Last month I was in Poland for the 8th edition of the Quest Europe film festival. Due to its location in Western Poland, Zielona Gora can be a bit of a pain to get to from its nearest Polish cities, but is surprisingly easy to get to from from Berlin across the border in Germany.
This is normally the way I go. Land in Berlin, take the train to the Polish/Germany border, walk across the border then head on a coach to Zielona Gora from the Poland side.
And of course, this being me, I have an illicit fascination with borders. And this point of the German/Polish border is one of the more fascinating parts of Central Europe, as well as one of the prettiest. Well, at least on the German side.
Germany has two Frankfurts. The first one is in Hesse in the west of Germany. Seat of the Euro, centre of the financial power of Europe’s largest economy. Big, brash and flash. The second Frankfurt is right on Germany’s eastern border in the impoverished state of Brandenburg. Frankfurt am Oder is small, shrinking and while rather pretty does not really have much to it. However, it serves as a very useful gateway to Poland, particularly if coming via road or rail. The Autobhan links with the Polish Highway network just outside the city. There are direct trains between Berlin and Warsaw that stop in the town. And, being across the border from the Polish town of SLubice, it is very easy just to take a walk over the Odra river, which also acts as the border in this case.
Before the second world war, Frankfurt Oder covered both sides of the river. But after the border changes of 1945, the eastern portion of Frankfurt Oder became the Polish town of Slubice.
Slubice is, well, interesting. It is an ugly town, but it is very vibrant. People are utilising the border everyday, Germans are coming over all the time for cheaper goods, the Polish (and even some Germans) are crossing the border to work and study. And Slubice is definitely on the up. As soon as you arrive in Poland there are money changing shops, neon lights, bars and restaurants telling you to come over here. It may be the smaller of the two towns, but Slubice definitely has a sense of excitement about its border status, even if there are no longer checkpoints between the two countries.
However, on entering Frankfurt, you do not feel like you are on some border with another country. In fact, it seems like Frankfurt Oder itself decides to purposely ignore Poland as some rather embarrassing friend. If you did not know any better, this would just seem like any other impoverished Eastern German town with a shrinking population and not much else to do in town. It is quiet. And with 60,000 residents, Frankfurt Oder is small. But Frankfurt Oder is surprisingly pretty. Many parts of the town, particularly the area towards the river has been beautifully restored and like everything in Germany, Frankfurt Oder is shockingly clean.
Now while I would not make a beeline for Frankfurt Oder, it is worth spending a few hours here while waiting for a train or vice versa. It is a rather nice place to stop for a cup of coffee and because the town has been so beautifully restored, there are a lot of very nice places to wander through. And if you are in the town centre, there are a few hawker booths that serve cheap fare such as kebabs, pizza or…frankfurters…hehe…
As I said previously, there really is not much to warrant a special trip here. But for those looking for a cheap (and relatively easy) way to and from western Poland, going via Frankfurt Oder and crossing over to Slubice is a pretty good way to do so. If you have the time, the walk is not far. In about one hour you could probably walk through Frankfurt and Slubice and see everything that needs to be seen, or if you take it leisurely, it can be done in three or so hours, including a stop off for a coffee. Really, the two towns are quite small. I have regularly crossed between Germany and Poland this way and will be doing so later this year when I go back to film Great Brytania. And while I have seen all there is to see, I always like venturing back and forth to check out any details I might have missed.
Frankfurt Oder, getting there and away: Trains leave twice an hour from Berlin and take around an hour, costing €9.40. You can also hop on the Berlin/Warsaw express which call at the station. The rail station is around 15 minutes walk from the riverside/centre of town.
Poland/Germany Border: The Friendship Bridge links Frankfurt Oder with Slubice on the Polish side. It basically goes from town centre to town centre, and as there are no border controls, you can walk over it as many times as you like!
Slubice, getting there and away: The rail links to Slubice are terrible, and the only way is by coach. All the major places in Lubuskie are linked by coach including Zielona Gora and Gorzow. If you need to take the train, the town of Rzepin is a few miles away, reachable by taxi, and there are regular rail links all over Poland from here.