During my Berlin days I had once taken a trip to Slesia in southern Poland to find the village my grandparents were expelled from after WWII. I remember seeing the places I had heard stories of during my childhood was quite impressive. Now, over a decade later, on my way east I wanted to pass the area again. The early morning sunshine added to my excitement as I left Berlin. It’s just 150 km to the German-Polish border, passing the Spreewald towards Cottbus. Leaving Berlin I saw the never-opening airport from afar. It really exists!
Crossing into Poland there is a divide, but not a border. On the other side of the river Neisse it feels like a bomb exploded. Derelict buildings, the tarmac of the motorway looks like a mosaic of potholes, the whole place feels derelict. I stopped to fuel up at the next gas station. Diesel was a bit cheaper, but also lower quality. The shop + restaurant + cashier clearly showed its cold-war “charm” under a thin layer of shabby 2000’s modernisation. I struggled to dust off my two words of Polish as I thanked the restaurant clerk for filling up a bottle of water for the Mini’s wipers. Shortly afterwards it started to rain from a deep grey sky. There’s a 140 km/h speed limit on motorways in Poland a sign told me, but on these roads there is no way you can get even close to that. As I was preparing myself for hundreds of km of suffering, suddenly I merged into another road and voilà a modern motorway. EU infrastructure has made it here too.
100 km after the border I left the motorway and drove south on smaller roads. Slesia has a large coal mining industry, and driving through the hills and forests there were mines everywhere. In an age where global warming and CO2 emissions are all over the place, time has stood still here and people are happily mining coal like hundreds of years ago. Close to Walbrzych, I visited Grodno castle. It’s a 15 mins walk up a small mountain through a thick forest to reach this medieval castle, now in ruins. The area has changed hands between Bohemians, Moravians, Poles, Austrians and Germans over the centuries. The Czech Republic is just a few km away in the mountain range to the south.
From the castle I kept driving southeast through a lovely forest road when suddenly a V2 rocket stood at the side of the road. I stopped, and found a museum of a tunnel system built during WWII, here in the middle of this beautiful mountain range.
Next came Klodzko, Glatz in German. From my past trip I remember the beautiful bridge into the old town under a massive forest. Inscriptions on the statues on the bridge are still in German, the rest of the town has been renovated since my last visit and the traces of German signs on the buildings are now gone.
I didn’t spend too much time in Glatz as nearby is a valley where Oberhannsdorf lies (today Jaszkowa Górna in Polish). My mother was born there right after the war in the house the family got expelled from shortly after. My grandmother used to tell me of those times. As I drove into the valley where the village lies those stories suddenly got vivid. My grandparents settled in an area in Western Germany that looks very similar to this one. Beautiful hills, fields, forests, little lakes here and there. The grey sky opened up a bit as I reached a church and graveyard, the most renovated buildings in town. Next door was the house my grandparents lived in, and from the looks it seemed it hadn’t been renovated since they left. On the graveyard was the generation of Poles that got resettled in the village. A few older stones were left with German names, the rest were all Poles, born in the 1910-1920’s. While the stories of the people lying here are unknown to me, it’s likely that they themselves were expelled from their lands when Curzon line was established as the Polish-Soviet border after WWII, and Poles were themselves expelled and resettled to Slesia. Since my last visit I noticed a lot of new buildings constructed and some renovations. Roads are in better shape, the place looks a bit less disorderly and abandoned.
After walking around town a bit, taking pictures and videos, I left driving over the hills to the east. The beauty of the landscape was impressive, fields were of fat green and shiny yellow colors after the recent rain. At some point the road led close to the Czech border, and I crossed into the Czech republic for a few km. Instantly roads were perfect, houses neatly restored and cleaned up, a sense of tidiness was all around. Then in the middle of a village, the road turned left, and I was back in Poland, with its potholes.
As the day was coming to an end, I had to decide where to sleep. I would have loved to get the tent out, and went looking for a place to pitch it. I tried a few tracks off the small countryside roads I was driving on. But the recent rains had converted the ground to mud all over the place, with huge puddles. So I kept driving east, as tomorrow I have a special place to visit in the morning and want to be there early.