Polish city offers lifeline to struggling German neighbors

Wed May 15, 2013 7:54am EDT
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By Christian Lowe and Grzegorz Szymanowski

GARTZ, Germany (Reuters) - Like most people in Szczecin, a port city on the western edge of Poland, businessman Zbigniew Sawicki thought that when his country joined the European Union a decade ago, wealthier German neighbors would pour in and buy up the city.

But events took an unexpected turn. Large numbers of well-to-do Poles from Szceczin, including many of Sawicki's friends, are moving into Germany and buying properties on such a scale that sleepy Prussian villages are taking on a Polish air.

"Polish people are buying a lot of houses. Thousands of houses," said Sawicki, in his metal-working factory near the border. "It is a positive surprise."

Polish migrant workers have arrived in huge numbers all over western Europe over the past decade. But what is happening around Szczecin is different. What flows from east to west here is not cheap labor but capital and economic influence.

Szceczin, which until borders were redrawn at the end of World War Two was the German city of Stettin, has become the economic centre of gravity for a chunk of eastern Germany now struggling with decline.

The trend might hold clues about future trends in the continent, showing the potential for Europe's poorer east, with its rapid growth and younger population, to catch up with "old Europe" with its ageing workers and less dynamic growth.

Last year, Poland's economy slowed dramatically as it felt the effect of the euro zone slowdown, but it still grew by 2 percent. Germany's economy flat-lined with 0.7 percent growth.

"We look to Szczecin. For us, it is a kind of hope," said Frank Gotzmann, the local government chief in a German district near the border who is so keen to tap into Szczecin's dynamism that his business cards are printed in German and Polish.   Continued...

Pawel Pilsniak, his wife Anna and two children Micheasz and Nathan pose for a photograph by the entrance to the village of Neu Rosow, Germany located near the Polish border April 6, 2013. REUTERS/Peter Andrews