• Germany edition
 
The Warsaw-Berlin connection
Photo: DPA

The Warsaw-Berlin connection

Published: 30 Nov 2008 22:41 GMT+01:00
Updated: 30 Nov 2008 22:41 GMT+01:00

For those itching to get out of Berlin for a quick trip to Germany’s nearest eastern neighbour, the Berlin-Warsaw express train departs daily from the German capital on a five-hour journey to the heart of the former Eastern-Bloc country.

The city of Frankfurt an der Oder marks the last German outpost before the train reaches the dense pine forests of Poland. From here passengers can see a landscape dotted with wooden hunting posts and weatherworn stone cottages. A closer look also reveals an isolated trucking road where prostitutes and crucifixes stand side by side flickering in and out of view from the forest.

After arriving at the Warsaw central station, passengers can stock up on zloty, Poland’s national currency, amid an assortment of fast food joints, before stepping outside into a city of distinct architectural differences and healing wounds.

The fading imprint of a stormy German-Polish past, epitomized by the brutal Nazi occupation during World War II, continues to haunt Warsaw. The Nazis invaded the city in September 1939, and it lay in ruins by the time Soviet tanks rolled in to liberate the city in January 1945.

Stolen bricks

The remnants of Nazi occupation still leave a bad taste in the mouths of most Poles, who are quick to tell tourists of how the Germans bombed and destroyed their city. A photographic exhibition depicting the extent of the damage lines the main avenue leading to one of the city's main attractions, the Royal Castle. Images of Warsaw as a wasteland are juxtaposed on images of the reconstructed city, which took decades to repair.

The Soviets began to rebuild the historic city centre of Warsaw after the war's end, but reconstruction was finally completed in 1962, and not without the help of stolen German bricks. Short on building materials, the Soviets devised a plan to rebuild Warsaw using bricks from buildings in the former German territory of Prussia that became part of Poland after the Potsdam conference.

Wroclaw, called Breslau in German, had been home to many ethnic Germans who fled after the war. The city lost more than a million bricks per day during the height of the pilfering as the communists dismantled historical buildings.

It took nearly two decades to totally rebuild the old town of Warsaw to its former beauty, and main attractions like the Royal Castle, nestled at the edge of the small Old Town, have the aura of authenticity, earning it a UNESCO's World Heritage listing in 1980.

Nowadays the picturesque Old Town’s cobbled streets bustle with activity, street musicians, and lace vendors. Meanwhile visitors eating the local ice cream specialty Lodi browse jewellery stores filled with silver-set amber on the way to the main attraction, the Royal Castle.

The original Royal Castle was built in the 14th Century and was destroyed twice, first during a war with Sweden in the 1600’s and later by Nazi Germany. The refurbished royal rooms are filled with glistening chandeliers and treasures from Imperial Poland. In the throne room, guests behold the country’s most precious jewels - a set of 50 diamond eagles, which are Poland’s national emblem. But the birds, like the bricks that rebuilt the city, are fake. The Nazis stole the real treasures during the occupation, and only one of the original eagles has ever been recovered, returned by an expatriate family living in the United States.

Cleaning up

The Old Town atmosphere is in direct contrast to the post-war communist buildings, as well as glistening post-communist buildings in other parts of the city. Poland’s tallest building, the Palace of Culture and Science, was built by Joseph Stalin in 1952 as a gift to the Polish people. It towers 231 metres into the sky and looks like a building out of Batman's Gotham city. The notorious example of Socialist Realist architecture took its inspiration from the Empire State building in New York, and its name – before destalinization – after the communist leader.

But communist rule was overthrown in 1989, and now the bright neon signs of numerous giant multinational companies beam from high-rise office blocks as capitalism closes in on aging communist monuments.

Ten years ago guidebooks were packed with hot tips on where to spend a seedy night in the Polish capital. But change is palpable as the nation, accepted into the European Union in 2004, works to improve its reputation and turns over a squeaky clean leaf.

Modern Warsaw

Visitors can board a city tram for an affordable tour of the city’s more modern sections, as well as a good dose of Soviet-built architecture.

Flower stands now have been established where brothels once stood and elderly Polish women sit with their bouquets of fresh or dried flowers for sale. The colourful stalls, set amidst the concrete high-rise apartment blocks, are as popular as the Lodi ice cream stores in the Old Town. Take a dried bunch of Polish wild flowers back to Berlin as a sweet-smelling reminder of a city blooming in the face of its troubled past.

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Today's headlines
UN climate talks shuffle to a close in Bonn
Photo: DPA

UN climate talks shuffle to a close in Bonn

Concern was high at a perceived lack of urgency as UN climate negotiations shuffled towards a close in Bonn on Saturday with just 14 months left to finalise a new, global pact. READ  

Berlin slams Italy Nazi claims court ruling
Italy's National Partisans' Association welcomed the court decision. Photo: DPA

Berlin slams Italy Nazi claims court ruling

Italy's constitutional court has ruled that victims of Nazi-era war crimes can sue Germany in Italian courts, rejecting a UN ruling and provoking a strong reaction from Berlin on Friday. READ  

Expats reveal another side of Berlin Wall
Photo: Paul Sullivan

Expats reveal another side of Berlin Wall

Two expats who walked the Mauerweg - the 160-kilometre trail that runs the length of the former Berlin Wall - have written a book about forgotten aspects of its past and present. READ  

Karstadt closes six stores to stay afloat
Photo: DPA

Karstadt closes six stores to stay afloat

Germany's biggest department store chain Karstadt will close at least six stores, putting around 2,000 jobs at risk, in a drastic bid by its new boss to return it to profit. READ  

Quiz
How well do you know Germany?
Photos: DPA/Shutterstock

How well do you know Germany?

Do you know your Saxony facts from your Saxony-Anhalt ones? Test your knowledge of Germany's federal states in The Local's quiz. READ  

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal
Pollution from a coal-fired power station in Frimmersdorf, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal

The UN's climate chief hailed a European agreement in Bonn on greenhouse gases on Friday as providing "valuable momentum" for a world pact to be inked in Paris next year. READ  

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth
Photo: DPA

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth

Germany will get an early Christmas present of around €779 million from the EU, thanks to weaker than expected GDP growth. READ  

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told
Photo: DPA

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told

It will take several days to find out what caused a massive explosion on Thursday which rocked a town on the Rhine, killing a builder and injuring 26 others. READ  

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'
An NH90 helicopter. Photo: DPA

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'

Germany's fleet of NH90 helicopters is undergoing engineering checks after one of them suffered a serious engine failure, in the latest blow to the country's military capabilities. READ  

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m
Rainer Schwarz at a court hearing in September into the case. Photo: DPA

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m

The man who was blamed for Berlin's miserable attempt to build a new airport must be paid more than €1 million - after being fired. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Politics
Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: Huge explosion rocks Ludwigshafen
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
Which high school cliche is your German city?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Storm hits southern Germany
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,497
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd