The Warsaw Voice » Politics » Monthly - July 13, 2016
Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation
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Seeing Things as They Are
I have lived in Berlin ever since I came to this city as a 12-year-old girl over 30 years ago. I am a writer and my books have a mixed Polish-German background, though I think they are more German than Polish. To cut a long story short, I know both Germans and Poles inside out. I easily switch between the two languages and I know what Poles think of Germans and vice versa. I will shed a tear when Polish soccer player Robert Lewandowski kicks the ball into the German goal and I’ll get equally emotional when Germany’s Polish-born Lukas Podolski returns the service playing against the Polish team. In other words, I live and breathe our global, cross-cultural times to the fullest.

What do ordinary Germans know about their Polish neighbors? Not much. Polish culture? Nothing. “Chopin was Polish? Really?” they will ask and then forget all about it. Let’s face it: the awareness of Polish culture in Germany is next to none. But I feel relieved to know that, when they think of Poles, Germans no longer only think of wares sold off the sidewalk (early 1980s) or stolen cars (always, basically). Poles are known and appreciated as hard-working people these days and Germans also know that a Polish housekeeper has written a best-selling book on what it is like to clean German homes. But to be honest, Poles also have a reputation as heavy vodka drinkers and emigrants.

When asked about Poland, some Germans might mention Steffen Möller, a German-born actor and comedian who lives and performs in Poland. But admittedly, he is more famous in Poland than Germany. Others will say they sometimes visit Wroc³aw, where one of their grandmothers used to live, and still others go to Gdañsk because of the Günter Grass connection. Some Germans have been to Cracow or spent a vacation in the seaside resort of Ko³obrzeg. But Germany stretches far beyond Berlin and the areas near the Polish border. The farther you go west, the fewer people are likely to travel to Poland and the less they know about the country’s culture. Germans from Bavaria live closer to Lake Garda in Italy than any health resort in Poland. Even though you can now take a train from Berlin to Wroc³aw, which is this year’s European Capital of Culture, and even though Poland and Germany are celebrating 25 years of good neighborly relations, few people in Hamburg or Frankfurt know about any of this unless they are Polish.

Besides, the changes in Poland in recent months have in fact turned the 25 fat years in Polish-German relations into lean years. One of my German friends asked me recently, in all seriousness, if I was afraid to travel to Poland. He had been told that Poland was now a dangerous country where living was hard, possibly harder than in Russia.