Poles bring some life back to Germany's depressed regions

27-05-2005

The most pessimistic scenarios of Poland's membership in the European Union spoke of large numbers of foreigners buying up property in the country. As it turned out, this - and other gloomy predictions - did not materialize. In fact quite a few Poles have decided to purchase property in Germany.

The village of Wetzenau, in Pomerania in the east of Germany, where a stylish country-side house built 80 years ago for a Lutheran parson is situated, is just a 25-kilometer hop across from what used to be a tightly guarded Polish-German border. The house is going to become Tomasz Pawlik's property within days. He runs his old Polish style restaurant in Szczecin but is ready to move across the border together with his girlfriend and commute to Szczecin from their new house:

"Everybody associates our move to Germany with leaving Poland for good, but in fact our village of Wetzanau is more like a suburb of Szczecin. Our secession-style house with two old willow trees in front of it is situated in a village with only 50 inhabitants. I love the peace and quiet of the place. That's exactly what we'd been looking for. I work very hard and need a good place to rest. My fiancée Magda, who has just graduated from an arts college, will find this a perfect place to work."

Before Poland joined the EU, many people were afraid of an influx of Germans buying up land here at half the price they would pay at home. For visitors to Szczecin province, however, it is clear that the move is in totally opposite direction. Troubled by unemployment reaching 35 per cent, the region of Uecker Randow in eastern Germany is seeing an exodus of mostly young people in search of better life opportunities.

On arriving at Pasewalk, I was struck by the peace and quiet of this town of 12 thousand inhabitants. Benno Mahle of the local town hall corrected me immediately: it's not a quiet place, it's a dead place:

"It would be good to have more life. When no one lives here, everything's dead. If the Polish people settle down here, then the situation will change. We would be happy if the situation that we are in now - losing inhabitants, is stopped."

The poorest and least inhabited region, or Land, in eastern Germany makes a huge contrast to thriving Szczecin on the Polish side of the border. This port city of almost half a million has benefited tangibly from the country's economic growth. Small wonder that there's no shortage of prosperous Poles snapping up German real estate. Apparently, significantly lower prices makes this part of Germany a house hunter's haven. Magdalena Pysz, a real estate agent from Szczecin, says she's had over seven hundred customers so far, looking to buy or rent property across the border:

"So far, we have sold nine houses - one to an English man and the rest to Polish citizens. We have also rented out fourteen flats in just five months. Four companies have also opened their businesses here. So, the interest of Polish people is enormous. The prices too are excellent."

Even though the cost of living is on average higher in Germany than in Poland, the advantages of getting a house in Germany definitely outweigh the disadvantages, says Tomasz Pawlik:

"We became interested in moving out to Germany just after joining the EU. We've always known the area where our new house is located. While going shopping to Germany we always admired the lovely buildings on our way. There are similar houses in Poland but much further away from Szczecin. Besides the price is extremely convenient - just 15, 000 euros whereas in Poland we'd have to pay around 75,000 euros. In this region, the Germans really encourage people to buy property and refund up to 40% of renovation costs, especially in cases of antique houses like mine."

For most of the people we spoke to in and around Szczecin, buying a house in Germany is not like moving to a foreign country. In a newly united Europe, the ties between Poland and Germany in this border region are so close that the frontier does not seem to exist.

27-05-2005