CAPITALISM ALIVE AND KICKING IN POLAND (1/2)
Ok ladies and jerks, around New Year’s Day we spent a week in Poland to visit my wife’s family in the City of Wroclaw, Poland’s fourth largest (pop. Some 634,000). The distance from our doorsteps to my mother-in-law’s apartment is some 1,100 km if you take the E 40, and thus you could do it in a day if you got up early, ate while driving and didn’t pee too often; however, having a little kid with us and generally not wanting to be in a hurry when driving through beautiful central Germany, we always do it in two days – until now, since in Weimar we had some car trouble causing us a delay of another day, making a ride which started on a Monday end on a Wednesday. But I digress.
Btw, Weimar. Now, Weimar may well be Germany’s small cultural Mecca par excellence, in historical terms at least. Indeed, the famous poets Goethe, Schiller and Herder lived here, as well as the composers Bach and Liszt. Quite a few Weimarer Gebaude are recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage buildings. If you intend to visit it soon, 2005 is the year since the city commemorates the 200th year since Schiller deceased. I suppose though that for those who heard a bell ring at the mention of the name, they rather connected it with Germany’s ill-fated and short-lived bourgeois democracy during the Interbellum’s first half. If so, that assumption was also correct. The statue of Goethe and Schiller stands right in front of the Weimar Republic’s Parliamentary Building (if you clicked on the previous link, Goethe is the chap on the left).
Hmmm, when I first saw that building, I couldn’t help but wonder that the Weimar Republic was probably doomed from the start. Germans are a Proud People and like Decorum, Gravitas and Grandezza. Now, the Parliament looks more suited to serve as Luxembourgs Town Hall or something – though of a sound architectural design, much too modest imho for an 80million nation and leading industrial power.
Anyway, thanks to Herr Lutz Wagner from Autohaus Glinicke we were able to pursue our journey and left Weimar on Wednesday at around 11 o’clock. Some 30 kloms further, along the E40, we passed by the City of Jena, see pic below.
I mention Jena because despite its size (it counts some 103,000 inhabitants) it’s a rather important educational and industrial center. Its role as the former is emphasized by the presence of the famous Friedrich-Schiller University Jena (some 20,000 students) and the Fachhochschule. But that’s not all, in addition there are the:
• Hans-Knöll-Institut für Naturstoff-Forschung e.V.,
• Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie e.V.
• Institut für Physikalische Hochtechnologie e.V.,
• Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Optik und Feinmechanik Jena,
• Max-Planck-Institut zur Erforschung von Wirtschaftssystemen,
• Max-Planck-Institut für Chemische Ökologie und
• Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
As you can see Jena is no place for Hollywood celebs. As an industrial center, Jena distinguishes itself through renowned companies like Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH (I’m sure you heard of their famous binoculars) and the pharmaceutical giant Jenapharm GmbH & Co, but there are many more.
From Jena it was still a ride of some 300 kloms to the Polish/German border, which we crossed easily, Poland now being an EU member. It was a tremendous relief not having to wait in a long queue before suspicious-looking guards allow you to proceed. Wroclaw itself, some 150 kloms inside Poland, was reached by 6pm on Wednesday evening, by which time it was already dark. It would have been even later had we not been able to use the almost refurbished E40, which until at least Easter of this year was composed of ancient concrete slabs varying 2-3cm in height at the junctions, making a ride at even only 80kloms an hour a butt-numbing experience. As we reached Wroclaws outskirts, the dark of the highway was replaced by the white-yellow glare of thousands of sodium lamps with an array of freshly erected supermarkets bathing in it: TESCO, Auchan (French equivalent of Wal-Mart), Makro, Le Roy Merlin, Media Markt, IKEA etc…
Now, since I did not have the means to photograph this scenery you will excuse a little cheating from me, since the pic I provide to illustrate the industrial building activity is one I took last April – hence the green grass and blossoming flowers. It shows one of many newly erected industrial buildings housing small and medium-sized companies around Wroclaw, in this case Tektura:
I did a Google for "Tektura" + "Wroclaw" and lo and behold, there we got their site: it appeared to be the Polish daughter of German packaging specialist Tektura!
Excerpt from their fine site:
Two Martin inline-machines with up to three printing units, two Bobst flatbed diecutters with up to five printing units and two Bobst six-corner folder-gluers are installed there. Of course all machines are state-of-the-art. So there we are also able to provide our customers with a broad bandwidth of packaging. With a production capacity of about 60 million square metres per year we are among Poland's biggest packaging producers. The whole plant has been configured and equipped in accordance to the latest technological findings. So we can be sure of having set a new standard in the corrugated board industry.
Oh yeah, see that car in front of the sign? That’s MFBB’s Audi!
Now, before I elaborate on our days in Wroclaw a few words on the country itself: Poland is officially a Republic, with a population slightly less than 39 million (July 2004 estimate) and a surface of 312,685 sq kloms, making it almost the size of New Mexico. Head of State is President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Prime Minister is Marek Belka. That last name may ring a bell to Iraq News crunchers, since Mr. Belka was CPA Financial Director under Paul Bremer the previous year. Like the US, Poland has a bicameral system with a 100 strong Senate and a 460-strong House of Representatives called the Sejm. Check out their neat site.
As you may all have heard, the communist government under General Jaruzelski was challenged in 1980 by the emergence of the free Labor Union Solidarnosc under Lech Walesa. A decadelong bumpy ride including a brief stint of Martial Law, imprisonment of key Solidarnosc members, government-ordered murder (anyone remember Father Popieluszko?) saw communist rule finally break down by 1990. Since then Poland has undergone an economical shock therapy which transformed its economy since then in one of the most robust of the former Eastern European countries.
However, over the past years things didn’t look that bright anymore: the Poles just emerge from a four year reign under Prime Minister Leszek Miller. Naturally, being a former communist he and his government screwed things up royally and currently Poland suffers from high unemployment and low GDP growth. Btw, Poland’s GDP is some 427 billion US$ (2004 estimate). With abovementioned population of 39 million that yields a GDP per capita of 11,100 US$. Millers main credit is guiding Poland into the EU, although of course he also deserves praise, along with president Kwasniewski, for Polands valoured contribution as a member of the Coalition of the Willing, with an important role in Iraq. Helpful in this respect was also the fact that Poland is a NATO member in 1999.
(to be continued)
(old Polish Air Force MiG21 from some Aero Klub near the border)