January 2006


Breaking the Law

The point of my weekend adventure was to add another country to my list—especially since this one is fairly close to my home in Weimar: Poland. As I outlined in “Weekend Roundup” yesterday, I walked across the border into Poland. Please see the extended entry to see how I chose my destination in Germany and Poland.

I have some issues with spending too much money in Poland (The current government is actively anti-gay and anti-gay rights), but when the most reasonable hotel in Görlitz ran 57€ against 110 Złotych (Zł) (approximately 26€) per night in Zgorzelec, I opted to stay in Poland.

Now, I knew, when I entered the country that I would have a 220 Zł hotel bill, so I decided that I would get 500 Zł, in order to have enough money to eat and buy whatever random trinkets I wanted to buy.

However, this proved to be a huge headache. After crossing the southern bridge, I arrived at the Hotel “Pod Orłem” at 6 and immediately decided I did not want to eat in its large and ugly Communist-era looking restaurant, so I asked for a city map and was handed a map that had been photocopied several thousand times too many—the receptionist circled something on the map and said, “This is the city center.”

I set off in search of the “city center” and for dinner.

Suffice it to say, it is difficult to spend money in Zgorzelec. I had eliminated the Chinese restaurant because I didn’t want to have Chinese food that night, so I started down the street toward what I thought was the city center. The road hugged the Neiße edge and was dark, plus the sidewalks had not been shoveled. (A problem common to both the German and Polish sides of the border, I might hasten to add—both cities should invest in snow shovels for their sidewalks.)

From Germany
Just about the time I was completely depressed (having passed the nightclub with bar and striptease), I arrived at the northern bridge, the altstadtbrücke, to Germany. Now let the record show that I did find a restaurant on the Polish side of the altstadtbrücke and that I did try to eat at said restaurant—unfortunately it was packed and there were no tables available.

I was starved.

So I crossed the bridge. The German border guard examined my passport, the Polish border guard nodded, and I walked across the bridge, where I hung a right, found the Vierradenmühle, and walked in: I was the only patron. I ate there anyway—slightly over priced, but the food hit the spot, and the bartender/waiter/chef gave me a map of Grölitz’s old city.

From there I wandered around a bit of Görlitz—I mean, I was there, why not? The “old city” is magnificent, however, after about an hour of being cold, I decided it was time to head back to the hotel and to bed—even though it was only 9pm. So I returned to the bridge, handed my passport to the German border guard who showed it to the Polish border guard who nodded and waved me through.

Saturday morning I had one chief priority, and that was to buy and mail postcards to a few people (and I must humbly apologize to all my friends—due to a surprise work headache, I did not have time to generate a new address book—so the only people to get post cards are people whose addresses I’ve memorized or could reasonably fake—Greetings in advance to Mom and Dad, Brother, Great Aunt, EE, MT, and… my sister). I bought the postcards at the post office (thank goodness they had them for sale!) and wrote them immediately, so they are rather bland and boring.

Apartment Blocks Galore
From there I wandered through more of Zgorzelec. Basically it was one Soviet Style apartment block after another—pictures of which you can see on my Flickr account (the complete set from this trip will be posted by Tuesday evening). I stopped by a grocery store, took photos of two different churches, and then wandered down a street that took me to the bridge to Görlitz.

The German border guard looked at my passport, the Polish guard looked at my passport and they waved me into Germany. In Germany I looked at a variety of architectural gems, had a couple pots of tea (it was really cold out), and wandered around. Eventually I got hungry—and although I was in Germany, I really wanted to spend my Polish Złotych, so I returned to the bridge hoping to eat in a restaurant I’d noticed in the northern part of Zgorzelec, crossed over to the boarder guards, where I was informed that the altstadtbrücke was for EU citizens only and that I was obliged to the southern bridge, the one I had used the first time, to cross the frontier.

It seems that I had done something strictly illegal three times, and the border guards hadn’t cared, but now somebody was enforcing the letter of the law—and that meant I had to walk 20 minutes down the river, where, much to my surprise, the Polish border guard actually ran my passport through the computer and stamped it—so I did finally get something I actually wanted: the stamp in my passport.

On the other hand, when I left Poland Sunday morning, there were no Polish border guards, only German ones.

Adam’s Journey Logic:

To find my destination in Poland was a slightly odd sequence of events. It had been grating on me for awhile that I had yet to visit Poland since it was so close—so I entered a hypothetical trip from Weimar to Wraclow into the Bahn’s reservation system, then checked where the train crossed the border, picked the first city before the border, in this case Görlitz, and looked it up in Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet suggested Görlitz was a charming city and that it was worth a visit, plus it was directly across the river from Zgorzelec, Poland—although LP then fed me some misinformation.

Perfect, I could walk there.

3 comments to Breaking the Law

  • ChrisC

    That border crossing sounds a lot like the US-Mexico border. When I walked across that frontier the us had a huge complex to check passports, cars, etc. The Mexican side had one Federale at a card table with a folding chair.

    The similarity is that I basically got the same treatment from the border guards as you did the first three times.

  • My main observation about the whole experience is that Poland is highly inconsistent in enforcing their border–I crossed the Polish-German border six times in less than 48 hours–Germany had somebody present all six times. Poland had somebody present four of those times, and three of the four times, Poland never looked at my passport, Germany looked every time.

    Of course, the one time Poland looked, the guy scanned my passport and stamped it.

  • hey, are my posts posting? you’re such a naughty law breaking boy. judas priest would be proud.