If you watched the World Cup last month, and the matches where Germany played in particular, you probably noticed a German player called Lukas Podolski. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the name sounds Polish and that he might in fact be Polish.
He is, well, he was. He was born as Łukasz Podolski in Gliwice, Upper Silesia, where his family still lives. I know that as a Polish paper, Gazeta Wyborcza, got very excited last week as the 25-year old visited his Gran in Gliwice.
They followed him with a camera and took some pictures of him in his old neighbourhood. As you do.
But when you read his Wikipedia entry, that’s when it gets interesting. It would seem the history of his family – very similar to those of thousands of other Upper Silesian families – reflects the complexities of life on a territory with a strongly defined identity, but extremely turbulent and at times violent history.
In 1987, when Łukasz Podolski was two years old, his family emigrated from Poland to West Germany and was given Aussiedler status as a result of his paternal grandparents having German citizenship prior to WWII (Gliwice had until 1945 been a part of Germany as Gleiwitz). Podolski grew up in Bergheim, North Rhine-Westphalia, and later in Pulheim, both near Cologne.
Many people who were born and grew up in Upper Silesia took advantage of the fact they were entitled to another citizenship and left Poland at the height of the crisis in the 80s to settle in Germany (and beyond). Many did that in the 70s too, but after the martial law period of the early 80s many families simply didn’t see their future in a politically and economically unstable country.
There have been many heartbreaking stories of people abandoning their entire houses, flats, cars, whetever – and going on “one-way trips”. For most people these “trips” ended in temporary immigration camps in Germany, where they learned their new language, acquired some new skills and started new lives.
In most cases, these people eventually settled down and started new, happier lives. Even though in many cases it took ages to bring the entire family to Germany and get accepted in the new environment.
There have been many tragic stories too: people returning to Poland with absolutely nothing; young people unable to find themselves in the new reality, removed from their friends and unable to make new ones, drinking themselves to death; families torn by unfulfilled expectations etc.
Now many of those who left return to Upper Silesia to visit their relatives and friends, some decide to settle in Poland again or spend their retirement there.
Many however despair looking at how this once thriving and rich part of Poland struggles to catch up with the rest of the country now that the heavy industry – and a big chunk of its population - is gone.
I wonder what Lukas made of his trip.