Stettin: Poland's youngest city
It's bizarre that it borders the region with the fewest young people in Germany
A little hairdresser's salon right behind the German-Polish border in Lubieszyn near Stettin (Szczecin): the sign provides two languages - "Friseur" (German for "hairdresser"; translator's note) and "Fryzer". A German enters the salon: "Can I get my hair cut?" - "Yes Sir, of course", the hairdresser answers politely. "Maybe he also thinks that we sell bread here!" is what he says to one of his colleagues in Polish - yet without changing his tone of voice.
Only the Polish take the high language barrier
No other European border has more differences when it comes to language and culture. There is a huge gap between the German and the Polish, plus it is the most drastic divide on the continent with regards to religion between atheists and catholics, sometimes even national catholics.
Due to the population exchange at the end of World War II that affected the area around Stettin, people don't have much to do with each other on each side of the border. Except for a little bit of business. Many Germans talk bad about the Polish - you cannot find another area with more hostility against the Polish than along the German-Polish border. Many Polish on the other hand have been calling the Germans the "red Prussians" since the times when they were united through a forced friendship. Both nations are have been tied to each other in denial.
Driving to Poland to get gas or a haircut
It's one of the bizarre things between Germany and Poland that west of the border you find one of Germany's poorest and yet largest areas (Southwest Pomerania) with the lowest amount of young women in the country - and Stettin on the other side, the city with the highest amount of young people in a country that has been experiencing an economic upswing since the eastern expasion of the European Union.
With every visit to the city you cannot help but notice a growing alter middle class that is starting to differ more and more from the underdogs of the collapse of communism on the other side of the border. The income gap is shrinking in favour of the Polish, the education gap is growing on the western side. Hüben Brain-Drain, the best dental faculty of Poland on the other side. Since dentists still earn more mone in Germany, it has become the largest exporter of polish dentists into Germany.
Stettin is close but foreign
Now, German customers get comfortable in Polish hairdressers' chairs, the rustling coat made from Dederon fabric around neck and shoulders. That's what they are accustomed to. It creates a feeling of comfort. Dederon, the synthetic fibre from the GDR that was used to manufacture aprons and shirts which aren't necessarily known for best ventilation features.
Besides getting gas and buying citgarettes, a visit to the hairdresser is one of the cheaper things to do in Poland - that's why the Pomeranians dare cross the border to visit their unpopular neighbours. The only reason being a few saved euros. Most of them don't care about culture. Even though they should be hungry for big city life. Rostock or Schwerin - real cities of their own state - are quite far away. Even in the state of Brandenburg, there is no big city all the way down to Berlin which is 150 kilometres away.
In earlier times, before the war divided Germany, the corridor between Stettin and Berlin was a lively matter. Now, this only applies to one direction. People from Stettin are looking to get to Berlin - they frequent the city in a way that suits a real metropolis. Berlin has grown closer to Stettin than Warschau - and that's not only meant the geographical way.
Pat Metheney in the castle of Catherine the Great
Yet for the person paying a visit to the hairdresser, Stettin is still a foreign city. After a quick cut, people drive back towards the border. They avoid the lively city at the Haff which is only a few kilometres down the road. They pass on the performance of Pat Metheney in the courtyard of Legnica Castle - the place Catherine the Great was born.
Recently deceased Christa Wollf, an icon of East German literature, was born there 82 years ago. The traditional opera has hardly any German visitors and neither does the Jazz club - and who listens to Polish hip hop that Lukas Podolski has on his iPod and that is growing to be a strong brand in Stettin anyway. The distinct Polish hip hop scene in Berlin - in the high rises of Gropiusstadt and Rudow - gets its inspiration from there.
And people from Stettin continue to visit Berlin - to breathe German culture, to fly to their vacation destination from Schönefeld or to take a stroll through Potsdamer Platz, much like German visitors. Because they are curious and because they take Europe as a matter of course.
Berlin-Stettin for 10 euros
It took a while until Deutsche Bahn finally reacted to the full mobility between Germany and Poland. By now, the trip from Berlin to Stettin costs only 10 euros. That's certainly inviting!