• Germany's news in English

The Warsaw-Berlin connection

The Local · 30 Nov 2008, 22:41

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.

Story continues below…

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)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd