As the plane lurched off of the Edinburgh runway a piece of the overhead compartment sprang loose and the toilet door swung open, the flights attendants didn’t seem fussed at all, just another Ryanair flight. Once the seat buckle light had turned off we were kindly offered cigarettes as a steward walked down the aisle presenting them (boasting a selection of flavours). We landed with a clunk as if we were aboard a toy aeroplane dropped by a child.
Here I am in Szczecin, Poland. A bullfighter’s trumpet sounded over the plane’s speaker system, followed by the applause of my fellow passengers “another successful on-time flight”. Well done.
I still cannot pronounce the name of this place, I purchased a return flight from Edinburgh for £45 and that is why I am in the Polish port-city of Szczecin, A mixed city of renovated quaint buildings and bland soviet era housing/office blocks. There is an overall feeling of a city on the mend, with construction and remodelling work everywhere you look.
Me and my girlfriend Jessica met here and tried to find the red-pathed tourist trail I had read about, (follow the painted red-road) a trail linking all of the main tourist attractions around the city with each site numbered. Great idea. In reality it turned out to be a faintly painted dash of a line that led us through parks, around buildings and, at one point, to the underneath of a motorway bridge. Still, It was fun trying to piece together this fading path whilst imagining how the uninterested decorator must of been slacking off and/or running out of paint.
A City That Wears It’s Recent History
While this city does go back centuries, you notice most, the effects Szczecin’s recent history has had upon it.
In the last century Szczecin was a strategic town juggled between different countries in the region, Hitler took control of this Polish city in 1939 and effectively turned it into a German one, using it as a major port for nazi-era Berlin.
As world war 2 came to a destructive end (taking 65% of Szczecin’s buildings with it) the Red Army lead a, somewhat sour, reclamation of Szczecin – clearing the way for a USSR-controlled Polish leadership. A city reborn, yet again, with almost all if it’s occupants swapped for a Polish population, as it had been before the war.
Churchill mentioned Stettin (the German name used at the time), in his famous post-war speech, as one end of the “iron curtain that had descended across the continent” After more than four decades of soviet rule anti-communist revolts arose among the shipyard workers, fighting toward an establishment of the free society it is today
The Soviet Union left behind their boring, practical, no-frills architecture and only traces of a pre-war Szczecin remained. Since 1990 efforts to restore the old town (now jokingly referred to as the “brand new” old town) have enveloped the riverside area. Cheap flights are being introduced and with this, one can see the direction that they hope this city goes in: having Szczecin rubbing shoulders with other great European cities rich with both history and modernity.
When visiting a place like this It is important to acknowledge the history, even enlightening. Knowing you are in a place where people were oppressed, where resistance groups rallied for freedom and, for 5 decades, lived without that freedom; a freedom I now have that enables me to visit cities like Szczecin. It is as if you were to fast forward to a time when North Korea is a free country open to all, with museums explaining the horrible oppression of a past dynastic dictatorship. But then again; sometimes people are simply drawn to a location with the promise of an inexpensive break – as I was, initially.
At least Szczecin is beginning to take advantage of this.