• Germany's news in English
 

The Warsaw-Berlin connection

Published: 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
Schumacher Jr lives up to his name
Schumacher Jr is too young to drink any of that champagne. Photo: DPA

Schumacher Jr lives up to his name

Mick Schumacher Jr did his famous father proud on his Formula Four debut on Saturday by claiming a trophy as the best rookie and finishing ninth, despite starting 19th. READ  

Deutsche Bank to sell Postbank
Deutsche Bank acquired Postbank in 2008. Photo: DPA

Deutsche Bank to sell Postbank

Germany's biggest lender Deutsche Bank announced late Friday it was seeking to sell its Postbank subsidiary as part of a revamp to improve profitability. READ  

Far left activists attack immigration office
Photo: DPA

Far left activists attack immigration office

Far-left extremists attacked an immigration office in Leipzig early on Friday morning. It was the second targeted attack on an official building in the city in recent months. READ  

Steinmeier: Armenia wasn't genocide
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo:DPA

Steinmeier: Armenia wasn't genocide

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted on Friday that calling Armenian massacres genocide risks belittling the Holocaust, after President Joachim Gauck broke a taboo by using the word on Thursday. READ  

Schumacher Jr launches Formula race career
Mick Schumacher on test day earlier in April. Photo: DPA

Schumacher Jr launches Formula race career

Michael Schumacher's 16-year-old son starts his Formula Four career this weekend, under the pressure of living up to the famous family name of the seven-time Formula One world champion. READ  

Property of the week
In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Photo: Mr Lodge

In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week

A highly sought-after location, great connection to public transport, and a very stylish interior – Does that sound good to you? Then you’ll love this week’s property! READ  

Germany's most polluted cities
The sun rises behind a coal-burning power station in Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Germany's most polluted cities

The Federal Environment Ministry has named the most polluted places around the country, with Stuttgart claiming the undesirable title of Germany's most polluted city. READ  

Göring's daughter fails in bid to win father's assets
Edda Göring photographed in 1942. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Göring's daughter fails in bid to win father's assets

The Bavarian government rejected on Thursday an attempt by Hermann Göring's daughter to win back her father's assets, which the government seized in 1948. READ  

Tugce accused admits to delivering fatal blow
Tugce Albayrak's death shocked Germany. Photo:DPA

Tugce accused admits to delivering fatal blow

When 22-year-old Tugce Albayrak was fatally beaten in a MacDonald's car park in November 2014, Germany was left in a state of shock. On the first day of her attacker's trial he admits to 'boxing her on the ear.' READ  

Prosecutors want info on spies' help to US
Gerhard Schindler, head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency. Photo: DPA

Prosecutors want info on spies' help to US

Federal prosecutors have asked for access on files from the Bundestag (German parliament) inquiry into mass surveillance, after news that German spies helped the US eavesdrop on European leaders and businesses. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
German beer day: take the tour
Features
Off to Norway at 18 km/hour
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
10 things you didn’t know about Zagreb (and why you should go)
Gallery
The smileys Germans love to text
Sponsored Article
What expat parents should ask before choosing a school
National
Expats face Monday deadline to register to vote for UK election
Politics
A Greek learning politics in Germany
Features
The battle of the "Gates of Berlin"
National
Germany's favourite baby names of 2014
National
Germany's 'very poor' lobbying record
National
VIDEO: Mario Draghi suffers anti-ECB confetti attack
Politics
Merkel's 15 years at the top of German politics
Features
Spice up asparagus season with The Local's serving suggestions
Travel
Lowest of the low: how woman exploited Germanwings crash
Sport
Football and the €30,000 firework
Technology
Why scientists oppose killer robots
National
Germanwings co-pilot 'searched suicide info'
Technology
Electrifying 'Ostalgia'
National
Which city is Germany's worst for drivers?
National
'Cannibal cop' gets 8 years
Can the 'nightmare' of a pilot downing a plane be prevented?
National
LIVE: Co-pilot suspected of crashing plane
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
National
Why east Germans are happy to get it on on camera
National
What would you do with a 250-year-old pretzel?
Features
Just why is the German flag Schwarz, Rot, Gold?
Business & Money
Getting German workers and bosses thinking positive
National
Uplifting thoughts to get you through the last week of winter
National
Who wants the Olympics more - Hamburg or Berlin?
National
Last-minute drama of Germany's Eurovision 2015 entry
National
German photographer takes world's top prize
Features
Meet the woman getting Germans to drink more – and better – beer
Gallery
Get inspired for International Women's Day with German heroes
Green party proposes first-ever cannabis legalization plan
Gallery
In pictures: Germany's seven most livable cities
National
Singapore canes Germans for train graffiti
Politics
Surprise! Germans love feeling like they run the EU
Politics
Anger over plan to show women what men earn
Travel
Munich tram fans bicker over new bell
Features
Kafka: puzzling translators 100 years on
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best country to work in?
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

7,216
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd