By now we were over halfway through the excursion and travelled to Poland where we spent the remaining half of the trip. This was the part I was most excited about having never visited the country before. After a short cycle and three trains later, we reached Poland and set out on our two hour cycle to Juchowo farm where we were staying that night. It had rained heavily and, as we were camping that night, it was fair to say nobody was looking forward to it. Luckily when we arrived at Juchowo there were still some rooms available to stay in, saving us from having to camp out in the rain!
The farm was very picturesque with a great lake next to it, and even an old vodka factory. This part of Poland is famous for its vodka, with the locals claiming it tastes far better than the Russian spirit. On arrival we had a presentation about the different projects happening at the farm. For instance, it offers apprenticeships for disabled people to improve their skills and employability, in addition to hosting school visits. Next to where we stayed were the ruins of a German castle which were destroyed in the Second World War. I learnt that the Polish community have left the ruins untouched due to superstitions; the site is filled with German history and therefore it has been agreed that it should be left as it is.
The following day we cycled to the next village called Radacz which had the most beautiful church. The village also had a large number of houses where workings during the time of the Soviet Union would live. Cycling through the countryside I noticed that, unlike Germany, which is known for its vast number of windmills, Poland has relatively few. I didn’t see one during my time in Poland. This is because the country does not have the capital to build them and foreign investors, by law, cannot buy land in Poland to build them on.
In the afternoon we had a tour around Juchowo farm and saw a calf that had only been born ten minutes before we arrived, learning that within thirty minutes she would be walking. The farm was primarily a dairy farm, with milking beginning at 4am every day! However, it also grew a variety a grains. The farm is paramount for the local population as it employs around 80% of the community. Without the farm providing employment for so many people, most of the inhabitants would be forced to move to the cities to find work.
After this we went on another cycle to take in the views and came across wild blueberries next to a lake in Silno. This part of Poland is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Here we found a local shop that sold Russian ice cream which was interesting to try, I’d diffidently recommend it! The evening was spent discussing our interpretations of Juchowo over dinner, with everyone agreeing on its importance to the local community.
On our last day of the excursion we were greeted with blues skies and set off to Szczecinek (around a two hour cycle away) to start our journey back to Berlin. The train station at Szczecinek hasn’t been altered since the time of the Soviet Union, therefore wondering through it did feel like going back in time. I was told by Leonore that there isn’t the funds to modernise the train station. After four very crowded trains, we made it back to Berlin. Here I said my goodbyes to both Leonore and the Humbolt students, thanking them for a lovely time and especially for their constant translations during the excursion!
It’s safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time during the excursion. It was incredibly interesting witnessing both Germany’s and Poland’s history and culture first hand, instead of simply reading about it in books. Visiting the different museums, heritage sites and rural areas has given me a better understanding of how different countries portray their history and heritage to the public and how World War Two in particular still effects society today in these countries. As it was my first time abroad by myself, this experience has diffidently made me a more confident person and I’m looking forward to meeting Leonore again when she visits MERL for her research in November.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to MERL for this opportunity, in particular Ollie Douglas and Mathew Binks for organising this placement and of course Leonore and her students for welcoming me into their group and making my time abroad so enjoyable.