Sulecin was a truly fascinating visit, because it was my first to a regular, old-fashioned Polish town -- not to a big city or established popular tourist district. As such, I had a greater chance to mingle with and observe regular Poles going about their business. The opportunity came about as I was invited to visit Sulecin and attend their spring festival. It was certainly an opportunity not to be missed. I arrived on Saturday afternoon as the festival was getting into swing, but first I did a tour of the town with my hosts. I learned quite a lot about the town and the region, known as Silesia.
Sulecin was once part of Germany, when it was dominated by the Prussians. Indeed, the old pictures of Sulecin I saw showed a town square that looked very much German, with a prominent town hall and church and decorative market buildings. Unfortunately, World War II was not kind to the town, which would be ravaged by the Germans when they withdrew, then demolished by the advancing Russians. After the war, the region became part of a redrawn Poland whose western border was the Oder (or Odra River). Under Soviet occupation, the Germanic peoples of the region were supplanted by Poles who were forced to move west from Eastern Poland.
During the Communist era, the town was rebuilt in typical utilitarian style, with uniform gray concrete-block apartments built atop the war damaged structures. Other structures, such as schools and state buildings, were built in similar utilitarian style. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, many of them were left to decay and crumble.
Since the fall of Communism, Sulecin has made an effort to restore and rebuild these apartments into something more appealing. The second photo shows the results of one such effort -- the use of odd pastels might not appeal to most, but it surely beat the crumbling gray alternative.
Indeed, the renovation effort has been steady, though naturally slow. I was introduced to a man who is an avid mural painter who completed a mural of Sulecin's partner cities on a building in the town square. The square itself has been given a face lift, too, as the third photo suggests. The fountain is new, but the buildings behind it were the remnants of the pre-World War German era.
Sulecin has seen some benefit from investment by both the European Union and the United States, and there is considerable pride in Poland's eventual EU accession. Several major construction projects bore the EU flag, while American firms have opened new industries in the northern part of town toward an old Polish military training area. Because of Sulecin's proximity to Germany (about a thirty-minute drive), a number of German firms have already hired workers from the town to commute to Frankfurt an der Oder.
After dinner, my hosts and I went out to the town square, which by then had difficulty handling the town's population of 10,000 as the fourth photo suggests. It was a fantastic time! The grilled shish kebabs and kielbasa, seemingly loaded with garlic and spices, gave the square an attractive aroma. The beer only cost about 75 US cents a pint, and Polish beer was excellent. Off the photo to the right was the sound stage where a rock concert (with one of Poland's most popular rock bands) played until about 10PM. This was followed by a fantastic fireworks display accompanied by hard-hitting classical music. All along the way, I had a chance to meet several dozen locals, each of whom were in business with the town and conveyed a sense of optimism with the future.
The next morning, I had the chance to attend Mass in the town church, shown in the fifth photo. I'd attended Catholic Mass in Poland before, but this was again a first in a small town. It was like a revolving door -- Masses ran literally all day in order to accommodate all the faithful, and they ran right up against each other. When one Mass ended, it was like watching shift change at a factory.
Because it was the first Sunday of the month, the Ordinary was conducted fairly quickly, but the ending dragged for a long time because the priest read off the events for the entire month, followed by a ritual honoring all the town's deceased for the previous month. It was tough for me to sit (and kneel) through simply because I didn't know a word of Polish, but it was still a good learning experience.
The church, shown in the fifth photograph, was a Protestant Church in the days under Prussian rule. It was converted to Catholicism after the Polish migration. The exterior was well-worn red brick, similar to that of other churches in the region, but the interior was brightly decorated with pastel murals and loads of fresh spring flowers all over the place.
After Church, my hosts took me on a regional tour. This included a drive-through of some neighboring towns and to a couple of nearby lakes and walking trails. The first stop was to a lake, shown in the sixth photo, that reminded me of a number of lakes in my home state of Connecticut. The forests surrounding the lake were mostly pine, but there were deciduous forests nearby also. They switched back and forth often on the drive. The forests had a number of mountain bike trails and my hosts told me that many visitors brought their bikes with them for outdoor recreation. The Sulecin town brochures boasted about their annual fall bike rally.
The small towns were not unlike midwestern farming villages, a dozen or so houses connected mostly by wide open farmland. These towns were undergoing a similar post-Communism rebuilding process as new houses were appearing throughout the region.
Sulecin was also not far from the Wedrzyn Training Area, a significant Polish military training complex that was once heavily used by the Russians. Despite the proximity, I was surprised to learn from my hosts that they almost never saw Russian soldiers -- indeed they were never permitted to leave the compounds and the barbed-wire fences still point in and not out!
The town of Sulecin is making great strides to rebuild and renew itself since 1991, and progress has been very clear and steady. But the job will take many, many more years and much money and investment to be completely restored and totally shed its communist past. Still, it was wonderful to feel the energy of the people and see the changes underway. It was also great to have visited such a friendly place with plenty to offer the outdoorsmen among us.
Trip taken 3-4 May 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin