovated house in the village of Rosow, Germany, located near the Polish border, April 7, 2013.
  • Priest Cezary Korzec conducts a Holy Mass in a chapel in his house in the village of Rosow, Germany, located near the Polish border, April 7, 2013.
  • Gabriela Karp, a businesswoman, stands in front of her house in the village of Rosow, Germany, located near the Polish border, April 7, 2013.

In Rosow, the first settlement after the border, several stone cottages are falling down - the result, say locals, of young people moving away to the city.
 
But there are signs of new life: a rebuilt farmhouse in the center of the village, a second renovated property a few doors away, a former restaurant being converted into apartments.
 
All are owned by Poles.
 
Real estate agent Popiela, who is Polish, bought a house in the village in 2007, fixed it up, and now lives there.
 
The attraction is simple economics. “To buy a 2-room flat in Szczecin you have to pay 80,000 to 90,000 euros. Here, for this price, you can have a house with a nice piece of land,” he said.
 
Popiela said that in Rosow, half the population was now Polish. At the kindergarten in the nearby village of Tantow, he said, more than a third of the children are Polish.
 
Ninety percent of the Polish settlers don't work in Germany but commute instead to jobs in Szczecin, said Popiela.
 
One measure of the growth are the numbers showing up for mass in the area's Catholic churches. Most Poles are Catholics, while this part of Germany is traditionally Protestant.
 
Cezary Korzec, a Polish Catholic priest who lives in Rosow, said that in the parish to which the village belongs, the number of practicing Catholics had gone from 1,200 to 1,800 in the past few years because of the influx of Poles.
 
“This is the fastest developing parish in Germany,” he said.
 
Center of gravity
 
All around the German areas adjacent to Szczecin, the city's influence is being felt in small but telling ways.
 
Szczecin schools make so many excursions to the zoo in Ueckermunde, a German town north-west of the city, that the signs in front of the enclosures are written in Polish. In one village, local people say, a German baker sells Polish bread.
 
“Szczecin is a city of 500,000 people, there is nothing comparable on the German side,'' said Bogdan Twardochleb, a journalist with Kurier Szczecinski, the local newspaper. “It is a center of gravity that pulls everything towards it.”
 
There is some German influence flowing largely from the economic powerhouse beyond the country's eastern backwater. Germany is the second biggest foreign investor in Szczecin, after Cyprus.
 
Bartlomiej Sochanski, Germany's honorary consul in Szczecin, said a few hundred older Germans owned holiday homes on the Baltic coast nearby but he did not know of any pre-war German residents who had returned to claim property.
 
Most of the flow is in the other direction.
 
For centuries, the German town of Gartz, like the others in the area, looked to the city then called Stettin as its regional hub. The 13th century stone gatehouse at the entrance to Gartz is called “Stettiner Tor'' because it straddles the road to the city.
 
These ties were severed at the end of World War II. The Red Army took control and drew a new border, leaving Gartz and Szczecin on opposite sides, and with little contact.
 
Reviving those links now offers a lifeline.
 
The shrinking population has forced both secondary schools in Gartz district to close down in the past 10 years.
 
The town has clusters of abandoned buildings. Where the streets dip down to the banks of the Oder river, the roof of one terraced cottage has caved in.
 
By attracting young Polish professionals, the district, which has a population of 7,000, hopes to arrest the decline.
 
In Gartz primary school, one third of pupils are Polish speakers. Without them, the authorities might be forced to close the schools down and fire the teachers.
 
“We see children again, and this is nice,” said Gotzmann.
 
Meanwhile, local Germans are starting to discover Szczecin.
 
Gotzmann described how the local fire chief, a fan of Starbucks who used to have to travel for hours to find a coffee house, discovered on a work trip to Szczecin that there was a branch in the city. Two days later, he took his family.
 
“Szczecin is okay, not the center of the universe but the  center of the region,'' said Gotzmann.  “We try to work together with Szczecin ... This is the only solution for us.''

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid