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Poles Reverse German Land Grab

Rafal Kiepuszewski (dre)August 20, 2005

Fears that rich Germans would storm into Poland following EU enlargement and buy up properties appear unfounded. Houses are being bought, but it's the Poles who are finding deals -- in East Germany.

New tenants wanted. Polish commuters welcomeImage: dpa

Situated right on the German frontier, and poised to serve as a gateway to Scandinavia, the port city of Szczecin has played its cards right in the past fifteen years.

The collapse of the old East Germany has been a boon to local businessmen, who have made fortunes off of Germans crossing the border in search of cheaper goods and services. But when those businessmen started looking around for property to buy, they found themselves priced out of their own market.

Their solution? Cross the border into Eastern Germany.

"Before Poland joined the EU, the nation’s biggest fear was the invasion of Germans buying land they could purchase for half the price of land in their own country," said Iwona Lejman, a Polish journalist. "However, in the Szczecin area the trend is going totally in the opposite direction. The German side is poor and depressed … (and) seeing an exodus of young people looking for jobs and a better life. They leave behind their old and empty houses."

A German suburb for a Polish city

Now those empty properties are getting snatched up by Polish businessmen, a surprising twist in the developing saga of European enlargement. Rather than the "Drang nach Osten" (Drive to the East) a popular slogan of the former East German communist government, Poles jokingly refer to it as the "Drang nach Westen."

Szczecin: Nice town, a little pricey thoughImage: dpa

For restaurateur Tomasz Pawlik, the price he paid for a home in the small town of Wetzenau on the German side of the Polish border is well worth the 25-kilometer drive from his modern restaurant in the center of the city of 400,000.

"Everybody associates our move to Germany with leaving Poland for good," said Pawlik, who bought a house formerly built for a Lutheran minister with his artist girlfriend. "But in fact out village of Wetzenau is more like a suburb of Szczecin."

Local officials welcoming Polish business

Rather than complain about the buyers from the East, local town officials are embracing their business. German officials from the town of Pasewalk, just across the border from Szczecin, are frequent visitors to the Polish city.

Grenzpfeiler Polen Deutschland
Poles worried enlargment would bring greedy speculators across their borders. The opposite has happened.Image: dpa - Fotoreport

"Everybody can come, we have enough to offer," said Beno Mahler, Pasewalk's mayor. "It’s one possibility to get a better financial situation for the economy of the region. It’s positive if there’s life; if nobody lives there, it will die."

Of course, Mahler adds: "We would be happy if the situation of losing inhabitants could be stopped.’

Realtors discover boom market

Real estate agents would prefer things stay just the way they are. Dozens of such agencies have been set up in Szczecin in the past twelve months. Sitting in her new office in a Szczecin suburb, real estate agent Magdalena Pyrz now has a list of seven hundred customers looking to buy or rent property on the German side.

"I know we’ve sold 9 houses, we’ve rented 14 flats in 5 months, four firms set up their businesses. The interest of Polish people is enormous. Their housing prices are excellent," said Pyrz.

"Some of the houses needing to be renovated are sometimes three to four times cheaper than in Poland around Szczecin. Generally, there are not enough flats and houses for the 400,000 people living here." And what is it in particular the new Polish residents like about their neighbors? Pyrz says the like how clean it is, the way German people look after their houses, and the infrastructure is excellent. "For all these reasons, Polish people want to move to Germany."