To Berlin, Poznan and Warsaw.
It’s a trial getting into Berlin. First you come out of West Germany into East Germany. They do everything in the East to make it an unpleasant and sometimes frightening experience going through the frontier check points. They can make you go through all your luggage, this time we were lucky they just picked on one girl but it did mean getting onto the roof of the bus to find her case, unpacking it then replacing it on the rack. When you get to Berlin you have to go through another frontier. Berlin is divided into sectors, French, American, British and Russian.
We spent three days here, We stayed at Mittelhof, the Quaker Community Centre where Betty had once been warden, They had put up camp beds for us and allowed us to use their kitchen.
Mittelhoff Berlin. Community Centre. Betty used to be the Warden
The girls were introduced to a young German discussion group and went swimming and dancing with them. We saw both East and West Berlin, crossing at Check Point Charlie,
We were shown around West Berlin by a very sensitive man Pastor Harald Poelchau. He took us round the prisons associated with the war. He had been a prison pastor and had known Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was moving and thought provoking for all of us. On our last evening there the group had a chance to talk about the situation in Berlin with a group of German adults each one of them were experts in their own fields. A wonderful opportunity. Lots of questions on the wall. Why was West Berlin so much more prosperous than the East? We wanted to build up the West the Russians still felt they should be held down a bit like a punishment.
East Berlin lots of Stalinist architecture, fairly bleak, but everyone was housed and basic food was very cheap, plenty of employment, good health care… BUT no freedom of speech and unable to travel.
East Berlin Charlottenberg. Priority was given to housing.
West Berlin. More colourful and prosperous looking. Both areas of Berlin were pretty much flattened during the war. West Berlin was aided in recovery but the East was held back.
So on to Poland. We were over an hour late at the frontier which was rather serious as we were due to pick up our guide for Poland. We arrived at the historic Oder-Niesse line with it’s languid wide river separating East Germany from Poland, who could believe that this quite countryside could have caused so much trouble in the past.
There on the other side of the stripey barrier was a dreamy dish of a young man. Betty got down from the mini bus and went to the barrier. He kissed her hand. The girls hooted with laughter. I could have died with embarassment, we British have no soul! Then it was my turn, I threatened them with dire consequences if the so much as make a sound! The border guards then lifted the barrier and we were all set to go into Poland. I pulled the starter-NOTHING- we tried again and again and eventually made our entry into Poland with nine girls frantically pushing the mini bus until we got the engine to spring into action. Poland is such an interesting country, the agriculture is so different from East Germany, much more rural than you could ever imagine. Two things immediately made an impression on me first the horses and carts…very long thin carts at least twice as long as the horse with sometimes two horses at the front and secondly…domesticated geese. There were geese everywhere I had never seen so many.
The cobbled main road to Russia in Poland, long lines of horse and carts. A poor image copied from a colour slide.
The Market Place in Poznan. flattened during the war but rebuilt exactly as it was. From a colour slide.
We stayed the night in another student hostel in Poznan. The town has been completely rebuilt after the ravages of war. One of the most amazing things about the Eastern European countries is the tremendous care and sensitivity with which they preserve and rebuild historic houses and palaces.
Our first impression on entering Warsaw was the rough exteriors of the buildings. Their building programme was so enormous after the war that they rebuilt as quickly as possible with the old bricks, they are now gradually going round building by building adding the facing materials. As in Poznan the entire centre of Warsaw has been built exactly as it was (just the facades, the inner building takes full advantage of modern materials and methods.
Warsaw Town Square.. Stary Rynek. The facades built exactly as they were before the war.
The Warsaw Ghetto.
The weather was bitterly cold and this discomfort made our visit to places like the ghetto area seem even more poignant. We had shown the Polish trilogy of films which includes Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, we all were genuinely moved by this experience. we met our Polish friends Anya and Wlodek Stolarski, who had been to stay with us in Stevenage earlier in the year. On the last afternoon our group met up with a Polish mixed Scout troupe and talked, danced and sang with them (many of our girls continued to correspond with them for years) As we left the boys gave each one of us a single red rose in cellophane! The Polish are gorgeously romantic.
The most hated building in Warsaw. The Palace of Culture given to Warsaw by the Soviet Union.