Brotherhood across borders

Three brothers choose three completely different paths through their German-Polish world. Pawel studies English in the Polish city Poznan. Filip goes to a highschool in German Löcknitz. Grzegorz studies Polish and English Philology in Germany. Since 2004, German border regions allure young Polish families with cheaper rents and higher state benefits. Elapsing borders create choices for a new Polish-German generation.

by Kasper Goethals & Olivia Kortas

Szczecin, Poland – It is 2006. Magdalena Miszuk and her husband Grzegorz are tired of living in one room together with their three young sons. They can’t afford a private flat in their Polish home city Szczecin. When they read about cheap rents in Germany’s border regions and about higher child benefits, their decision comes quickly. The family moves 25 kilometers to the West, from Poland to the German village Löcknitz.

Nine years later, Magdalena’s and Grzegorz’s second son Pawel sits in the livingroom in a housing bloc in Löcknitz. For the 20-year-old, this flat is an intimate nest of family life in a village of strangers who’s language he doesn’t even speak. Pawel has taken his decision very early and unconsciously. A decision which would later determine his whole life. He has chosen to keep his anchor in Polish soil. “I was eleven, when we all moved from Poland to Germany“, Pawel says,  “At that time, I went to a highschool in Polish Szczecin.“ When the family came to Löcknitz, Magdalena and Grzegorz planned to put their children in German schools. “But all my friends were in Poland and I liked the school“, Pawel adds with an apologetic smile towards his mother Magdalena, “I asked my Mom if I could finish my education there“.

Many Polish number plates cross the border from Germany to Poland daily. After Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, more and more young Polish families decided to leave their homes behind and to find new housing in Germany.  Many of them still work in Poland.
After Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, more and more young Polish families decided to leave their homes behind and to find new housing in Germany. Many of them still work in Poland and cross the border daily.

For eight years, every morning around 6.30 am, Pawel and his father Grzegorz jumped in a car, left Germany behind and entered their familiar world in Szczecin. “My father still works in Poland. There is a shuttle bus, which brings Polish kids from Löcknitz to the schools in Szczeczin, but I was lucky. I could join my father by car“, Pawel says. Last year, Pawel has finished his Polish highschool. The decision, where to study was obvious. “I don’t speak German, I have Polish A-levels, of course I would stay in Poland“, Pawel says. Since six months Pawel lives in Poland again. He rents a flat in Poznan and studies English Philology.

When walking through the streets of Poznan, Pawel wants to show every corner of his new city: the “beautiful“ lake, the “really cool“ bar, the “impressive” old brewery building. Within half a year, Poznan has won his heart, more than Löcknitz ever could. He can have a comfortable student life here. As his parents have a German residency, Pawel receives German grants for his studies. “It is around 600 euros a month, that’s 2400 Zloty. In a bar in Poland, a student would earn 7 zloty an hour – less than two euros“, Pawel says, “The grant ensures me more money than I really need“

Pawel’s life continues in Poland. Still he is coming back to Löcknitz every second weekend. Back to the neutral ground in the flat, where the Polish and the German facets of his family come together.

The German city of Löcknitz has a unique location. It is the nearest German village to the biggest city on the western Polish border, Szczeczin.
The German city of Löcknitz has a unique location. It is the nearest German village to the biggest city on the western Polish border, Szczecin.

22-year-old Grzegorz comes home to the family’s flat more often. Here in Löcknitz, his soccer team counts on him every weekend. Grzegorsz is the oldest of the three brothers. Although he has spent more years of his childhood in Poland than Pawel, Grzegorz decided to put down new roots in Germany. Unlike Pawel, who went to a public highschool, Grzegorz attended classes at a private soccer school in Poland. “Grzegorz asked us, if he could change to a German school. He didn’t feel at ease at the soccer school in Poland“, Magdalena says.

Löcknitz has a German-Polish highschool, but the lessons are only in German. For back then 13-year-old Grzegorz even smalltalk in German was a challenge. “We asked the German-Polish highschool, if he could continue his education there. They invited him to an interview“, Magdalena remembers, “We had luck, the director has asked the questions, Grzegorz was prepared for.“ Magdalena laughs when she thinks back.

The family's former home city Szczecin is 15 km away from the German border and 25 km away from Löcknitz.
The family’s former home city Szczecin is 15 km away from the German border and 25 km away from Löcknitz.

“Usually Polish boys and girls will stay German, once they had a German education“, says Detlef Ebert, Mayor of Löcknitz. “But when they finish our German-Polish school, they have both German and Polish A-levels. All doors are open“, he adds. Grzegorz didn’t consider walking through the open door to Poland. He studies English, Polish and Russian Philology in German Greifswald. There, he has his girlfriend and doesn’t differ from any German fellow student.

While Pawel has commuted between Germany and Poland daily, Grzegorz hardly ever crosses the German-Polish border. He has left big parts of the Polish Grzegorz behind, his life turned out to take place in Germany.

Filip runs towards a red slide, climbs up the wooden letter and rushes down with a happy squeak. He laughs and suddenly switches from English to German without noticing it. Filip is eleven. Löcknitz is the village Filip grew up in. All his friends live here, it is his home. The youngest of the three Miszuk sons was two years old when the family moved to Germany. He can’t remember anything from Poland. His education started here, at the green campus in Löcknitz, with the playground, the nurseries, the kindergarden and the schools.

Randow-Spatzen, a complex of two nurseries and a kindergarden, is the biggest day nursery of the region. It has place for 280 children. 34.1 percent of them have a Polish background.
Randow-Spatzen, a complex of two nurseries and a kindergarden, is the biggest day nursery of the region. It has place for 280 children. 34.1 percent of them have a Polish background.

“Kindergarden was relaxed, we could play a lot. I am lucky, because I am very fast in picking up words and I can remember them well“, Filip says. He raises his eyebrows when he speaks in fluent English. “It didn’t take me long time to understand the German basics“, Filip says proudly. Language plays a huge role in the nurseries and the kindergarden. Five educators of the 26-headed personel are Polish native speakers. “When Polish children come to our nurseries and the kindergarden, they often don’t speak any German. That’s our big task, to prepare them for school“, Margozota Holubicka, one of the Polish educators, says.

Filip is educated in the German system, he went to primary school until the 4th class. Last year, he changed to the regional secondary school for another six years. “At the regional vocational school, youngsters learn a profession. They often stay in the region around Löcknitz after their education, also Polish boys and girls“, Mr. Ebert says.

When asked where he would like to live when he is older, Filip’s answer comes naturally: “I think, I would like to live here later. It is nice here.“