Saturday, 12 February 2011

Frankfurt und Słubice, Oder?

Not the Place Hot-Dogs Come From

das Museum Junge Kunst, Frankfurt (Oder)
Today was cold but bright-skied, so we got ourselves a Brandenburg ticket and headed by Regional Express South-East to Frankfurt on the German/Polish border. First of all I should point out that this is probably not the Frankfurt you've heard about, the major financial centre with the Manhattan-style skyscrapers. That's the large city on the river Main further West in the state of Hesse. The Brandenburger Frankfurt we visited is the much smaller town on the Oder - hence it is often referred to as Frankfurt (Oder) so that you don't get the it  confused with Frankfurt (Main) and arrange a conference of bankers in the wrong place. On a linguistic note, 'with-it' German youth often tag 'oder?' (= or) on the end of sentences in much the same way as English yoof add 'innit?'. This isn't one of those occasions.
A German border post on the river bank. The border actually runs down the middle of the river Oder, but you wouldn't see the post if they put it there! 
The river Oder now forms part of the German border with Poland, but it weren't always so, and Frankfurt(Oder) once straddled this busy river trade-route slap-bang in the middle of the Kingdom of Prussia. Because of the redrawn boundaries at the end of World War II, Frankfurt found itself split in two, and has since been known as Słubice (pronounced something like Swu-bitsia) on the Eastern, Polish side of the river.

die St. Marienkirche, Frankfurt (Oder)
Travelling to Frankfurt you pass through miles and miles of rolling countryside and unbroken forest, and it feels like you are heading into the middle of nowhere. This is a feeling not entirely dissipated when you arrive. Frankfurt is an attractive, clean, modern town that also has many interesting historic (rebuilt) buildings. But for mid-day on a Saturday in the main shopping area it wasn't exactly Oxford St London. Which is fine, as we hate crowds. Just as long as it doesn't feel too post-Apocalyptic.

Frankfurt Side of the Oder

We came across a great deal more people crossing the bridge over the river to Słubice. The road-traffic was understandable because the Oder is a mighty river with limited places you can cross. On the Frankfurter side you could still tell where the border-control checkpoints and customs used to be, but nowadays you don't need a passport to cross.

The river Oder, looking South, up-stream. It's wide, innit?
It immediately became clear what the main attraction for visitors to Słubice is though, as the first thing to hit you are all the shops selling cheap booze and fags - 24 hours!

A typical 24/7 drive-in duty-free emporium in Słubice 
Also, for some reason, all the pizza you can eat. Not that there weren't lots of places where you could get pierogis too, but for some reason pizzeria's seem to outnumber any other kind of restaurant.

If you want to stuff your face with Italian cuisine whilst drinking and smoking yourself to death as well as getting a tattoo - Słubice is hog's heaven for you!
Though it wasn't like Oxford Street on this side of the river either, sometimes it did feel a bit like the Old Kent Road:

A London Pub in Słubice? Make's a change from Irish Pubs I suppose.
Apart from the sense of a typical border town, the other thing that is apparent is that you are definitely in a different country. That might not be so surprising - after all, you are - but the suddenness after walking only a few hundred metres across a bridge is striking. The language, the shop and street signs, the architecture, and yes, the signs of poverty and neglect all add up to the thought 'we're not in Germany any more, Toto.'

Słubice High Street. We weren't sure if all the wooden supports everywhere were an architectural feature, or were actually stopping the balconies crashing down. We think the latter. 
As you might expect, this important river crossing was a crucial defence point during the final months of the Second World War. Here the German Wehrmacht tried to halt the advance of the Red Army at Festung (fortress) Frankfurt. They of course failed, but not before the town was pretty much pulverised along with the population. There is (of course) a memorial in Słubice to the Soviet liberators:

Poignantly, on the Frankfurt side there is also a memorial centre to the victims of the NKVD (pre-cursor to the KGB) who came in the wake of the Red Army and arrested, murdered, or sent to gulags anyone suspected even remotely of being a fascist sympathiser.

Before you run away with the idea that Słubice is all pizza parlours, drug-pushers, and painful politics, there are examples of stunning, modern architecture around the European University Viadrina too.

Back in Frankfurt (Oder) the restored architecture is more traditional, and is a reminder that Frankfurt's history goes a long way back. In fact, the numerous churches and Franciscan monastery are there because before the Reformation (when Protestant killjoys said down with that sort of thing) Frankfurt was on one of the main mediaeval arteries of pilgrims making their way to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in North Western Spain along the Way of St James (Jakobsweg).

die Friedenskirche Frankfurt
Nowadays, signs along the river bank direct you which way to go to follow the Jakobsweg. Or if that's a bit far, then there is also the 630 km long Oder-Neiße Radweg - a cycle path along the length of the German/Polish border. Unfortunately, we had to get back in time to feed the cats, so we climbed the hill (yes! A hill!) to the station and the train home.

Kitty Ice-cream!
Some of the sculptures in Frankfurt are really just rubbish


  1. Thank you for introducing me to this Frankfort. Great photos that helped me to visualize this city in Germany.

  2. My wife and I were in that area last December and I enjoyed reading your description of the region and how it has evolved through the years.

  3. before i moved to berlin, i lived in frankfurt
    and your description is really good

    kind regards from berlin :)


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