Brückenschläge und Schlagworte

Schlagwort: Poland (Seite 2 von 4)

I’ve Got the Month of May

May has been my favorite month ever since I can remember. That transition phase between spring and summer is so full of hope and opportunity, so bursting with expectation and dreaming. Nature is exploding in all her most beautiful colors and the sky has that special color that is both coyly pastel and stunningly intense and deep.

The train ride between Berlin and Gdańsk never ceases to be of indescribable beauty to me. Between Berlin and Frankfurt / Oder, the first hour of the ride, I can’t help but notice how different the landscape looks now from the way it did when I made the journey in the winter. The wide and rolling fields of Brandenburg are now not barren, brown and lifeless. They are juicy green and promising. And as I look out the window, suddenly I my heart starts leaping. Green has been substituted by garish and bright yellow.

Rape Fields, Brandenburg, GermanyIt is the first rape field in blossom that I see this season. I could just cry. They say that up here, you can see with the naked eye if someone will be coming for a visit in three days. Everything is spread out into the open. Everything is just there. In this world and in this life that holds so many surprises for us on an everyday basis, I think it more than calming to find myself in this Northern Germany plain that doesn’t keep anything from me. Barren brown and grey fields in winter. Explosions of green grass, golden wheat and yellow rape in summer. This is home to me, a place where I can feel secure and at peace, unafraid of the surprises that may lurk around the corner.

At my most recent stay in Poland, after our visit to Grudziądz, Karol decides to not go back on the Autostrada – the large highway – but on the quiet country road by ways of the countless cute little villages on the way to Gdańsk. After the humid, hot day with stunning blue skies, small clouds has started to emerge, and now they are thickening across the wide dome above us. Nothing hinders the eye from wandering along the horizon on either side – no hills, no house, no tree distorts my view, and the sky looks different on every end in millions of shades of white, grey and blue as it meets the earth with its astonishingly juicy green fields. The rape is blossoming a little more carefully here than it was in Brandenburg – the fields are not of the same unbroken golden yellow colour, but they are intertwined with green. The rape is not entirely ripe yet, still waiting to give out its explosive force entirely.

Landscape, Pomerania, PolandOn another day, Aga and I take the tram from the Gdańsk city center out to Brzeźno and walk from there to the park in Jelitkowo. It is too windy to walk right by the Baltic Sea beach, so we take the tarmaced trail behind the bank slope. Families with little children abound, young and old couples walking holding hands, friends chatting away, cyclists, skaters, buzzing life. The trees jutting out of the slope show leaves of such tender bright green that I feel any touch would have to destroy them. When we get to the park, we lie on the grass for an hour, sleeping, chatting and wreathing daisies.

In Jelitkowo, PolandBack in Berlin, the chestnut trees have exploded. In German the blossoms are called blossom candles, „Blütenkerzen“, as though they were something that shed light and was burning brightly into an already bright summer’s day. The pink ones have been my favorite trees since I was in high school. Their color is not subtle, it is crazed and screaming, exciting, fresh and fitting for visions of summer.

5 Kastanie

And speaking of blossoms, there are of course the cherry and apple trees that have their white beauty on display as though they were ready for their wedding. They never look as gorgeous as they do when in blossom, no matter the appeal of a tree carrying ripe fruit. I cannot help but think how the entire change of seasons and the idea of the passing of time is so iconically symbolized in the little white flowers on these trees. They remind me that every moment is precious, and they make the promise of a good tomorrow. I find hope in them.

Greifswald, GermanyGrudziądz, PolandDo you have a favorite month? What do you like about this time of year?

A Hidden Gem in Pomerania – Grudziądz

When I came to Gdańsk in February, my friend Karol suggested that one of these days he’d show me his home town Grudziądz, some 120 kilometers south of Trójmiasto (Tricity, the city complex Gdańsk is part of). Grudziądz is one of the countless middle sized towns in Western Poland with a long and difficult Polish-German history – and in that sense it might not be immensely unique. However, I have come to find out that each and every one of these places has their own charms and their own stories to tell; and all the more so when you get to discover them with a local. I never had to think twice. So on this beautiful day in May, Karol and our mutual friend Aga pick me up at the hostel. We pack up our umbrellas – it is supposed to be a warm but rainy day – and board Karol’s little old Opel to leave Gdańsk in bright sunshine.

I have already described my very first impression of the town in this post. We approach the city via Malinowski bridge and the cityscape touches upon those places in my heart reserved for a feeling of home. I love it instantaneously. As we pull into town, we park the car in the parking lot of Karol’s old school.

Liceum, Grudziądz, PolandBeautiful red brick stone buildings abound, and students dressed up in suits and fancy dresses – Aga walks up to them and asks them how their matura went, the final exams in Polish high school. They smile shyly and say it went okay, and that the subject was English. I’m reminded of my own high school days. None of us really dressed smugly for the finals. I like it, it adds meaning to the occasion.

We walk back to the main street and buy tram tickets at the machine to take a little round trip of the city. The tram is old fashioned and cute.

Tram, Grudziądz, PolandIt goes right through the narrow and tiny cobble stone streets in the old town. As Aga points out, in Gdańsk it only goes along the large alleys in specific tram trails. Here, cars drive over the tram tracks as well, the ride is thus very lively and gives you a good idea of city life in Grudziądz. We pass by beautiful old houses, in Polish they are called Kamienice which derives from the word kamień, meaning stone.

Kamienice, Grudziądz, PolandThere are so many of them, the historic structure of the town is amazing – unfortunately they are not too well kept. I personally love the morbid charme that this entails, but Karol rightfully points out that the city deserves to be beautiful to its full potential, and that is not nearly reached. Many buildings are empty on their ground floors where there should be little shops and buzzing life. But I only notice that because Karol and Agnieszka point it out much to me. I revel in the towns gorgeous scenery and in its liveliness as people are walking down the streets in bright early summer sunshine.

Kamienice, Grudziądz, Poland

After the tram ride, we walk through the narrow streets lined with Kamienice towards the Rynek, the market square.

Rynek, Grudziądz, PolandIt is your typical Polish market square with pretty old town houses and a monument in the middle. I love these wide open spaces in the middle of an urban area. They give me breathing space and let me see the sky, the add light and freshness to the comfort of narrow streets and tiny alleyways.

Karol then takes us up the castle hill and shows us beautiful views of the Vistula river to one side and over the town to the other. It smells like spring, and everything’s in blossom. The leaves on the trees haven’t sprung to their full-fledged green splendour yet – they are still young and light and careful, like symbols of hope.

View from Castle Hill, Grudziądz, PolandAfter a walk through the botanical garden and a delicious lunch at a Chinese restaurant, we come back to the water front. It may well be my favorite place in Grudziądz. The granaries and the city gate Brama Wodna, Water Gate, sit proudly and eternally next to the glistening river that flows on ever so steadily, ever so calmly, with a certainty I wish I had when it comes to planning my own life.

Waterfront, Grudziądz, PolandNext to the raftman’s monument, there is a collection of street signs nailed onto wooden posts of streets all around Europe named after Grudziądz. There is one in Gdańsk, one in Hamburg, and one in Berlin:

Street signs, Grudziądz, PolandI find it once more ever so meaningful how in German towns, the streets will be named after Graudenz, which is the German name of Grudziądz, when in Poland they will obviously use the city’s contemporary name. Of course there is German heritage in the city – many of the mentioned Kamienice were surely built when the place was German, and the granaries and the castle area remind of the Teutonic Knights who reigned here in the middle ages. Still, Grudziądz is nothing but Polish to me. I had a short conversation about this with a German guy in the hostel in Gdańsk who said he felt a certain melancholy in the presence of the German heritage of this area, and a sense of loss. I have no idea what that must feel like. This is not lost to me! This is more than accessible, and it is part of me in a new, great way, it is home away from home, it is Polish, but it is not strange or foreign.

To finish off the day, as we drive out of town, Karol turns soon enough after the other side of Malinowski bridge and takes us to the other shore of the Vistula river to show us this stunning view of his home town:

Grudziądz, PolandThe sun has gone down a little, clouds are collecting. The Polish obłoki, tiny cute white fluffy clouds, have turned into chmury, big grey rain clouds, so the promised windstorm may come upon us after all – but for now the sky is still blue, and the summer’s day’s light is still bouncing off the glistening surface of the river. What a blessing to have friends to live through days like these with, and what a gift to be able to visit places like this one in this world.

Malinowski Bridge in Grudziądz, Poland

This is a bridge with an incredibly scenic view – and unexpectedly so at that!

Most Malinowskiego, Grudziadz, PolandThis is Bronisław Malinowski Bridge in Grudziądz in Poland’s Pomerania region.

My friend Karol grew up here, and there had been talk about him showing me the town for a while. Now this time I was around, him, our friend Agnieszka and I took advantage of the beautiful early summer weather, got into Karol’s car and drove down there from Gdańsk. The city is grossly underestimated. It is a gem if ever I saw one, and I will write more about it. have now written more about it. Here’s how it caught me from the first moment:

We drove towards the city and as we approached the Wisła (Vistula) River, the high steal construction of a bridge already became apparent. I got excited at the mere thought of it. And as we drove onto the bridge, the sun glistening and dancing on the waters of the Vistula River, the city panorama opened up to our left and granted us a dramatic and beautiful view.

City Panorama, Grudziadz, PolandThe old city walls and the fortress hill, the granaries, the beautiful red brick stone glowing under a bright blue summer sky – the colors were of such intensity that I could hardly believe it. It had that familiar aesthetics that I know from other Northern Polish and, for that matter, Northern German towns and that makes my heart grow wide and soft. The windows were open, and the wind played with my hair. It was a perfect blissful summer moment.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

The Wonderful Astray

Again I owe the inspiration to this blog post to my wonderful job that allows me to deal professionally with things I love very much. Last November, one of these things was the work of Polish cult poet Edward Stachura. Stachura was something of a Polish beatnik who mainly wrote poetry and songs. He committed suicide in his early fourties which made him even more popular with the underground scene. I came across his work mainly through the music of the wonderful band Stare Dobre Małżeństwo – the band name translates to Good Old Marriage. The first song by them that I fell in love with was “Jak”:

While the melody and the simple guitar instrumental caught me by their slight melancholy that I still felt to be light and hopeful, it was really the lyrics that got to me right away – especially the recurring line

Jak suchy szloch w tę dżdżystą noc…

Like a dry sob into this rainy night…

To me the Polish line consists of nothing but beautiful words. Szloch, sob, is a beautiful word that sounds exactly like the sound it represents. Dżdżysty, rainy, is a beautiful word that starts by a consonant cluster that only Polish could come up with. Many people ask me if Polish can be sung at all, with its many consonants. This song proves that it can be done, and beautifully so. It is also proof to me that lyrics don’t always need to be understood intellectually, but that the pure sound of language transports beauty all by itself, because I didn’t understand everything when I first heard this song.

What’s funny about the lyrics is that they never actually give an object of reference. „Jak“ can be translated by „as“ or „like“ or „when“ – all particles that would require something consequently following. That is as this is. That is like this is. That is when this happened. None of these sentences could pose a „this“ without posing a „that“ – but the song leaves out what „that“ is. It just gives a „this“. But in many lines, that proves to be enough. Like here:

Jak winny – li – niewinny sumienia wyrzut,
Że się żyje, gdy umarło tylu, tylu, tylu.

Like guilty unguilty twinges of conscience,
That you’re alive when there have died so many, many, many.

We don’t know what it is that is „like twinges of conscience“ – but that’s of no relevance to the emotional message of the line. I cannot say that I have felt that exact way, but it reminded me of a certain kind of feeling grateful for my life that sometimes is accompanied by a slight sense of disbelief that I should deserve to be so lucky. And it reminded me of the cemeteries of Sarajevo I have written about before:

Sarajevo, Bosnia and HercegovinaThe last bit of the lyrics says:

Jak biec do końca – potem odpoczniesz, potem odpoczniesz, cudne manowce,
cudne manowce, cudne, cudne manowce.

Like running till the end, after that you’ll relax, after that you’ll relax, wonderful astray,
wonderful astray, wonderful, wonderful astray.

The wonderful astray, or the magical astray, or the marvellous astray – what a beautiful notion that is. „Astray“, or „manowce“, has no German equivalent, it can only be translated in colloquialisms. My colleague once said that if there were to be a translation, it could certainly not be combined with terms such as „wonderful“ – German culture doesn’t care for the „astray“. In stereotype, that may be true. In fact, I am the counter example. I love the astray. I love getting lost. Being led wherever circumstance may. Letting life have its way with me.

In a story, this is what The Wonderful Astray means to me – I love just following a trampled out pathway on a remote Croatian island and coming across this:

Vis, Croatia

When I found this place, I sang on the top of my lungs. I’m not sure, but I think Elton John’s „Can You Feel the Love Tonight“. If I ever return to this magical place, I’m going to sing „Jak“.

Matters of Life and Death – European Cemeteries

Most people don’t exactly think of seeing a cemetery when they go to a foreign city. I used to be one of these people. I also used to be one of those people who could never even remember the orthography of the darn word. I swear I had to look up the spelling before I started writing this post. However, certain encounters with cemeteries have changed my indifference toward them, and I would like to share them with you. These are a few impressions from my travels through Europe:

1.Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland (2007)

When I went to Poland for six months as a volunteer, my beforehand instructions for the train journey to my tiny town were as follows: „About twenty minutes after Kłodzko station, you should see a cemetery to your right. The next stop after that is yours.“ So I was standing at the carriage door on a cold January night, approaching my destination, my nervousness growing at every stop since Kłodzko, asking myself how in the world I could spot a cemetery when it was pitch black outside.

But all of a sudden there was light in the utter darkness. What seemed to me to be hundreds of votive candles were glowing through the night and I was caught by the devout and solemn beauty of it with such force that I forgot to be nervous anymore. It was not an image of death. It was one of the afterlife and of eternity. I got off the train at the next stop and started my Polish adventure with the lights of hope in my heart.


2. Lviv, Ukraine: Lychakiv Cemetery (2009)

In Lviv, there is a street along which all the hospitals are lined up, and it connects the city center with Lychakiv Cemetery. The way into town used to be called the axis of life. The way to the cemetery – the axis of death. As morbid as this may be, I loved the symbolism behind it. It was so easy, so clear-cut and so utterly understandable: Life – or death. City – or cemetery. No shades of grey. Just definite answers.

Lychakiv, Lviv, Ukraine

Maria Konopnicka was a 19th century Polish writer and contemporary of…

Lychakiv, Lviv, Ukraine

… Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko.

Lychakiv is very old, it has been around since 1787. It has been used by different Christian confessions and different social classes, and it holds the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwów – a war memorial for those who died here between 1918 and 1920 fighting  for the city to become Polish again after Habsburg reign and World War One’s Soviet occupation. It holds graves of famous Poles and Ukranians alike. It was here that I noticed for the first time the specific aesthetics and beauty of tombstones, mausoleums and arcades in a cemetery. In the older parts of the cemetery, a lot of the stones are moss covered, and I couldn’t help but feel at peace with that image of nature reclaiming our manmade memorials for itself. I found the idea of all of us returning to nature eventually extremely comforting in that moment.

Lychakiv, Lviv, Ukraine3. Sarajevo, Bosnia: Kovači Cemetery (2010)

The Sarajevo cemeteries are of particular sadness, because they are so large and such a big part of the graves are war graves. I learned here that in Islam, the graves that have pointed pyramid stale on one side and a round-tipped one that looks a bit like a bullet shell on the other are always war graves.


Passing through this scene having a view of a mosque, the orthodox and the catholic cathedral gave me chills. So much transcending of different cultures in this place – and that is exactly what brought about the war. All the tombstones have dying dates between 1991 and 1995. There is such a lot of unfulfilled potential buried here, so much unlived life. The gravity of it sunk down on me with force, and I cried liberating tears. And I was so grateful that there is peace today in my home country and in this country.

4. Zagreb, Croatia: Mirogoj Cemetery (2010)

Funnily, I only went to Mirogoj because I had told my Couchsurfing host that I had loved Lychakiv in Ukraine. It was a bright and sunny day in Zagreb, and going to the cemetery felt a bit off, but as soon as I got there and saw the entrance gate in all its splendor, I didn’t regret it. I roamed the cool alleyways for a while, wondering about the lives that had preceeded the deaths now shielded by the cold stone. It was by no means a sad wondering – just curiosity, really.

Mirogoje, Zagreb, CroatiaThen I heard someone sobbing. I looked around and it took me a while to discover an elderly woman, crouching down on a tomb slab, weeping bitter tears. The sight of it broke my heart. I circled her for a few minutes. Then I picked up my courage, approached her, put my arm around her shoulder, and she leaned against me and cried.  After a while I told her in German: „Unfortunately I do not speak Croatian, but I am really very sorry for your loss.“ She looked at me with eyes so clear that they didn’t seem to fit her advanced age, and replied in the same language: „Me bit German.“ She told me how she was mourning her son. I held her, and I listened to her broken sentences. I don’t think that there was any other moment in my life when I felt more intensely what the notion of humanity means, and never before had I understood compassion as truly as I did then.Mirogoje, Zagreb, CroatiaI haven’t really felt these places to be very gloomy or scary. In fact I think that cemeteries allow us to reflect on death and life equally, and that they are places where emotions are maybe more dense than elsewhere if you let yourself feel them. They invite us to think about impermanence, about finiteness. I have always found things to be of the greatest beauty when I knew that they wouldn’t stick, and travel has taught me not to regret or fret about this, but to turn the knowledge of it into an immense gratitude for being there to witness the beauty of the moment. That is what cemeteries do for me. They make me grateful.

What do you think about cemeteries? Gloomy or peacful? Scary or hopeful? Do you have a favorite cemetery?

What’s one more Identity?

A couple of weeks back I was having drinks in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district with Adam of Travels of Adam – if you haven’t yet stumbled upon his great blog you should make up this oversight as quickly as you can. We had a great evening of drinking wine and chatting about travel, life in Berlin and blogging. We finally left the bar to walk to the tram stop together, and when we had just one more pedestrians’ traffic light to cross, we saw the tram get in to the stop. The traffic light was red. It was obvious that we’d miss the tram if we waited for it to turn green. Adam asked: “Wait or run?” I said: “Run!”, and so we did. As we got on the tram, Adam said: “You are so unlike any other German I know, I love it!”

This got me thinking back on all the times my German identity has been questioned – even if in jest.

In Bristol, England, I walked into a coffee shop to buy a latte. After taking my order, the barista asked: “So how are you today?” I replied: “Really grand! Enjoying being away from home for a bit.” He asked: “Where’s home?” I said: “Germany.” He looked up puzzled: “I thought you were Canadian! You don’t have a foreign accent in your English!”

In Mostar, Bosnia, hostel owner Bata gave me advice on how to get into one of my favorite sights, Blagaj’s Tekkija, without having to pay an entrance fee. He said: “You’re almost local, you just tell them ‘Gdje si, legendo!’ [which roughly translated to ‘What’s up, my man!’] and pass right through.”

Tekija, Blagaj, Blagaj, Bosnia and Hercegovina

The Tekija of Blagaj, one of my favorite places in the world

In Rijeka, Croatia, we were having a lovely night in someone’s back yard singing, dancing and, again, drinking the night away. I sang songs in Croatian and was totally in my happy place. My friend Nina said: “You have strange hobbies for a German girl, Maki. Shouldn’t you be working in a Hypo Bank and have a boyfriend that you see just once a week?”

In Nis, Serbia, I was hanging with hostel people in the smokers’ lounge when the phone rang. The hostel owner, Vlad, ran to get it, leaving his cigarette in the ashtray. When he didn’t come back after a while, I took it and said: “Vlad won’t finish this, eh, I might as well.” His co-worker by the same name looked at me in awe and said: “When you try to get back into Germany, they won’t let you. They will think you’re Serbian.

Hanging out in Maribor, SloveniaIn Novi Sad, Serbia, we were singing, drinking and eating Ajvar in my friend Lazar’s kitchen well into the night. Ajvar is a delicious paste made from egg plant, tomatoes and peppers. There was a large jar of it and one spoon, and it circled. When the jar was almost empty and Lazar was scratching remains from the ground, I advised him to do it with the spoon’s narrow end to get even the last bits out. His face split into a grin. “You blend in very well here.”

In Gdansk, Poland, I was visiting a conference, but hanging out nights with my friends who use a lot of swear words, especially the infamous “kurwa”, an approximate equivalent to the English f-word. Finally one night I told them: “Guys, you gotta stop it with the swearing. I almost said ‘kurwa’ at the conference today!” They all broke into laughter, and my friend Karol said: “Marielka, I think you may have deserved the right to Polish citizenship now.

Sejm, Warsaw, Poland

This is me at the Sejm, Polish parliament, in 2007. I wouldn’t have thought back then that anyone would ever attest me a Polish identity…

It looks like I’m not your prototype German. I’m not sure what that would be, but apparently not someone who crosses red traffic lights, speaks foreign languages, tries not to let food go to waste, sings Balkan songs, finishes a stranger’s cigarette, or swears (in Polish at that!). When writing about this, I noticed how many of these stories involve people in foreign countries that I consider friends. It also brought to mind that I have a Croatian nickname, Maki, and a Polish one, Marielka. I realized how integrated, how much at home I feel in so many different places.

Lake Skadar, Montenegro

When I posted this photo of my Australian friend Steve and I, taken at Lake Shkodra in Montenegro, on facebook, my German friend Stefan (who speaks approximately every language in Europe) commented it in Bosnian by the words: “Ti ces nam vratit kao prava Bosanka” – “You will come back to us like a true Bosnian girl”.

When someone attests me a new cultural identity, it is the ultimate step from being a traveller to being a part of the culture in some small way. It makes me very happy to think that I am a little Canadian, a little Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian and Polish, and of course also a little German. I like to think that I have been drawn to Middle Eastern and Eastern Europe because part of my soul has always been there, because there is something inside of me that has always been Slavic – while that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate and identify with my German heritage. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never want to get rid of that! I throw on black, red, gold colors when we play international soccer tournaments just like any other German, and I am ready to sell Germany as a lovely travel destination to anyone who wants to hear it. I am most certainly German, and as difficult as it sometimes feels to say this: I love my country.

The beauty of all these little anecdotes, however, is that I don’t have to be exclusive on this one. This isn’t a monogamous relationship. In a globalized, fast paced, cosmopolitan world that asks of young people to be flexible, variable, willing to adapt and open to new things, I seem to have taken on multiple identities already – and with every new one that is added to that, the only question that comes to mind is: “What’s one more?” I have a beautiful summer love affair with Croatia. I have a strange fascination, an infatuation if you will, with Serbia. I have a difficult, but serious relationship with Bosnia. The US are like an ex-boyfriend who I still think very fondly of – in other words, yes, we’re still friends. Poland is something like the love of my life. I well think I could get married to Poland. And Germany – Germany is my parent and my sibling. Germany is family.

What do you think? How many identities do you have? How do they show? And do you strive for more?

Oderbrücke, Frankfurt (Oder) / Słubice, Germany / Poland

Bridges on Sundays comes to you from a place today that brings the Bridge as my symbol of connection between cultures to quite a literal level.

Oderbrücke, Frankfurt / Oder - Slubice, Germany - PolandThis photo was taken out of the train on Oderbrücke that connects Frankfurt / Oder in Germany with Świecko (Słubice) in Poland. The river Oder has only marked a border since 1945. Before, both sides of the river were German. After World War II Germany lost its Eastern territories, namely Silesia and Eastern Prussia, to Poland, while Poland lost large parts of Galicia, the Wilna and Nowogrodek areas to the Soviet Union. This map might make it clearer. In 1949 the Odra became the official border between the newly founded German Democratic Republic and the Polish People’s Republic. The Federal Republic of Germany didn‘t recognize this border officially until 1970 when Willy Brandt was chancellor. He had brought on a political course of rapproachment with the East. It was perceived as scandalous back then. Federal Germans felt that Brandt was giving up on land that was actually theirs to re-obtain one day. Thankfully those times are largely behind us, and hardly any German wants these territories back, but resentments die hard, and there is still mistrust between Poles and Germans when it comes to this, especially in older generations.

I only visited Frankfurt and Słubice for the first time last May and walked across a different bridge then that is open for cars and pedestrians. I remember feeling elated. There was no border control. There were no fences or gates or barriers. There was, simply spoken, just free access between the two countries. I thought “Schengen”, thought “European Union”, but this meant so much more than politics. It meant bridging the gap between two countries and removing all obstacles for people to come together and work through the hardships that history has burdened them with.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Street Art in Polish – Gdańsk Zaspa

One of the things that I love about Gdańsk is the fact that every time I have been there so far, I have discovered new places and yet more incredible things. I owe this largely to the wonderful people I have met there and that have taken me to see things I wouldn’t have thought of myself. My latest visit gifted me with another hidden gem of the city – the quarter called Zaspa.

I sit in the hostel common room in the morning attending to my blog when next to me someone says: „Przepraszam!“ – which is Polish for „Excuse me“. I look up mechanically, and my friend Karol is standing next to me smiling. I’m up hugging him within split seconds. He is one of the people who, when I leave Gdańsk, ask me not if, but when I will come back. Having made friends that look forward to my returning there – that is a gift that I truly treasure.  Karol is off to show a bit of the city to two hostel guests, and I am totally up for joining them. So we’re English Terri, Belgian Dries, Polish Karol and German me as we set off for the discovery of Gdańsk beyond the Old Town.

After having shown us the university and the cathedral and the park of Oliwa (which I have written about before, but in German), Karol parks his car here:

Former airport, Zaspa / Gdansk, PolandDoesn’t look so spectacular, eh? But Karol is not only passionate about showing people around, he is also knowledgeable about the city’s past. This used to be the landing strip of an airport. Immediately things fall into place in my head. My dad has asked me a few times if the airport in Wrzeszcz still existed. I have also read about that airport in some of the novels that are set in Gdańsk and that I love. I never knew where that airport used to be, I was just sure that it didn’t exist anymore. Now all of a sudden I’m there, on the pavement of a former landing strip. And this is an important moment for me, because when my father, who was born in Eastern Prussia, today’s Mazurian Lake District, was five years old, in 1945, he fled from the Russian front with his mom and his sister, and they fled on an airplane that left from the place that I am right now standing on. Have I mentioned that I am in love with places that are densely filled with history? Gdańsk is paradise for me.

But the airport is not what we came here for. I have passed by Zaspa on the SKM, Gdańsk’s version of a metro, many times before, but I never seem to have made much of looking out the window – I figured this was basically just a residential area with socialist blocks. Seen those. Lived in one in fact. Not a huge fan. Now that we approach those blocks, I can’t understand how I have overlooked their beauty so far – which lies in the murals.

Zeppelin, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

A large part of the residential block buildings are dressed – yes, that is what it feels like, they are dressed up in enormous wall paintings. Socialist block residential areas have always freaked me out a bit – I find it so strange that they are really just residential. No shops. No life, really, at least not nowadays. Just house beyond house beyond house. Now what I see here, with the art surrounding us every step through the area, is very very different from that impression that I had so far.

Fingers, Zaspa / Gdansk, PolandThis must be one of my favorites. I love how it is hard to tell if the fingers are putting thet puzzle piece into the gap or if they are taking it out, and how that central dominant part of the picture is red and white – the colors of the Polish flag.

Budowa Jednostki, Gdansk / Zaspa, PolandThis surely wouldn’t be Gdańsk if not at least one of the over-dimensional works of art referenced the Solidarność movement, the trade union established in 1980 (notice the number in the mural!) that played a significant role in bringing down socialism in Europe and that originates here. The writing says „Budowa Jednostki“ – „The Building of Unity“. This is not just graffito. These walls ask to be looked it again and again. Karol tells us that their coming about was inspired by street art in the style of Banksy – cheeky, funny, yet deep. I find most of the pictures to be very Polish though, and very original and typical for this country.

Chopin Mural, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

This one is dedicated to Chopin, or Szopen, as the Polish spell him. Yes, he was Polish, not French. In fact he was so Polish that even though most of is body was buried in Paris, his heart was taken out and buried in Warsaw, as he had requested before his death. And while we’re at it, just for the record: Marie Curie? Also not French. Polish. Her name is Maria Skłodowska-Curie, as street names in Poland will proudly tell you.

Terri, Dries and Karol go on to do more exploring after Zaspa, I have to be back in the Old Town. Karol drops me off at the SKM stop. As the train moves through Zaspa on its way toward the main station, I pass by a bunch of the murals again. Going through here won’t be the same anymore. Another stop on the SKM route has gained its own specific face. I am getting to know this city better and better, and I am loving it.

I love you Mural, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

Thinking of Kraków…

Dieser Post basiert auf diesem deutschen Originalpost.
My first visit to Poland was when I was 8. The second visit of this place that I would come to love so truly didn’t happen until 13 years later. I had been learning Polish for two years and was excited and curious for this country that I had but a dim and distant memory of. After all, I had decided to make it part of my life by studying its language, culture and, above all, its literature. I signed up for a four week language course in Kraków.
Krakow Panorama, Poland
Back then, one rather chilly day in early March, I got off the bus from the airport at the main station just by the Planty, a green belt, a little park that encircles the old town. Looking up to a grey sky and breathing in Polish air for the first time as an adult, I was full of anticipation and a giddy nervousness, as though I was going on a first date. The church towers led the way, and I walked towards them in the direction I supposed the old town’s center to be in. I walked down Floriańska Street towards the Rynek, the main square. I didn’t know that Floriańska was a famous street. I didn’t know it led to the Rynek. My legs carried me on as if they knew they way, as if they’d walked it a hundred times. A feeling, nay, a certainty came over me that I had been here before. There was music everywhere. Pictures flashed in front of my inner eye, pictures of heavy red velvet curtains that I would see at Cafe Singer in the Jewish quarter Kazimierz later during my stay. My soul seemed to recognize the city from a former life. Until today I feel sure that this first visit to Kraków wasn’t actually the first. Instead, I was coming home in many strange, yet very natural and sensible ways.
When people ask me today why I love Kraków, this experience is really the only answer I have for them. To be quite honest I don’t understand the question. Kraków was the first city I ever really fell in love with. I have been there many times since, and every visit just makes my love for it grow.
A collage of memories:
Sitting bei Wisła (Vistula) River, just below Wawel, which is the castle hill. A sunny day in early April. The river is making a large bend here, and it runs calmly and proudly as though it couldn’t ever run wild and burst its banks. In this moment I realize that I have never felt like a stranger in this city.
Or having my first Zapiekanka at Plac Nowy (New Square) in Kazimierz. Zapiekanka is the Polish version of fast food: a baguette, essentially with mushrooms and cheese, grilled in the oven and topped with lots of ketchup and chives. Yum! And there’s no place in all of Poland where they are better than at the Okrąglak, the funny looking round building inmidst of the square that used to be a market hall. So say the locals, and so say I.
Okraglak, Plac Nowy, Krakow, Poland
Running across the Rynek, hurrying to meet someone or other, and from the tower of Mariacka, St. Mary’s church with the two unevenly high towers, the melody of the Hejnał is sounding out to my ears, falling right into my heart, and I have to stop and listen to it. „Hejnał“ (which funnily enough is pronounced something like „hey, now“) is derived from a Hungarian word for Dawn. It is a very old Polish signal melody. Legend has it that when the Mongols tried to invade Poland in the middle ages, a guard was keeping watch on the tower and sounded the Hejnał to warn the people of Kraków when the army approached the city. He was shot mid-melody so that he couldn’t finish. Until today, every full hour an interrupted Hejnał is sounded in all four directions from Mariacka’s tower. Yes, even in the middle of the night. No, it is not a record. Listen to it here.
Mariacka, Krakow, Poland
Having a kosher* dinner at Klezmer Hois in Kazimierz and accidentally stumbling upon a Klezmer concert in the room next door. I’m standing in the door way, covertly hidden away. In front of a  delicate dark red curtain with golden ornaments, there is a man with a double bass, one with an accordion and a young woman with a violin. Their play is sweet and snappy, lively and melancholy. Hava Nagila. Bei mir bist du scheen. The woman will at times put down the violin and start singing. Her voice is deep and velvety, it sounds like the dark wood boarding on the walls. Like the stone pillars and the lace doilies on the tables. From dark depths, the voice is softly climbing up, sighing high, desperate, the way Klezmer clarinettes usually do. I feel like sighing myself. Magical, magical Kraków.
Klezmer Hois, Krakow, Poland

„Eastern Europe? Why???“

Ever since I have more seriously joined the travel blogosphere, I have met all kinds of great people, read very many wonderful stories, narratives and articles on all kinds of different destinations, been part of a few excellent twitter chats on travelling and gotten to know a lot of different travel ways, fashions and likes. I am learning so much and I really love the community. There is just one thing that strikes me again and again, and it is time that I took up the cudgels for something that is almost ridiculously under-represented in the travel blogging community – and that is my beloved Eastern Europe.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

Montenegro – did you know that Eastern Europe was this beautiful?

When I told people that I would travel for a while after grad school, the most common response was: „Oh cool. South East Asia or South America?“ When I said: „South Eastern Europe!“, faces went aghast and a little freaked out. The most common verbal response: „Whyyyyyy???“

I never really know what to say to this. I guess „Why not?“ is an appropriate response. Or more like „Why the hell not??“ I do notice that both in- and outside of Europe, a lot of people still think that Europe ends at the Eastern boarder of Germany. Travel bloggers write that they have been to Europe, but by that they mean Rome, Paris, London, Barcelona and Berlin. There are the few odd exceptions that include Prague, Budapest and Krakow. But while no one would have to justify why they want to see Bretagne or Andalusia or Tuscany, a lot of people don’t even know about Mavrovo, Tatra or the Curonian Spit (FYI, those are in Macedonia, Poland/Slovakia and Lithuania).

There are still many misconceptions about the countries that used to be hidden behind the iron curtain. I would really love it if I could eradicate some of them here. Most of the things I have heard are variations of the three things I discuss below.

1. There’s not really anything to see in Eastern Europe. It is ugly and has nothing to offer apart from relics of its Socialist past.

If you think this is true, you could not be more wrong. Eastern Europe has it all – thriving cities, gorgeous little villages, beautiful mountain ranges, beaches, swamps, forests, even what is widely considered the last European jungle (in North Eastern Poland, it is called Bialowieza). It is both for the nature lovers and for the culture lovers amongst us. It is extremely rich in history; from the Balkans that used to be under Ottoman rule and show the Muslim influence via Central Eastern Europe with its Austro-Hungarian grandeur to the Baltic Republics with their very own strive for freedom after being forced to be a part of the Soviet Union. Or would you say that this is ugly or uninteresting?

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Bosnia and Hercegovina – in Sarajevo, you have a minarette and the towers of the orthodox and the catholic cathedral all in this picture.

Ohrid, Macedonia

Macedonia – at Lake Ohrid you have a gorgeous view onto Albania

Ksamil, Albania

Albania – yes, Eastern Europe holds beaches that can stand their ground in an international comparison!

Kosice, Slovakia

Slovakia – this beautiful town, Kosice, is actual European Culture Capital 2013!

2. People in Eastern Europe are rude and unfriendly. They don’t like Westerners there.

Ok, this must be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I have never experienced hospitality like this anywhere else. Couchsurfing hosts insisting on me sleeping in their beds and taking the floor instead. The genuine interest in any traveller and the smile on someone’s face when they learn that you are in their country just to see it for its beauty. The enormous amounts of food people will get from the most hidden corners of their houses when someone comes to visit. The bus driver in Albania between Tirana and Berat who didn’t speak English, but called his son, passed us his phone and had his son tell us in English that if we needed anything, he’d gladly be of service. The girl in the internet cafe in Plovdiv in Bulgaria that ran after me for two street blocks in 40 degrees heat to bring me my water bottle that I had forgotten. The boy in Riga in Latvia who took us to the train station personally when we had asked the way. Need I say more?

Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Bosnia and Hercegovina – Hostel hospitality with Bosnian coffee in the morning

3. Travelling in Eastern Europe is challenging because the living standards are low and they only speak those weird languages with the many consonants. 

Clearly anyone who says this has never been to Eastern Europe. Most of the countries that fall under this category are part of the European Union. Even if they aren’t, the Union is funding lots of projects in other European countries to maintain infrastructure and help growth and development. Out of the Eastern European countries that did join the EU in 2004 and 2007, Slovenia, Slovakia and Estonia have the Euro. This is where another misconception comes in – Eastern Europe is not necessarily cheap anymore. I found places like Tallinn, Estonia to have higher prices in their downtown coffee places than Berlin. Living standards rising is a complicated issue, and sometimes I wish my favorite places could forever keep their morbid, slightly run down charme (like the Wroclaw Train Station in Poland). It is a fact however, that travelling in Eastern Europe is hardly a challenge anymore. All the young people speak English, and if the lady at the ticket counter doesn’t, someone is sure to help you out (see above). And the languages are weird, but really, are the languages in Asia any better? At any rate, Eastern Europe is more Western than Western Europe at times. Capitalism has hit hard and fast. Coffee places, bars, clubs, restaurants, but also opera houses, museums and theatres will shower you with a diverse offer that you won’t even be able to digest so fast. How about a visit to one of these places?

Lviv, Ukraine

Ukraine – Opera House in Lviv

Belgrade, Serbia

Serbia – National Museum in Belgrade

Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia – having the richest hot chocolate ever in a living room coffee house in Tallinn downtown

Summing it up, I really don’t understand about the weird looks and shocked reactions. I can just strongly advice everyone to go and experience the amazingness of Eastern Europe for themselves. But hurry. Once word is out, the place will be flooded with tourists.

Have you been to anywhere in (Central, South or North) Eastern Europe? Did you love it or hate it? What other places are there that people are suspicious of travelling to?

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