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.

 

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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.