Across the border to unpronounceable places: Berlin to Szczecin, Poland

In Berlin, Cycle routes by Claire

Maybe in any city, like people, you see what you want to see. On a trip to Poland, I expected Cold War-esque buildings – huge big, square concrete things. The magic feeling of crossing a border, powered by your own stream. A sense of lost time, a quietness, a certain feeling of isolation – all of which is more easily found for a tourist not speaking the language or knowing the alphabet. And a smattering of award-winning modern architecture, which I knew about because a guide told me this when I read it the night before, having just decided to I was going.

And so I saw it like this.

When friends get rid of old kit and it becomes your new swag.

And you like your new bag. Woohoo.

Regardless of expectations, even by 150km east from Berlin into Poland, everything feels distinctly different. Particularly to Berlin, although I am frequently told that Berlin is not in Germany (attitude and vibe-wise). Even east Germany felt like a different world compared to Berlin – which always happens – but there was something a bit special about travelling out further east for once. Here’s the route I took.

I hoped for mysterious objects in fields and I got them – thanks for looking strange, east Germany!

The route to the border was really satisfying – maybe because I knew I was about to reach a country border and that is pretty cool. I’d planned the route to get to the border as quickly as possible, then follow it up along the river on the German side, enjoying the beautiful scenery before swooping west for a bit, stepping back away into Germany again, then through a town and then finally across back east.

The way was full of little towns and zooming down big sweeping roads past fields and beautiful woods, then eventually veering off down a cobbled road that petered out into fields just as my head started shouting for variety.

Following the German-Polish border for half the day

Borders are a funny thing. The idea of Schengen, a shared European space where you don’t need a passport to hop across is pretty special.

The actual way the physical border looks is just as special. It is a line of poles, one for Germany and one for Poland. They are painted different colours, and that is it. The way we see the world divided up is a funny one. It felt quite special for it to be so unimportant. It felt oddly old-fashioned, and simple.

Then I spent a couple of hours on a long path following the river down the border, with a headwind and unchanging views and I TAKE IT ALL BACK – THIS ENTIRE ROUTE DOWN THE RIVER WAS A STUPID IDEA. Sure, there’s a value in variety and experiencing quiet countryside so that when you rejoin busy towns you can enjoy the contrast and seeing human life again but jesus christ. I didn’t realise the amount of grumbling to myself in my head I’d been doing, until it promptly started raining and I hid in a viewing-platform-nature-thing to grumpily to eat an apple, scowled down at the path below me under the tower, and shouted down the telephone about hating nature at a friend. Then I realised that maybe long windy riverside paths are maybe not always my thing.

Sheep improve all situations.

Go cycling, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Fixed gear cyclocross, sexy wasteland variety.
Trekking across this made me laugh quite a lot.

Found some dirt. Found some sunshine. Was very happy.

Shortly after, the rain stopped (as did my grumbling) and the path turned off into a very excellent wood – and then I couldn’t think of anything better than nature. The wood was sunny and silent and beautiful, and felt lively (or I did), which are some of the best things about woods. And when the route took me down a gravel path and a 4×4 route later, bike bouncing around, I bounced around to loud hiphop and found myself thinking that there isn’t much better than some good trees.

Was happy af to be riding in a silent forest after miles of wind on the German-Polish border. Felt like a playground.

Pleasantly concrete house before crossing the border to Poland.
Proceeded to enter Poland with my concrete-building-blinkers on, fine tuned to only notice certain structures.

Immediately after entering Poland, the advertising makes it feel like a magic other world. With an alphabet filled with characters like ąćęłńóż, it feels like a whole different world after seeing just one billboard – and the fact there are suddenly large billboards, too. The currency looks pretty special too, although on the money front, you can pay on card pretty much everywhere, and enjoyably everything costs no more than €5 because Poland.

Having just crossed the border rather than hovered on the inside of it, it was the first time I’ve spoken German to another non-native speaker in order to communicate – mostly so he could mock me for wearing shorts in cold weather. And there was a total magic in it.

Oh look, here is a video that shows a bit of the city, too. It was a lazy Sunday on a 5 day national holiday so felt exceptionally chill, though Szczecin is a pretty quiet place, I am told.

ClaireAcross the border to unpronounceable places: Berlin to Szczecin, Poland