If you’re spending some time in Berlin and have enough time to devote to a day trip, a few hours on the train will bring you to the city of Szczecin in Poland. A major seaport and Poland’s 7th largest city,
Szczecin is just 10 kilometers from the German border. If you arrive by train, you’ll find a red line painted on the sidewalk which begins outside Central Station. The “red trail” runs about 7 km (4.5 miles) and loops through the city in a way that let’s you see all of the sights in one afternoon.
The city has at times been a part of Germany, Saxony, the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden, France, Prussia, Denmark, and the USSR. The architectural influences of the various cultures are evident as you walk
around the city. In the 1880s, the streetscape was redesigned to replicate Paris, which had recently been re-designed by Georges-Eugene Haussmann under the instruction of Napoleon III to improve movement using wide avenues, squares, and parks.
Stettin, as Szczecin was known prior to WWII, was a fortified town often contested between the Prussian and Swedish empires. The walls remained in place until it became part of the German Empire around 1871. Two of the gates still remain, the Brama Portowa (formerly the Berliner Tor) and the Brama Krolewska (formerly the Königstor / King’s Gate). The gates were constructed between 1725-1728 following the Great Northern War, which resulted in the city transferring hands from Sweden to Prussian king Frederick Wilhelm I. Both gates have been restored, but have been turned into cafes, which is not exactly keeping with historical context.
In 1940, there were about 1,300 Jews living in Stettin and an additional 6,500 in the surrounding province of Pomerania. The Jewish community in Stettin witnessed the destruction of of all synagogues in 1938. Pomeranian Jews were some of the first to face mass deportation from German territory on February 12 and 13, 1940. The Jewish population in Stettin, numbering around 1,300 people, were sent to Lublin concentration camp as per the resettlement movement outlined in the Nisko and Lublin plans which called for Jewish reservations in the Polish areas of Lublin and Nisko. This forced relocation included all Jewish people in the province, including the sick and elderly as well as religious converts that no longer considered themselves to be Jewish. This led to Pomerania to declare itself to be the first German area to be “free of Jews.”
Following WWII, the Postdam Agreement the border between Poland and the Soviet Union shifted east, and to compensate the loss of land to Poland, the western border of at Germany was moved west to the Oder-Neisee Line, thereby giving Pomerania to Poland, which had been a part of Germany. The transfer of the city to Poland resulted in the changing of the city name from the German Stettin to the Polish Szczecin. It was not until German reunification in 1990 that Germany officially renounced claims to Pomerania until 1990 with the Two Plus Four Agreement.
Prior to WWII, the population of the city was about 382,000, including about 2,000 Polish people. However, that number increased during the war as approximately 15,000 Polish slave workers were brought in to provide forced labor. Following the collapse of the Nazi regime, most Germans in Stettin fled. Those that remained were forcibly expelled, leaving the area to be resettled by Poles, many of which had been living in eastern Poland in the area that was ceded to the USSR.
Most of the downtown area was destroyed during WWII. During the reconstruction phase, the communist government wanted to rebuild in a way that would highlight the Polish roots of the city. However, the city had not been controlled by Poland since the Piast dynasty in the Middle Ages so there weren’t exactly many buildings left from that period to restore. Instead, buildings reflecting the Griffin/Pomeranian dynasty were selected for rehabilitation.
One of the grandest restored buildings is Ducal Castle, the home of the duke’s that ruled the Pomeranian Dutchy between 1121 and 1637. Originally built in 1346 by Barnim III, the castle was continuously constructed through the ages. The current version of the castle looks practically new. The renovation was an intent to restore it to its original design, based on an engraving from 1653.