Szczecin: Beautiful and Forgotten

Author: Simon Roman
Editor: Hazal Senkoyuncu
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For those who do not know that a city called Szczecin even exists–, We will jump into a little history lesson along with helpful geographical facts to get you up to speed. Szczecin is a city located in Northern Poland with access to the Baltic Sea.* To its West, Berlin stands 138 km away from Szczecin, and to its East, a port city called Gdansk is located 333 km apart. With a population of over half a million citizens, Szczecin is the capital of the West Pomeranian voivodeship (or region). It is ranked to be the third city that occupies the largest land area (in square meters) in Poland.
The city was founded in 1243, thanks to Prince Barnim I. However, there is information about various tribes settling in the once-abandoned area, dating back to the early middle ages, approx. around 700 A.C. From the middle ages to the modern-day, Szczecin belonged to the Pomeranian Princedom. It was the capital that housed the ruling dynasty, an independent army, and the fleet. The Pomeranian Griffith dynasty ruled for 500 years. The ruling families had children, who later became kings of neighboring countries like Denmark and Sweden.
Indeed, Szczecin did not belong to Poland for a long while. It has been a Polish city only for 74 years now. Before the Second World War, the city called Stettin was a part of the Third Reich. After Germany capitulated its Allies, they decided to transfer several German cities inside the new borders of Poland. Thus, Stettin took a Polish name, Szczecin. It only took a few days after this settlement, and the lives of the once-residents were forever changed. Several hundred thousands of Germans were interned by the Russians off of the city. The whole community was replaced by Polish citizens.

 

The Paris of the North
The current shape of the town comes to our day from the XIX century. Most of the housing units are richly encrusted tenement houses built before the First World War. When the city belonged to Germany, it was referred to as the “Paris of the North”. One must admit, there is truth to this statement. The historical frontages are blessed with wide streets, allowing for astonishingly well-organized traffic (Hat tip to the XIX century German urbanists!)**. With every hundred meters, you can find a park, accompanied by great coffee shops in each corner.
Let’s not forget to mention the places you must visit:
White Eagle Square showcasing its baroque fountain, Globus Palace where the Russian Tzar Pawel I’s wife was born; Jasne Blonia Park with its astonishing alleys of old trees. You ought to spend hours in the Central Cemetery or the biggest city necropolis in Europe; in fact, it is bigger than Père-Lachaise in Paris. Then, there is the Breakthrough Museum, a building disguised as a public square that holds a collection of changes in the 20th century Poland. Let’s not forget Szczecin’s infamous port and shipyard… with a bloody history. The dock saw the unarmed workers strike against the communist party until the police shot many, and killed them in the 70s. Lastly, the Karłowicz Philharmonic, a.k.a. my favorite place in this town (Jump to “Szczecin in the Current Day” for detailed information).
Castle 1
Szczecin at night
Fingerprints of the Communist Party remain
 The city of Szczecin is as beautiful as it is forgotten. During their stay in Szczecin, anyone can notice that the place is underfunded; not because of bad governing, but due to the decade long history of communism. The Communist Party was afraid that Germany would not be staying silent upon its loss in WWII– That sooner or later, Germany would want Szczecin back. The solution was simple! They would spend only a small amount of money for the town. And, they did for the next 60 years. Funds were sent to the shipyard and port maintenance, only some worker housing in the new suburbs and other essential expenses to keep a large city functioning. The era of poverty ended with the collapse of the Iron Curtain as well as the end of Communism in the 90s.
Fingerprints of this era remain on the face of Szczecin– Tenement houses have not been renovated since the war. Some of them were deconstructed to their bricks in 1946. The bricks were then sent to Warsaw for the rebuilding of the town, while the deconstructed houses were left undone. Oddly enough, Szczecin maintained better communication with Berlin than it did with Warsaw to this day. Hence, Berlin is more accessible via transportation; you can find a way to get to Berlin any minute! ***

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Storytelling: On the flowing stream

What does it mean to be a storyteller? My lecturers discussed this a million times over the four years of my undergrad career. I call it a ‘career’ because I have been creating stories ever since I was eight, if not even earlier. Do you mind taking a walk with me through the memory lane? Even though I look like I’d prefer being alone while I do this, I still think I need company today.

I love bedtime stories, and I would use all of my little power to stay awake through those. Luckily, my dad had a million stories to tell. Every time he started a new story, he would reassure me saying that it is a really old tale and he is not making it up, because why would he? I would get mad at him because, after two or three years of hearing a new story every night, I think I was somehow too smart for a six-year-old, and I realized that they all told me the same thing over and over again: “You can explore, but listen to your parents when they warn you, or else you’ll get in trouble”. Oh, and no love interests, mom and dad will save you, there is no prince charming here!

But my dad was a professional. “Dad you are not making this up, right?”, “No, this was absolutely real”. The little black sheepdog always wondered what happened outside the farm. One day he decides to take a long walk, jumps across the fences and explores the endless fields. It suddenly starts getting darker, he is scared, and he hears a pack of big bad wolves howling. They get closer and form a circle around him, the little sheepdog is scared. His parents come and save him, later, getting mad at him a little bit but hugging him tight still. Dad, I miss your stories. I know you didn’t make any of them up.

If you thought my dad was an okay storyteller. Let me tell you about his mom, my grandma. Whatever she tells you, you are ought to believe her. She always had something in her voice that would make you feel like she is pulling you deep into this thought bubble that is inside her two hands. She was a magician playing with her words, and a bit of a witch, I am never sure if her hands are telling the story or casting a spell.

Oddly enough, her story never changed because she only had one. Her mother was adopted, had a very tough childhood but grew older to be a loving mother to my grandma. But this loving mother died too soon. I have seen my grandma pulling out a small photo of her mother from the very last drawer full of tablecloths, that is a part of an 80 some year-old dark brown wooden cabinet. Every time she pulled out the picture, she would blame herself for forgetting what her mother’s face looked like. She says she needs the picture to remember. I bet it hurts.

You remember the stream, dear? —  In the old town, it’s by our old home. – How can you not remember? – Well, I’ll take you there when we go. Oh, dear! – It was night time, very late. Maybe after 11 or 12. We had to sail through the river, so mom put me and my sister in a small wooden boat. And she was rowing and rowing. Oh! All of a sudden! – We saw a light from deep down. Oh, it was beautiful. It was shining and so bright that it hurt our eyes. My sister was younger, you know. And mom said to put our heads down. We put our heads down, but I peeked out on the side, mom didn’t see. Oh, it was so beautiful. A woman, she had ginger hair. It was so long. Her hair was like Leipzig silk! She was shining. She swam next to our small boat. Was it ever beautiful? – No, no. She didn’t hurt us or anything.

Then, what happened? We got off the boat and went home, but it was beautiful. I never told mom that I saw it!

But you are not lying? Right? How can you see it in the old town? Like here? Is it true?Maybe, I was dreaming, I don’t know. I was young. (She would shrug off her shoulders and move on with her life at this point, after charming me with the story. It was so cruel because I would think about it all night until I finally fell asleep).

There are things I wish I could remember better lately, and my mind won’t let me. But, can’t we all tell stories? All of the stories I heard, had a bit of those people that touched the narrator. And, no, my great grandma is not made up, but loving and gentle, just like in grandma’s story.

Dogs can talk, and mermaids are real – if only you believe.

 

Photo Credits: http://kopriyet.blogspot.com/2016/05/kirmasti-koprusu.html