How Germany is proposing to tighten controls on the Polish border

With thousands of refugees fleeing to Germany through Belarus and Poland, tough talks are underway about reinstating border controls in Schengen. What could it mean for people travelling between Germany and Poland?

Police check travellers at the Czech-German border
Police check travellers at the Czech-German border during the Covid pandemic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

What’s going on?

Thousands of people from Iraq, Syria and other crisis areas have come to Germany via Belarus and Poland since the summer, and concern is growing in the German Interior Ministry. This Wednesday, outgoing Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (of the centre-right CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU) will hold talks on potential solutions such as temporary borders between Poland and Germany. However, there are no simple solutions in sight.

The background to this involves a complicated relationship between the European Union and Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. 

Tensions with the EU have been rising since Belarus’ elections in August 2020, which saw violent crackdowns on opposition leaders and campaigners and culminated in what is largely considered to be an illegitimate landslide for Lukaschenko. Then, in spring, Lukaschenko forced a plane to reroute and land in Minsk so that government officials could arrest a Belarussian political blogger and his girlfriend, prompting the EU to impose sanctions on the country.


In retaliation, Lukashenko announced that he would no longer stop migrants on their way to the EU. According to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD), Lukashenko is now acting as the “head of a state smuggling ring”, essentially pushing through refugees through the country on their way into Schengen. 

How many people have come to Germany via the Belarus route?

More than 5,000 unauthorised entrants have been registered by the Federal Police on the Belarus route this year. Until the end of July, only 26 people had entered Germany without permission via Belarus and Poland.

By August, however, 474 refugees had entered the country, followed by 1,903 more in September, according to the latest data from the Federal Police. By October 17th, another 3,000 people had entered the country without permission at the German-Polish border, most of them probably also via the Belarus route. 

Recent figures from Brandenburg – the state that surrounds Berlin and where most of the people are arriving – seem to indicate that the numbers are levelling off slightly. Last weekend, 288 people were apprehended in the border area, compared to 392 a week earlier. Whether this is will be a longer term trend remains to be seen. 

It’s worth noting, however, that the situation is much less severe than in 2015 and 2016, when Germany last faced a so-called “migrant crisis”. In 2015, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) recorded 476,649 initial and subsequent applications for asylum, followed by 722,370 initial applications in 2016.

READ ALSO: ‘I’d do it again’: Refugees reflect on their journey to Germany five years on

In contrast, BAMF received just 100,278 initial applications for asylum by the end of September in 2021. However, this was 35.2 per cent more than at the same time last year – though that might be explained by the difficulties of travelling at the height of the pandemic. 

What is the situation on Poland’s border with Belarus?

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania are desperately trying to close the EU’s external border with Belarus. All of these countries are building border fences, while Poland is also planning a permanent fortification. The border guards there have registered around 10,000 attempts at illegally crossing the border to Belarus since the beginning of October alone – after 6,000 in September. Many migrants are now being turned away at the border, which is legal under international law.

A barbed wire fence between Poland and Belarus
Polish police erect a barbed wire fence on the Belarussian border. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire | Attila Husejnow

What is illegal, however, are so-called push-backs – when people have already reached EU territory and would actually have the right to apply for asylum. There have been reports in the Polish press that migrants have been pushed back into Belarus, where they have been beaten up by local authorities and driven back towards Poland.

The exact situation is unclear because Poland has imposed a state of emergency in the border area. In any case, despite all of the hurdles currently in place, thousands have made it to Germany via the EU’s external borders and Poland.

What about border between Germany and Poland?

Federal Interior Minister Seehofer has already approached his Polish counterpart Mariusz Kaminski to discuss how to secure the borders between the two countries.

So far, he has suggested joint patrols by German and Polish border guards, mainly on the Polish side. This would be a measure “below the threshold of a temporary reintroduction of internal border controls”, Seehofer claimed. However, some have interpreted this as a warning signal to Poland, because it is precisely these border controls, which are generally not permitted in the Schengen area, that are now being discussed in Germany. 

How will this affect commuters and tourists? 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, some checks have been put in place along Germany’s external road borders already in order to ensure that everyone entering has proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test to hand. However, with limited police resources, these have mostly been rather patchy spot checks on vehicles.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: Germany’s plans to curb Delta wave with new Covid travel rules

If Germany and Poland decide to tighten up the borders further with stationary checkpoints, it seems increasingly likely that people travelling between the two countries would need to have identification and residence permits to hand in order to be sure that they can pass through without issues. 

In addition, border checkpoints could lead to traffic jams and delays in the transportation of goods between the two countries. For people who regularly commute between Poland and Germany, this would probably mean additional travel time on both legs of the journey.

Two police officers check drivers at the German border
Two police officers check drivers entering Germany from the Czech Republic as part of the Covid travel regulations. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Daniel Schäfer

However Dieter Romann, the Federal Police President, has emphasised that people will still be able to travel freely between the two countries if they’re authorised to do so. 

“We have no intention of restricting the free movement of people, and we have no intention of restricting the free movement of goods,” he told Tagesschau on Wednesday. “But we do want to look into one truck or another to see if people are dying of thirst or suffocating there.”

Controls at the border between Poland and Germany are primarily a fight against smugglers, he added.

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Nine of the best day trips from Frankfurt with the €9 ticket

If you want to explore the area around Frankfurt this summer, there are plenty of destinations you can reach in under two hours. 

Nine of the best day trips from Frankfurt with the €9 ticket

Germany’s €9 monthly ticket, which launched in June, is also available throughout the whole of July and August. It can be used on all local transport across the country, as well as on regional trains. 

If you’re based in Frankfurt, or heading there on holiday, these destinations can all be reached on regional transport in under two hours, making them an ideal day or weekend getaway. 

READ ALSO: €9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

1. Heidelberg

People sit in front of the Old Bridge at the Neckar river in Heidelberg.

People sit in front of the Old Bridge at the Neckar river in Heidelberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

With its arched Old Bridge and castle on the hill, it’s no wonder Heidelberg is known as one of Germany’s most romantic destinations. The castle, which dates back to the 13th century, was even immortalised by English romantic painter William Turner in a famous painting from the mid-19th century. 

Stroll the winding gothic streets, pay a visit to Germany’s oldest university and visit have a coffee in the historic centre which still bears witness to the medieval layout of the city.

To get to Heidelberg, take the RB68 direct from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

READ ALSO: Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

2. Hessenpark

Historic half-timbered houses and an old fountain in the market square of Hessenpark, a popular excursion destination in the Taunus region.

Historic half-timbered houses and an old fountain in the market square of Hessenpark, a popular excursion destination in the Taunus region. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Take a step back in time in this fascinating open-air museum. With over 100 reconstructed historic buildings across 160 acres, the park gives visitors a close-up look at 400 years of rural life in Hesse. 

Amongst the highlights are the market place which boasts buildings from the whole state of Hesse; a 15th-century church and an austere school room from the turn of the 20th century.

With lively demonstrations of crafts and agriculture, exhibitions, colourful markets, the museum theatre and themed tours, a trip to Hessenpark makes a great day out for all of the family. 

To get there, take the RB15 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Wehrheim Bahnhof and from there, hop on the 63 bus to Neu-Anspach-Anspach Hessenpark. In total it should take you 1 hour and 15 minutes.

3. Darmstadt

A man walks through the Mathildenhöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A man walks through the Mathildenhöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

A day trip to Darmstadt is a must for art and architecture lovers, as Hessen’s fourth-biggest metropolis is home to some particularly interesting cultural sights. 

The former artists’ colony on Mathildenhöhe, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most important Art Nouveau sights in Germany and the Wedding Tower and the wacky ‘Waldspirale’ (forest spiral) are well worth a visit.

Also on Mathildenhöhe is the richly decorated Russian Chapel where one of the sisters of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig married Nicholas II, the last Russian Tsar. 

You need only half an hour to reach Darmstadt, with a direct ride on the S3 from Frankfurt (Main) South station.

READ ALSO: Less traffic, more ticket sales: How the €9 ticket is impacting Germany 

4. Königstein (Taunus)

The Königstein castle ruins are a landmark of the Hochtaunus town and are among the largest castle ruins in Germany.

The Königstein castle ruins are a landmark. They are among the largest castle ruins in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

At an altitude of around 300 metres on the wooded slopes of the Taunus lies the health spa town of Königstein. 

Königstein has been a climatic health resort since 1935, thanks to the purity of the air in the region and is home to various health clinics. 

Daytrippers can soak up the tranquillity in the parks or in the picturesque city centre.

The ruins of Königstein Castle, which date back to the first half of the 12th century, are also well worth a visit. 

There are several routes to get you to Königstein from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof in under 50 minutes, the fastest being the S5 to Oberursel, followed by the X26 bus to Königstein.

5. Wiesbaden

The Kurpark in Wiesbaden.

The gorgeous Kurpark in Wiesbaden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

​​Nestled in a beautiful valley between the Rhine and the mountains of the Taunus lies Hesse’s capital Wiesbaden. 

There are plenty of things to see on a day trip to the city, including the English-style landscaped garden of the Kurpark, the neo-Gothic Market Church on Schlossplatz and the Hessian State Museum.

Those who fancy trying their luck should pay a visit to the Casino Wiesbaden – one of Germany’s oldest casinos in the former wine salon of the Kurhaus. 

Wiesbaden is also known for its thermal baths and no trip is complete without a hot tub and sauna visit. 

READ ALSO: Weekend Wanderlust – Getting my feet wet in. Wiesbaden

You only need around 50 minutes to reach Wiesbaden from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof with the S1 or S9 to Wiesbaden central station.

6. Felsenmeer

Hundreds of visitors climb over the rocks of the Felsenmeer , which is a popular attraction in the Odenwald.

Hundreds of visitors climb over the rocks of the Felsenmeer , which is a popular attraction in the Odenwald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Around 60 kilometres south of Frankfurt is a true natural wonder that will delight nature lovers of all ages. 

The Felsenmeer, which literally translates as ‘rock sea’ is a mass of boulders across Felsberg in Oldenwald. The rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, and at the information centre at the foot of the hill, you’ll find all the geological, historical and practical information you need to make the most of a hike through the sea of rocks. 

At the top of the hill, you can reward your exertions with a tasty snack at the kiosk on the summit. 

A trip to the Felsenmeer will take you around an hour and 40 minutes with the RB82 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Reinheim Bahnhof, followed by the M02 bus to Reichenbach, Felsenmeer.

7. Limburg (Lahn)

A view of the Lahn river and the cathedral in Limburg.

A view of the Lahn river and the cathedral in Limburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

A visit to Limburg in the west of Hesse, is a bit like travelling back in time to the Middle Ages. There are dreamy castles, palaces, charming half-timbered houses and ancient legends swirling around the city’s cobbled streets.

A particularly visit-worthy ancient relic is the imposing St. Lubentius Basilica. Perched on an outcrop of limestone rocks on the west bank of the Lahn river, it was the region’s most important church until the 13th century.

You can reach Limburg in just over an hour with the RE20 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.

8. Mainz

A glass of wine stands on a table near the cathedral in Mainz during the Johannisnacht festival in 2019 held in honour of Johannes Gutenberg.

A glass of wine stands on a table near the cathedral in Mainz during the Johannisnacht festival in 2019 held in honour of Johannes Gutenberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

A short train ride away from Frankfurt, you’ll find the city of Mainz on the Rhine River. Known as Germany’s wine capital, there’s plenty to explore in the cobblestone streets of the Altstadt. Mainz has a steep history after being founded by the Romans.

For more than 1,000 years, the city’s skyline has been dominated by the cathedral.

We’d also recommend checking out the the Gutenberg Museum – one of the oldest museums of printing in the world. And of course, make sure to visit a little wine bar – known as a Weinstube.

Get to Mainz by taking the RE4 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.  It takes just over 30 minutes. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

9. Walldorfer See

People enjoy a dip in the Badesee Walldorf.

People enjoy a dip in the Badesee Walldorf. Photo: picture alliance / Daniel Reinhardt/dpa

What better way to cool off this summer than to head to a lake? The beautiful Walldorfer See, south of Frankfurt, is known for being a little less busy and calmer than the nearby Langener See, which is the biggest lake in the region. 

On the southern shore at the entrance is the large sandy beach which has a snack bar, toilets, plus a beach volleyball and barbecue area. You can also explore the forest around. 

Keep in mind that the lake is near the airport so you will also see some planes overhead (which might be fun, especially if you have kids with you!). 

Get there on the S7 or RE70 from Frankfurt Haubtbahnof, and then jump off at Walldorf (Hess), and get the the 67 or 68 bus in the direction of Frankfurt airport to Mörfelden-Walldorf-Egerländer Straße. It’s then an 18 minute walk to the Badestelle Walldorfer See.

With reporting by Rachel Loxton