Poles find their Lebensraum in the West. Drang nach abandoned East Germany is the new trend.

16 02 2008

Authrs: Jolanta Kowalewska, Adam Zadworny, Alex Kuehl
Source: Gazeta Wyborcza
Translation from Polish for this blog: MoPoPressReview

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A for pre-war 200m house with 5,500 metres square of land in a tiny German village of Hochenseldoff, several kilometres away from the Polish-German border, costed Piotr Wychadończuk 50,000 zł (nearly $25,000). ‘I can’t afford an appartment in Poland. In Szczecin metropolis this money would buy me a garage’, he says. ‘Besides, my wife and I are having twins and we need more Lebensraum’.

‘Eurosceptics from right-wing parties were threatening with the Germans coming and buying our land when we join the EU – and it’s the total opposite’, laughs Bartłomiej Sochański, a barrister from Szczecin and honorary consul of Germany. Even before the Schengen Agreement came to effect in Poland, Poles had been settling on the other side of the Oder river.

Garden fire only with Fire Department permission

‘To live in Germany you need: a letter box, a blue barrel and a current account in a German bank’, Jacek reveals basic rules of living behind the border. He’s 31, owns a two-bedroom flat in Szczecin and a stationary selling business. In spring 2007 he bought 3 hectares of German land in Radekow together with a former firefighters’ station. He’ll move in this spring with his wife, 4-year-old son and parents. A shiny letterbox is already hanging on the fence.

‘That’s the first thing you have to get’, says Jacek, ‘in order to receive official letters from institutions. ‘Thank goodness first class letters in Germany don’t need to be delivered in person, therefore I never have to go to the post office’.

– And what do you need the blue barrel for?

‘German thrift. They all use rain water for their gardens rather then a hose.

– And an account?

‘I hired an architect, and it turned out he didn’t accept cash’.

Jacek shows me around other houses purchased by the Polish. Each of them is equipped with solar power screen. Solar energy heats houses and water. Only dog houses don’t have them. And Jacek’s place. It’s a long one-storey building, which soon will be demolished to make way for Jacek’s new semi-detached.

– How will you handle the commute?

‘Oh, it’ll be easier then now. Even a taxi can drop me here after a night out in Szczecin’.

– And how do you communicate with German civil servants?

‘I don’t speak any German at all’.

– Really?

‘The lady at the Department of Housing was surprised too’.

Jacek wonders whether to register his son to a German pre-school. So far his little son practices his language skills when he meets his neighbours. It’s an elderly couple, who are pleased to have new new people in the area. They brought their home-made jam for Jacek’s family to try.

‘Friends were warning me about some German neo-fascist parties. I haven’t seen anyone like that yet’.

– What surprised you here the most?

‘That you can’t make a fire in your own garden. You need a permission from Fire Department and you need to pay somewhat 10 euro’ for that.

Roe-deer feeding classes

Joanna and Tadeusz Czapscy moved to a forrester’s cottage near Tantow, which they bought together with three hectares of land, ten roe-deer, a bat, and a pond full with crucian carp.

Their estate lies around 25km from the Szczecin city centre. In Poland Mr and Mrs Czapski lived in one of the communist blocks of flats. ‘Commute from that flat and from Tantow takes the same amount of time’, Mr Czapski explains. ‘After Schengen, I pop into my car and drive. Keine grenzen!’.

The price was right as well. 90,000 euro.

Joanna and Tadeusz’s cottage looks charming with wooden fence and hedge. Pasturage for roe-deer is visible from a distance. Deer have 2 hectars of forrest for themselves. Only during the winter they need to be fed.

‘When I saw these roe-deer I knew it’s aither this house or none for me’ recalls Joanna. ‘Previous owner told us when they eat all the nettle, it’s the time to start feeding.

What surprised them the most, was the fact that if they wanted to keep the roe-deer they had to complete a course on how to take care of wild animals.

Joanna walks around the house repeating: “bread – brot”, “buns – brotchen”, “butter – butter”. – We’ll be doing the shopping on the Polish side, as it’s still cheaper. But when we run out of something I have to know the basic words – she says.

A neighbour is busy with something behind the fence. A German man in his thirties.

‘When my lawn-mower broke down, be was here to lend me his within seconds. That’s how we met. He’s a really nic chap’.

We have level pavements

‘This house was four times cheaper, then a similar house in a Polish village. Only the pavement here is level, there is street light, and it’s generally safe’, explains Bartek Wójcik.

House bult in 1865 roku is around 200 metre sq. on a 1000 metre sq patch. 23,000 Euro. For Poles a real Bargain!

Bartek and his wife Danka are running “OFFicyna” association in Szczecin, which is renowned organiser for cultural events like Szczecin film festivals. Last year they decided to get on the property ladder. They tried to buy a flat in Szczecin, or a house in the country. Too expensive. They decided to choose Germany.

Their haouse stands on a hill, the driveway covered with cobblestone. Spruce and thuja trees grow on sides. Red barn with massive door stands graciously in the middle.They’re discovering the rules of life in the village of Schwennentz. What surprised them the most was German’s thrift. For instance in autumn the whole village prepares one joint order for heating oil. Because it’s cheaper that way.

‘Before Schengen it took us 20 minutes to commute to work in Szczecin, and since Schengen it feels as if we lived in one of the city districts’.

Little towns becoming Polish

‘Poles usually seek houses between 100 and 200 metre sq., not further than 30 kilometres from the border’, says Mariola Dadun, who together with her German husband run a real estate agency serving both sides of the border.

It is estimated that around 2000 Polish families purchased houses in Meklemburg and Brandenburg recently.

Penkun, Gartz and Loecknitz are the towns with largest Polish population – around 200 live in the latter. A Polish-German middle school has been open in Loecknitz for several years. One third of students, around 160, are Poles. A businessman from Szczecin launches a new Petrol station in Loecknitz. Polish company builds a new residential development. One of towns hotel is town-house converted by a Polish couple. Hair-dos in Locknitz are also Polish-made. A Polish businesswoman opened there a hair salon.

It is amazing how the West European borders, previously both so desired and hated, are simply disappearing. Just like that.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.

 





We razed a city to ruins. I’m sorry. Would you like more tea?

18 01 2008

Author: Dorota Wodecka-Lasota
Source: Gazeta Wyborcza – January 16th 2008

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Romek, 28-year-old from Poland, goes on a personal quest to Germany to talk to soldiers fighting against the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and hear their story.

28-year-old Romuald lives with his parents near Opole. He’s a children’s stories’ author and gets his works published by a small literary publishing house. On weekends he works part-time in a delivery firm, handling larger parcels.
In 2004 his girlfriend gave him the Chronicle of the Warsaw Uprising as a present. He had never been in Warsaw before. The book gripped him.
‘But what it was missing was the story as Germans see it. I searched in libraries and in internet – but I haven’t found anything. Then I thought – since historians didn’t find anything – I will‘ , says Romek. ‘Why? I don’t know why. I just wanted to know’.

1944In 1989 a small Munich publishing house issued ‘Warschauer Aufstand’, containing a list of German soldiers fighting the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, together with their military rank and, where applicable, date of death. The low circulation publication received much attention from historians, who alarmed that there were many inconsistencies and errors. Germans protested too. Some of those included in the book have never been to Warsaw. Some were declared dead by the book, while they still were alive and well. Under the threat of court action, publisher withdrew the 3000 copies from bookshops.

Romek managed to find the publication with help of a friend in Berlin. Another friend, IT specialist, searched the internet to find out who, from that list, is still alive. In Germany personal information is not protected. After ruling out those who passed away, 42 people were left.

2000sRomek contacted them last summer holiday: six agreed to meet with him. On weekends, as Romek was busy with work on weekdays.

However, he shouldn’t have bothered visiting three of the six.
Johann said he’s never been to Poland. Joseph’s been in Poland twice – to do shopping in a border-town. Heinrich, on the other hand, was talking about the fights on Warsaw’s Triple Crosses Square like he was reciting a story learned by heart. He received Romek in his entrance hall and wouldn’t even let him ask the firt question. ‘I regret I agreed for this meeting. In your country this rising is a national myth, and whatever I’d say your Polish propaganda will transform my words so that Germans seem like pigs. That’s how you do it’, he said, asking Romek to leave.

Erich in Thuringia, next on the list, told Romek he’d arrived in Warsaw after the end of the uprising – on October 4th 1944. We was eighteen. ‘We worked in a brigade, which for seven-eight hours a day walked around with flamethrowers and burned down the ruins’, he recalls.

Old Town Market Square - 1944He was surprised they were ordered to burn what was already burned. The petrol they were supposed to use wasn’t the right quality either. Townhouses woldn’t burn easily. After work they went back to Mokotów district, where they lived several soldiers in one room. They felt safe there: the gates to German-controlled part of the city were guarded by 50 German soldiers.

Yet everyday they drank spirit. One friend of his couldn’t cope with this work. He poured petrol over himself and set himself on fire.

Prudential BuldingWhen Erich watched Polanski’s Pianist on tv, things came back to him. ‘It wasn’t at all as showed in this movie. Many people lived in ruins – not only Szpilman. Several hundred at least’, he convinced. ‘They walked out at night. I saw them, when we went out to the ruins, driven by curiosity, once. We saw how they pull burned potatoes from cellars. There were no orders to shoot at these people’.

Today he is ashamed of what he then called a good fun, ‘We razed a city to ruins. I’m sorry’, he says, ‘would you like more tea’?


First day each month at 10 we received our soldier’s pay. August the 1st wasn’t therefore the best time for an attack, as by 5 pm we were at least a bit drunk‘ – says Romek’s next interlocutor – Dieter. Romek visited him on the outskirts of Berlin. He didn’t want to say much though. He was a marksman near Teatralny Square. He wouldn’t say how many times his shot was well-aimed, but there are diplomas for marksmanship, he received before the war, hanging on the wall. Dieter is not making an effort to be polite, he murmurs… maybe because partisans killed seven of his colleagues? – ‘Eight of us walked, and then these people approached us wearing German uniforms. They started shooting when we were very close. I ran away. I survived this war’.

When Romek wants to know whether Dieter has any souvenirs from Warsaw, Dieter browses through his drawers nervously. Some papers fall on the floor. ‘When you fight for your life you don’t think about souvenirs’, he says nervously, holding postcards in his hands. ‘Have them, take them for historical documentation, it has no worth to me. There were twelve in that series, but I’ve sent four to friends. Good bye’, he cuts the chat short.

Eight postcards feature ruins of Warsaw: Krasiński Square, Królewska St., Piłsudskiego St., Nowy Świat, Krakowskie Przedmieście and Wierzbowa St. Ruins and cinders. One postcard signed “famine” features people in the street, bending over a dead horse’s body trying cut out some meat. This is the only postcard series with ruins of Warsaw issued during the war.
‘I don’t think this German man wanted to pay some historical debt giving me these postcards. He just wanted to get rid of me quick‘, – Romek was unimpressed.

Romek had been meeting up with Germans fighting the Warsaw Uprising for six consecutive weekends. The last meeting was to take place in Munich. He drove there without faith, with the feeling of senseless of what he was doing. ‘No one really wanted to talk. I had met elderly men blundered between memories. Jürgen was the oldest, he was 102, therefore I didn’t expect him to tell me anything of historical value or emotional weight. That he’d help me understand those Germans. And my meeting with him was so surreal. I felt like I found myself within that poem about SS-soldier sipping tea from the last cup left in once piece in Dresden’.
Jürgen received him in his library with oak parquet flooring. Mahogany bar in one corner, samovar with orange-flavoured tea in other. Bookcase covering the whole wall hosting pre-war editions of Goethe, Schiller and atlases. Massive desk stands next to the window. Jürgen, wearing a shirt and a waistcoat, is not sitting behind it – but in an armchair next to the steaming samovar. Romek feels a bit out of place with his T-shirt in this bourgeois interior. He’s comforted when he notices Jürgen’s old fluffy slippers.

Jürgen says he’d been in Warsaw several times. He used to spend his days-off there. He was stationed in Poznan, his friends used to go to the seaside. But he travelled to Warsaw and walked around with a camera.

‘The city was in psychosis. People were terrified of the Germans. They didn’t want to pose to the pictures. When I started making photos, suddenly all people around me were gone. Just a building and nothing more. It was different in Kraków, there was no fear. People made me pictures when I asked them’, Jürgen recalls.

The photos from Kraków were gone. Out of twenty suitcases he packed, only four survived the chaos of war. He’s also lost the photographs he’d made in Warsaw’s ghetto, in Gdynia, Gdańsk and Łódź. Romek finds it hard to sympathise with this high Wehrmacht officer’s, loss. And when he’s asked to pass a beige photoalbum entitled “Reise nach Warschau”, Romek notices “Mein Kampf” from 1939 on a bookshelf.

‘I felt shivers going down my spine when I saw it’, says Romek, ‘then I froze in my armchair’.

Jürgen opened the diary documenting his first stay in Warsaw in August 1st/2nd 1941. Each photo is described, some with personal notes.

Leafing through page by page.. the bridges, Saski Palace, main train station, his portrait with Wierzbowa St. in the background, then some photos from the ghetto – at the sight of which Jürgen raises his voice:

‘Jews perceive themselves as victims of war – but they are not victims, they are perpetrators!’ – he says irritated, and goes on telling a story of how a Jew cheated his father before the war in a real-estate transaction.
Jürgen is so loud, his grandson shows up at the door to check what’s happening. And stays there leaning against door frame, to listen to the rest of the story.

Romek tries to change the subject. They return to uprising. Jürgen was in Warsaw in the moment of outbreak and worked in an administrative building on Krakowskie Przedmieście – and during the three weeks he spent in Warsaw only once he saw young people with white and red armbands.

‘I never walked out in uniform, although it was forbidden. And I never carried weapon. Therefore no one paid attention to me. Because I was afraid. But not when I heard gunshots somewhere – then I knew that since the fights are there, I am safe where I am’, he says.

‘But Poles were barbarians. My friend’s son died during the uprising. His body was found naked, completely naked! How could they deprive him of intimacy like that?’ – Jürgen raises his voice again, while Romek is thinking about the people in Auchwitz and Jews transported from his home-town Opole to Czech Terezin.
Romek explains: ‘I didn’t want to engage in discussion. I didn’t want to persuade him, to convert him. Because this man lived for 102 years and it was unlikely he’d change at the end of his way’, says Romek.

He asked for more tea. Jürgen’s hand was firm, and there was not a sign of shaking. He stood up, and came to the window smoking his pipe. Grandson stood at the door. Romek broke the silence asking if he could buy this photo-album. He was able to pay 250 euro – for which Jürgen agreed, although his grandson thought the photographs are worth 400.

Then he opened a desk drawer and took out a full pack of Warsaw’s gingerbread cookies from 1941, a German eagle with a sign in German “Souvenir from Warsaw”, and five menus from Warsaw’s restaurants. ‘I’d go back to Warsaw for the food – it was absolutely superb’. We talked for three hours, and then he said he was tired.

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Please note that the pictures used in this blog to illustrate this topic are not the ones made by Jurgen.

Interested in Warsaw Uprising? Here are some links
CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Forgotten Soldiers
warsawuprising.com
The Warsaw Rising Museum
Norman Davies Rising ’44


If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.





The ‘disinterested’ opinions of Gerhard Schröder

9 09 2007

Source: gazeta.pl news portal
Author: PAP Polish Press Agency
Translation from Polish for this blog: MoPoPressReview

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The former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder criticised European Union last Saturday for “becoming a hostage of nationalistic, anti-Russia interests of individual EU member states”.

Schroeder then said more precisely that who he meant were “the authorities of Poland and leaders of several other EU member states”.

The former chancellor, who currently is the head of a German-Russian company constructing the Nord Stream pipeline (between Russia and Germany through the Baltic Sea), was sharing his opinions in Moscow during a meeting presenting the Russian edition of his diaries ‘Decisions. My life in politics’.

The meeting took place in Moscow’s Hotel President, owned by the Chancellery of the President of Russia, and among the participants was Dmitry Medvedev, the first vice-prime minister of Russia, who is named as Vladimir Putin’s successor in the Kremlin.

Medvedev, who also is the chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors, is the author of the preface to Schroeder’s book.

“EU should reject primitive interests”

The former chancellor also said that the EU should reject those primitive nationalistic interests, as they are an obstacle in European integration and improving relations with Russia.

Mr. Schroeder also criticised the plan to place elements of US anti-missile shield in Central Europe: ‘It’s being presented as a matter between Poland, Czech Republic and USA, whereas it is a matter of the whole EU’.

According to the former head of German government, such perspective is as illogical, as saying that the problem of Polish meat export to Russia is somethinng on a European level.

Mr. Schroeder emphasised that some EU member states are using the EU to solving their own problems. ‘It is detrimental for the European integration. For the benefit of Europe, one should put individual countries’ interests aside’ – he pointed out.

The Russian media in their reviews of Schoder’s book note, that he warns about the danger that is in the ‘turn to nationalism, observd in Poland, which is unsteerable, which may cause harm to German-Russian relation, which would be disastrous for Europe’.

‘Emotions in the Baltic states and Poland need to be cooled down’ – reported the Russian media citing Mr. Schroeder.

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Germany: a hostile friend

1 09 2007

Source: Wprost weekly of 2 Sep. 2007
Author: Krystyna Grzybowska
Translation from Polish for this blog: MoPoPressReview

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Should we acknowledge the German domination in Europe and humbly take in the attacks of the German media and some of the German politicians on this country? Or should we continue the hard policy of defending national interests, like the Germans do, on the European and international stage? As far as the relations with Germany are concerned, these are the options Poland has. Think not Poland has to do talk with Germany knelt down. Germany respects a nation that respects itself; and won’t be frightened. This is one of the reasons they treat Russia with such respect. The lesson they’ve got in Stalingrad got deep into their minds.

German patriotism

We are not a superpower; not with us the German government is competing in pursuit of being the first in Europe, or the leading world superpower. Chancellor Merkel receives such praise in Germany not due to her new orders in internal politics or important reforms. She’s so popular because she maintains strong position “in the world of Bush, Sarkozy and Putin”. It’s about influencing the world – because 62 years after the war the Germans are regaining self-confidence, which they lacked for decades. German self-confidence is however always combined with nationalism and arrogance. That’s how it was in history, and how it is now.

For a long time the word ‘patriot’ was regarded in Germany as offence – complained ‘Die Welt’ daily in one of it’s commentaries. And that makes the Polish accusation of German chauvinistic attitude towards them absurd. It is true, that one of the elements of de-Nazification of the West Germany was avoidance of presenting attachment to Vaterland, as there was the fear that it would turn to nationalism. I didn’t, however, notice any indications of patriotism in German everyday life – because patriotism in Polish, French or American style doesn’t exist there. The national euphoria during the recent football world cup faded away together with the event. Despite president Horst Koehler’s calls to continue with this patriotic enthusiasm. Germans don’t know what is patriotism. You need ages of fighting and efforts to keep territory, to have freedom; and also humility, to know what it means to love one’s home country.

German courage

For hundreds of years Germany, or German states and their variable coalitions to be more specific, have been pursuing to take other people’s territories in possession – until it ended with a barbarian war started by Hitler. Today Prussia is being glorified, and called German’s pride. ‘Der Spiegel’ weekly devotes pages to descriptions of the might and great merits the Prussian state made to the Germans. Grateful readers are sending letters thanking the paper for having courage to have this difficult subject published. “You rehabilitate the the biggest, and politically and culturally the most influential German state, dissolved in 1947 by the winners. No institution either in the East, or in the West, has ever had that courage” – wrote Joerg Ulrich Stange from Sleswig-Holsatia. It isn’t the first or the only attempt to rehabilitate the disgraceful German past.

The most worrying is the tone of the media, which accuse Jarosław Kaczynski, and the current Polish administration, of nationalism. “Prime-minister’s rhetoric, seasoned with nationalism, falls on the fertile ground among the elderly, who lived through the German occupation” – wrote the conservative German ‘Focus’ weekly. Is that supposed to mean, that those Poles who made it to survive and escape the death from German barbarians, are nationalists? One is tempted to paraphrase the famous Jacques Chirac’s quote “The Germans didn’t use the opportunity to be quiet”.

There are several words and terms the Germans shouldn’t use in relation to other nations, and most importantly in relation to Jewish and Polish nations. One of those is ‘nationalism’. It sounds cynical, coming from a country that apparently has overcome nationalism; although it’s citizens can freely associate in fascist parties like NPD, and bald-headed “patriots” run around East-German city streets bashing every foreigner who happens to be of different skin colour than a typical blonde would have had. Recent violence, that affected people of Hindu origin, highly-skilled professionals – which the richest country in Europe constantly lacks, prove how multiculturalism and tolerance work in the soul of an average simple German.

In the German East nationalism is visible straight-forward, whereas in the West it proliferates in beer pubs, manifested in complaints on Polish car-thieves and dirty Turks. On the other hand, political correctness and fear of the Muslims mean that the Germans are having even more mosques built, like the one in Cologne, although there already are over 2500 Islamic temples in the country.

Criticising Kaczyński, and accusing him of nationalism, when he warns Civic Platform party (PO) of being over-submissive towards Germany, is another attack on Poland, a country which hasn’t done anything wrong to the Germans, which was ready to put aside the past and reconcile with a nation that has done her so much harm.

Polish-German idyll

It were the Germans who began to revise history, when they recognised they can allow themselves for that. And the recent Expelled Associations’ congress in Berlin showed that this revision could have European dimension. The sole presence of the European Parliament’s president Hans-Gert Poettering on this undoubtedly anti-Polish event, only proves this point. How is the Polish government and the Polish public supposed to react for such demonstration? Should we pretend that everything is all right, and Erika Steinbach and her federation is a margin – like the politicians of German left and right would want us to believe?

Polish politics is a deep crisis. Parliamentary opposition, although among which there are many patriots, is demolishing the state in plain view of Europe and to German praise. The German media for some time have been trying to influence the Polish public, fighting together with the Polish opposition with Kaczyński brothers. They are almost certain that PO will win the next elections and form coalition with The Left and Democrats (LiD), which will finally relieve the nationalist tendencies in Poland. And there will be idyll between Poland and Germany: the way the Germans want of course.

People who defend the theory about the marginal role of the Federation of Expellees cite positive examples: for it was the enthusiasm for “Solidarność” that was the impulse for Merkel to get into politics – wrote Thomas Urban, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung correspondent in Poland. Germans like symbols, symbolic gestures are to fix problems between the two nations. The joint declaration of German president Johannes Rau and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwaśniewski in 2003, according to Poettering, has provided a final solution for the claims. ‘Bla bla bla’ – one would want to say. 22 families have to leave their homes, because these homes will be returned to the Germans. Further evictions are on their way.

If the next Polish government is to lead the equal partnership policy with Germany through trivial declarations, we will find ourselves in a corner, and without any chance for regaining the position the current government has undoubtedly won. We might also learn that the Polish veto against Russia is a betrayal of European interests – while the Baltic pipeline is only a gesture of German-Russian reconciliation.

We are fed up with the symbols of Polish-German reconciliation. German politicians very eagerly refer to the Letter of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops, and the famous quote “We forgive and we ask for forgiveness”. Today these words are getting new meaning, Poles ask for forgiveness for they must be guilty. Hans-Gert Poettering assured he represents the 27 European Union member states – and this is another example of the German arrogance and disrespect for other nations, especially Polish. Unconvincing is the argument, that Poettering as a German Christian Democrat wants to win the favour of the expelled as voters – because he does it at the expense of Polish fears, and he doesn’t care if he increases the tension between the Polish and the German.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.

 





Germany ist gut: the birth of a soft superpower

29 08 2007

Source: Przekrój no. 3237
Author: Łukasz Wójcik
Translation for this blog: MoPoPressReview

The Germans are starting to not be ashamed of their power. Despite the Polish concerns, what they want is not hegemony – but to be a global player: who supports peace, democracy and builds prosperity.

The best view over the new Germany is from the railway station in Berlin. Unlike in most European capitals travellers do not arrive in the Old Town or near the cathedral, like in Cologne. In Berlin you arrive in the middle of the government district. When you get off the train, through the glass walls of the most modern of European railway stations, you can see all the important buildings for the German democracy: Bundestag building, the Reichstag, on the left, covered with the glass dome designed by Norman Foster. On the right the square and edgy building of Chancellor’s Office, which the locals nicknamed the “washing machine”. Only Spree and a massive lawn separate these buildings from the train station. The Berlin Republic needs to be visible.

In Bonn the state symbolism was reverse. The then-capital of the West Germany was placed in a small town near Cologne; the low-risen buildings were to demonstrate the restraint post-war political ambitions. A small castle upon a hill was towering over the city: the seat of Allies’ commandment. The first FRG Chancellor Konrad Adenauer had to run up and down the hill to run the country’s business. His successor, for the next several decades, needed to consult the Allies on important matters. The last time on uniting the two German states.

We could witness the German awakening for the first time during the last year’s football world cup: it was the first time after the war, when the Germans were so openly manifesting their Germanness. Stadia were filled with red-black-gold colours, and before each match thousands sang the German national anthem. A sight you you wouldn’t be likely to witness twenty years ago.

For the last half year the symbolic modern buildings have been filling up with content. Holding the presidency of the G8 and the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany has shown that it doesn’t want to be a global player: it is a global player. At the Heiligendamm summit the inconspicuous Angela Merkel forced the world’s most powerful countries to acknowledge global warming, and made USA to declare carbon dioxide emissions cut. Two weeks ago Angela Merkel again achieved the impossible: she reanimated the EU Constitutional Treaty, that seemed lost forever.

The awakening of the New Germany

The awakening of the new European superpower has begun nine years ago. With Gerhard Schroeder in 1998 the 1968 generation got into power. Both aware of the historical responsibility, and ready to end the national penance and open a new chapter in the country’s history. Shroeder was the first to start an active foreign policy outside the European Commonwealth.

‘Sending Bundeswehr to Kosovo was a breakthrough’ – says Piotr Buras of the Centre for Foreign Relations in Warsaw. ‘For the first time since 1945 a German soldier was to be stationed outside the country. As the then-German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping put it Germany changed the “no more wars” rule to “no more Auschwitz”. And this justified the military intervention protecting the Albanians in Kosovo, whom the Slobodan Milosevic’s troops were putting in imminent danger of genocide’.

That’s how the three-step German comeback to international politics begun. First step was to engage German troops in all possible humanitarian missions. After the successful mission in Kosovo the Bundestag, which has to issue its consent for participation in every foreign mission, started to give its consent more often. German soldiers showed up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sudan, and Afghanistan. But when the Americans started to look for allies before their intervention in Iraq, Germany said “no”.

And that was the second stage: namely Germany making herself independent from the USA. Only Schroeder and his Foreign Office Minister Joschka Fischer could make this process happen. Due to political reasons: as having eight thousand German soldiers on UN missions was showing Germany feels responsible for the things going on in the world. But mainly due to psychological reasons: as the Kohl’s and Gensher’ humble gratefulness towards the USA was replaced with Schroder’s and Fischer’s criticism towards the American superpower. That was the influence of the 1968 revolt in which they both participated.

Denying Americans the help they wanted, Schroeder not only gained the votes of thousands of Germans opposing the war in Iraq, but also found his relationship with Jacques Chirac on a fast-track, and his profile on European political scene sky- rocketing: he was a Yankee-buster. And that was the beginning of the come-back stage. Active in humanitarian missions and openly criticising the United States, Germany went to the lead of Europe. And begun to defend their interests. They’ve become a normal country.

Reaching this point took Germany several generations. Since 1949, when Allies agreed for the FRG, German politics was being done under the Konrad Andenauer’s catchphrase “the more Europe the better for Germany”. The disaster of the Second World War made Germans realise that positioning their country tight within international organisations is the only way to peace in Europe – and at the same time – to rebuilding their country.

That’s where the German commitment to European integration comes from; regardless of the differences on national interest between France and FRG – especially in relation to America. For the Germans the USA were a guarantee that the Red Army won’t take over their country, for the French – an obstacle in regaining their position in Europe. Germans, however, thought that that if there will be French-German co-operation, other countries will follow the unlikely duo. And they were right.

Europe’s good boy

For over 40 years Germany have been acting as the “good boy of Europe”. As the heir of the Third Reich they have been doing penance and paying the largest contributions to the EU on time. In the 1980’s West Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said that ‘Germany doesn’t have national interests, as her interests are identical to European interests’.

The people of Genscher’s generation were the last among German politician who lived through the war, and as grown-ups felt they owe the Allies the unpaid historical debt of gratitude. Their last political act was uniting West and East Germany in 1990 and launching the EU accession process of the Eastern European states. Helmut Kohl was the last politician to use the adjectives ‘German’ and ‘European’ interchangeably.

The change in the attitude would be best illustrated by comparing the German rhetoric on introducing Poland to the EU, and the way Berlin justified the Nord Stream pipeline. Kohl forced the EU enlargement in the name of historic justice and paying-off the war debts. In his logic, EU enlargement was good for Europe and therefore good for Germany.

In the pipeline case, Schroeder turned this logic over: Germany’s energy supply safety he presented as the interest of Europe. To some extent this way of thinking was also adopted by Angela Merkel in Brussels summit, when she forced double majority voting system as a solution benefiting the whole EU; not mentioning that it is at the same time very favourable for Germany.

Merkel’s personal ambitions

Germany’s awakening to the role of a superpower has three reasons: internal, external and personal. Despite the problems with economic growth, Germany are still the world’s third largest economy, and the biggest global exporter. Naturally German politicians have to take care of German enterprises businesses worldwide. And to do that they have to build their country’s strong position in international politics.

Second reason, the external, is the international community’s growing expectations towards Germany. Both USA and Europe expect Germany, which are an economical superpower, to take more responsibility for the world. Germany are now taking part in all the key international negotiations: not only with Russia, but also around Iran and Palestine.

The third reason is called Angela Merkel. The German chancellor, accused at the beginning of her term for inadequate experience in international politics, has during the last two years shown massive political talent, outdoing her predecessor by far. Some are already talking about a distinctive “Merkel style”. Heavy analyses are carried out prior to any decision – and when it comes to action, her moves are calm yet firm. She never looses her aim from her eyesight.

Merkel’s focus on the international stage have one more reason: they take attention from her failures in internal politics. Christian-Democrats and Social-Democrats coalition is falling apart, the partners are unable to agree on key reforms, and the rows caused by SPD’s falling support turned to open conflict that paralyses the government. Unable to succeed inside the country, Merkel escapes to foreign policy.

This is benefiting CDU/CSU and one social democrat: Fran-Walter Steinmeier, the former chief of Schroeder’s cabinet, and currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Merkel has great contacts with the Americans and Israel, to balance Steinmeier takes care about good relations with the Arab world and Russia. Building his position in SPD at the same time.

Soft superpower: no plan though

Despite the historical stereotypes and fears, the emerging superpower is not aiming at any defined target, and the successes on different fields are not conjoined with a cohesive plan of developing the German potential. It’s not domination whet the Germans are after. Their political aims do not go beyond the ambitions of a large European country: focusing on their own national interest, the need to impact international politics: as a global player – taking care about peace, supports democracy and stimulates economic growth – not a hegemony.

So far Germany is reacting, not initiating. Also on the EU level. The former German government was open that it intended to transform the EU into a federal state with its own president and government, which caused shivers down many Polish right-wing politicians’ spines. Chancellor Merkel never mentioned such a project. Like the Kaczynski brothers she doesn’t mind referring to the “national interest” of her country.

‘Angela Merkel is the best chancellor Poland could dream for’ – says Buras. ‘Her policy is foreseeable, as it’s just pragmatic. She doesn’t surrender herself to the pressures of interest groups, and surely she won’t follow Gerhard Schroeder’s footsteps and will not get a seat in the board of some Russian corporation’.

It is her attitude to Russia that should ultimately convince Polish politicians that Poland and Germany have the same road to follow. Merkel raised in the former East Germany is immune to the charm of former KGB agents, which she expressed during her May meeting with Vladimir Putin in Samara. There was no Russian-German entertaining on a hunt, and the Russian president heard some bitter words about democracy in his country. He also found out that Berlin is outraged with the Russian ban on Polish meat import.

Regardless of the worries there are in Poland, Germany will always talk with Russia over our heads. But it doesn’t always have to be another Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Berlin needs Russia to solve problems like nuclear Iran-threat or Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is the level of international politics, Polish government is rather not engaged in.

That is why Poland should strive for German support for her Eastern policy – not the other way around. Merkel has proven that she’s open to rational argumentation. If Polish government is able to convince Germany that Europe needs democratic Ukraine, that Russian games with gas are dangerous for Germany as well – it could turn out Poland has a powerful ally in her talks with Russia.

The perfect time for this is now, because the Germans are starting to do foreign policy on a scale adequate to their potential. You might of course organise a coalition-of-fear againt the giant, but maybe better it is to think where Polish and German interests overlap and try to help one another.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.

 





Poland will not return priceless art works to Germany

6 08 2007

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza 4-5 August 2007
Author: Bartosz T. Wieliński in Berlin
Translation from Polish for this blog: MoPoPressReview

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For over a week the Polish and German media have been heating up the debate over German art works, that Poland acquired after the Second World War. It is for instance the so called ‘Berlinka’: the collection of old prints and manuscripts (by Goethe, Beethoven and Mozart, inter alia), and a collection of aircrafts from the beginnings of air travel. During the war the Germans relocated them to Silesia region, where after 1945 they were found by Polish authorities, gaining control over the Recovered Territories.

Since 1992 their return is being negotiated. Today Warsaw refuses to return them saying that these collections are a compensation for the Polish works of art destroyed during the war by the Germans. Polish experts estimate these losses at 20 billion dollars.

Last Friday the German Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily wrote, that Polish stubbornness is unlawful, and reminded that Poland had broken off the talks in 2005. FAZ called the German government to be more firm in demanding the return of their national treasures. Later the German press referred to these works of ar as “loot” or “hostages”. Yesterday Anna Fotyga, the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, called these remarks a “Cold War relic”. While the Polish Government’s Plenipotentiary for the Polish-German relations said that these claims made by Germany are ‘a defeat of the peculiarly understood reconciliation, forced by the scriptwriters of the Polish foreign policy in the early nineties.’

INTERVIEW
with Prof. Tono Eitel, German diplomat and main negotiator of the return of the German art works

Bartosz T. Wieliński: Why do the Germans call Berlinka a “loot”? Poland did not steal it.
Toto Eitel: I don’t see anything wrong with that. When as a result of war some goods are taken oven and relocated, they are called loot. Berlinka is a “looted art”. There also exists another term “stolen art” – but this applies to the works of art that the Germans have stolen from Poland during the war.
No one had stolen Berlinka or the collection of air crafts. Poles have found them on the lands granted to Poland after the Seond World War. They did not destroy it, but have taken care of it. Why do you want them back?
Because that’s what the international law says. The Hague Convention of 1907 forbids confiscating art works. These belong to Germany, Poland couldn’t have taken it then. Nowadays only Warsaw and Moscow refuse to agree with that argumentation. The Berlinka collection has an exceptional value for the Germans. If these were paintings, sculptures, no one would have made so much fuss about it. But this is about the manuscripts of our most wonderful artists, including the manuscript of our national anthem. This is our national heritage, and it just belongs to Germany.
Beethoven’s scores and Goethe’s manuscripts are Europe’s heritage. Does is matter in which European country they are placed?
I disagree. Beethoven was a German, he was writing in German. His manuscripts should be placed here. How would you feel if the manuscripts of Sienkiewicz or Mickiewicz were in German storage? Poland would be demanding them back, as firmly as we do.
The Germans seem to forget that they had themselves been destroying Polish collections. The SS were burning the collections of the libraries of Warsaw for days.

We are not forgetting. We have always been saying that destroying the Polish culture the Germans have committed terrible crimes. However the attitude of Nazi Germany, the large-scale disregard to international law, cannot be an example for other countries. The Ukrainians have returned our works of art, and we had been plundering and exterminating them too. Kiev acknowledges that this is the law.
Poland thinks that Berlinka and other German collections are substitute restitution. You have destroyed our works of art worth of 20 billion dollars – we are taking yours then. That’s fair.
I don’t agree with this opinion. There isn’t such solution in the international law. Besides, Poland had renounced her claims of restitution from Germany in 1953, which was repeated in the treaty of 1970.
But it was the Soviet Union that forced Poland renounce these claims! And it was Moscow, who received compensation money from Germany after the war. Passing only some leftovers to Poland.
But you can say Poland received one fourth of the territories of the German Reich. I cannot accept the argument that what was signed during the communism doesn’t apply today. Thank God that system collapsed, but the Polish state continues to exist, and law is law.
Most of the 180.ooo German works of art taken over after the war are in Russia. Russia doesn’t want to give it back to you either, nevertheless German press only attacks Warsaw. Why?
Because people can’t understand why we are not able to come to an agreement with a country that we are in friendship with, with which we are in NATO and the EU. We can’t come to an agreement although we’ve been negotiating for 15 years now.
Did you come to any joint conclusions during the negotiations?
No, although we continued the talks. Once in Poland, once in Germany. Unfortunately in 2005 Poland broke off the talks. We were not given any reasons. The subject was just cut.
Maybe because Germans all those years have been demanding everything, that Poland refused in advance. Wouldn’t it be better to found an institution, for instance in Wrocław, a European city with a Polish-German history, and deposit Berlinka there?
Why not? Such solution was never excluded. But both parties need to seek the solution together. And for the last two years Poland doesn’t want to.

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C O M M E N T
by Włodzimierz Kalicki
Gazeta Wyborcza daily

A burgler breaks into our house. Whatever he was capable of carrying – he had taken out and stolen. At the end he set fire to our house, and the rest of our treasures perished in the fire. When he was running away, he lost his coat.
Years gone by, he comes with a generous proposal: if you can still find in my apartment anything that I stole from you, I can give it back to you. But on one condition: you’ll give me back the coat I lost. And don’t mention the things I burned – that doesn’t exist any more.

A farce? Not only. This is the newest line of German argumentation: if Warsaw gives us back Berlinka and air crafts collections, we’ll give them back whatever we still have in our storages of the things we robbed from Poland.

What about the treasures of the Polish cultural heritage, that – in large part – were being destroyed in a planned, organised fashion? German negotiator thinks that it doesn’t have anything to do with the return of Berlinka.

Poland will not agree for that.

Any potential return of Berlinka is possible only as a response to Germany’s compensation for destroying Polish cultural treasures. The compensation could, for instance, have the form of a foundation. A foundation seeking, around the world, and buying off, the works of art that were stolen from Poland by the Germans; a foundation that would also promote Polish-German joint cultural initiatives.

Nudging one another will not bring us closer to solving this problem. Only a reasonable compromise, that the public opinion in Poland and Germany will accept, will let this outrageous row end. The outrage is evidently caused by Germany.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.

 





Expelled from Tschenstochau

15 03 2007

Source: Wprost (weekly) of 18th March 2007
Author: Piotr Cywiński in Berlin

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German law allows the number of the expelled to be endlessly multiplied
‘A Russian dragged my sister-in-law out of the room. We heard shots. Then he returned. We we praying as he was shooting the grandmother, then my father, who only managed to say “auf wiedersehen” to my mum and us. My sister was sitting on the side. She was holding two children in her arms. He shot them too. Then my aunt. He wanted to take me. When i struggled, he hit me with the gun butt, cut my trousers down and raped me. Then he went away, but shortly came back and shot the baby in a pram’. This is a fragment Christel Jolitz’s memories published by the German Bild daily. This popular tabloid had published the real-life tragical stories before the public ARD channel broadcast the film entitled Die Flucht (Escape), by the public ARD channel. The characters and the plot in the film were fictional. The only real thing about it was the great exodus of Germans before the incoming Soviet Red Army.

Although a record number of viewers watched Die Flucht, the film is not a work of art. The screenplay unfolds a story about love between a German countess and a French POW doing forced labour on an estate in Eastern Prussia. The story is not very convincing, however it is set in the background that reflects facts. As Erika Steinbach, the president of the Federation of the Expelled (BdV), rightfully points out, the reality was more cruel and tragic. The 46-year-old director Kai Wessel says with pride, that he finally said out loud what had been kept in silence for 60 years. However, that reputed-silence surrounding the 12 million Germans, who run away fearing revenge or were resettled, is just a plain marketing trick.

Hitler’s last victims
There have been millions of pages of academic theses and literary works written on the subject of escape or resettlements in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1949 a Ministry for the Expelled was formed, which existed until 1969. Museums remembering the little Heimats are scattered around the country, as well as Landsmannshafts receiving public funding, affiliating former residents even of those cities like Tschenstohau (Częstochowa), where German minorities before the war did not exist. And there is the powerful Bund der Vertriebenen (Federation of the Expelled). First movies about old lands and the fate of Germans were made in the 50s, for example Grün ist die Heide, or the later produced Death of My Father. Only in the last few months we could see on silver or tv screens: Escape and expulsion, trilogy Exile, Hitler’s Last Victims (on the tragedy of the Wilhelm Güstloff ship), two-episode Dresden (on bombing) and two films on the last days of Hitler’s life.

Talking about a silence surrounding expulsions is as nonsense, as the German politicians’ assurances that Erika Steinbach is powerless. Nota bene the problem does not only come down to her, although she actually personifies it well. The sole fact of appointing her in 1998 to the office of president of the Federation of the Expelled was a provocation. Since her parents were nazi occupants who settled in Rumia near the city of Gdynia during the war. BdV is full of people like her. And it is legitimised by an awkward definition in the statue for the expelled and refugees (Gesetz über die Angelegenheiten der Vertriebenen und Flüchtinge). It says:

Expelled is the one, who as a German citizen or a person belonging to the German nation, had had their place of residence in the German eastern lands, which had been previously under foreign administration or on the lands of the German Reich, on December 31st 1937, and had lost it in relation to the occurrences of The Second World War due to expulsion or escape’.

In accordance with to that definition, “expelled” in Germany multiply in numbers – and some estimates say – their number has risen to 15 million people. BdV membership cards are given also to the grandchildren of the resettled or economic migrants of recent years. Politicians seem not to see this, like they similarly do not see the links between BdV and neonazi movements, which were pointed out couple times. Paul Latussek, who used to be Erika Steinbach’s deputy, was also ruling the extreme right Free Citizens Federation (BfB), while his outrageous remarks on Holocaust cost him the job of lecturer at University of Ilmenau.

Few years ago Klaus Bednarz asked a question in his tv show “Monitor” ‘What does the multimillion budget funding for Bdv go for?’ The funds are aimed at helping to preserve cultural tradition, and historical inheritance of the expelled, and they go into destruction’. Maybe this is a coincidence, but soon after Bednarz lost his job at the television, and Erika Steinbach was chosen for the ZDF public channel’s board, and to thegoverning board of CDU, the party currently governing Germany. And then for the president of the CDU/CSU Human Rights Working Group at the German parliament. And some other lucrative posts. When not so long ago, in a tv debate with Steinbach, I quoted a letter sent by BdV members accusing her that she ‘is making political career using the resettled’ and calling her to ‘resign as soon as possible’ , she replied to me with a cynical smile, that she cannot complain for lack of support. Steinbach is very selfcertain. The main argument she directs at her political opponents is the electoral blackmail. Large parties are afraid of losing votes.

Rewriting History
Steinbach uses the good old rule, that a lie told over and over becomes truth. When she speaks, things start to take different proportions. Causes become smaller, the outcomes become bigger. The number of “expelled” increases too. During the expultions and escape 500-600.000 Germans died. She keeps talking about 2 million. It’s rewriting history. No serious researcher confirms these numbers. Who gives those numbers only wants to make foreign policy with it, and gather attention – says Ingo Haar, historian from Berlin.

Research conducted by the Federal Republic f Germany in 1974 conluded that there were 400.000 victims on the East from river Oder and 100.000 in Czechoslovakia. In the 80s a joined Czech-German commission, after doing deep research, has lowered the number of victims to 15-16.000 and agreed that the false numbers from the 50s will not be repeated any more. Stainbach remains deaf for these arguments.

Steinbach über alles
For bad Polish-German relations Steinbach blames the Polish parties, which she compared to neonazis. When a Wehrmacht’s officer’s daughter, born at the end of the war, who after 50 years voted against the border treaty with Poland, says that – it carries some extra meaning. (…) It is difficult to count her provocations: from attempts to block Poland’s entry to the EU until it returns the estates and pays compensations to the expelled, to outrageous remarks about “not consulting the fitting of buildings in Warsaw with Germans, who tore the city down.”

It raises a question, is one person more importaint for the Germany than good relations with a neighbouring country, or are her views more common? German politicians seem like they were acting according to “Steinbach über alles” principle. It is not needed to hear her apology. What is needed is a discussion among Germans themselves, what are they going to do with BdV-anachronism? Stefan Hambura, attorney from Berlin, thinks that the current Polish-German crisis is the last chance to close the the issue of of escape, resettlement, “expulsion”, and compensations. He suggests a final solution to this problem by proper acts, that should be attached to the European Constitution.

Will German politicians find enough strong will to deal with this inconvenient ballast from the past? One thing is certain: the way of solving the problem of BdV will be a gauge, that will tell us how sincere their conciliatory intentions are.

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If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.