Once part of the city of Frankfurt (Oder), the town of Słubice, now home to 18,000 people, became a part of Poland in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. It sits directly across the River Oder, only a 15-minute drive from Frankfurt (Oder)’s city centre, and residents from both sides cross the border freely and easily to work, shop and study.
This was not always the case, however. Rigid border controls were enforced throughout the Cold War, and even after German reunification all the way to 2007, when the controls were removed three years after Poland’s accession to the EU. In 2011, all barriers were removed for Polish workers entering Germany. Now, about 2000 Poles live in Frankfurt (Oder) and about 500 cross into the city to work every day. The representatives at the Frankfurt (Oder)-Słubice German-Polish Co-operation Centre believe this symbolises openness and collaboration and presents a unique offer for investors, students and families.
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“During the past 10 years we have tried to make use of this crossborder location for the inhabitants, tourists and investors to create a double city where you can feel there are two different cities, but [also] one city on the ground where you can live, work and shop on both sides,” says Soeren Bollmann, director at the Frankfurt-Słubice Co-operation Centre in Frankfurt (Oder)’s old town centre. “The crossborder location is one very important reason for companies to come here, because they have the possibility to choose either the German or Polish side, and it’s a very central location in Europe, well linked to Berlin and Warsaw.” The cities also share important infrastructural elements such as a joint district heating system and a crossborder bus route.
Among the perks of this twin-city arrangement is the fact that companies have access to a pool of workers capable of speaking German, Polish and English – and often other languages as well. Frankfurt (Oder) has invested in bilingual schools, universities and kindergartens where students can learn both Polish and German, making it an attractive potential home for Polish families. More than 200 Polish children attend school in Frankfurt (Oder), with equal access to their German counterparts.
“Our strategy is to open not only the working sector but the education sector – our idea is that Polish families can live close to Poland but have the opportunity for their children to learn German and work in the region, whether in Frankfurt (Oder) or Berlin,” says Mr Bollmann.
Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice collaborate on further education and research initiatives, notably the Collegium Polonicum, which is located in Słubice. “The Collegium Polonicum is a joint university between Frankfurt (Oder)’s Viadrina University and the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland,” says Mr Bollmann.
The Collegium Polonicum hosts about 500 students on the Polish side studying law, international affairs and regional studies. This is of particular note, Mr Bollmann explains, because up until recently the whole European study market was not open to Poles. “Now it is open, and you can study everything,” he says. “The Collegium Polonicum and Viadrina University are about to establish a common faculty to establish more German-Polish international studies and a joint-degree system. The idea is to provide a local market with very attractive employees on a university level,” adds Mr Bollmann.
International investors have taken note of the twin city arrangement, and this includes those in Poland. A prime example of this is Polish cargo terminal operator PCC Intermodal. As part of a private-public partnership, the City of Frankfurt (Oder), the State of Brandenburg, the German government, the EU and PCC Intermodal have invested about €10m in upgrading and developing the cargo terminal in Frankfurt (Oder)’s Freight Village, which has been in operation since 2004. PCC recently invested an additional €3m in new equipment for the facility. The expansion of the terminal, which provides intermodal freight transport, has resulted in a modern intermodal road-to-rail transfer location for the region with direct trains to Europe’s international ports and commercial centres in eastern Europe.
“Why Frankfurt (Oder)? It’s the area,” says Bernd Meewes, PCC Intermodal’s managing director. “It’s very close to the Polish border, and directly in the middle of our network. Our trains are coming from all over Poland and the Brandenburg area through Frankfurt (Oder) and going to Hamburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam – it is connected to all the main European ports.”
The terminal has four tracks which handle about 60,000 containers worth of cargo – oil, gas, construction materials and more – each year. “Frankfurt (Oder) is well connected with Belarus and further east to China – the trains here can go all the way to China on the freight routes,” adds Mr Meewes.
Mr Bollmann laments the fact that more Polish workers do not stream into Frankfurt (Oder). This, he believes, is due to Germany’s slowness in opening its borders to Polish workers. “The number of Polish inhabitants here is growing by no more than 200 each year because most Poles who wanted to leave the country are already in England. It was Germany’s mistake to open the borders so late – we were afraid of cheap workers, but for the border region it was a bad decision,” he says.
This is why initiatives such as Interreg VA, an EU programme designed to unite parts of European populations across borders, are often proving vital for Frankfurt (Oder)’s growth. The programme, which has funded projects such as the Øresund Bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden, is providing €100m over six years for part of the German-Polish border region. Those funds go toward buildings such as the Frankfurt (Oder)-Slubice Co-operation Centre, German-Polish kindergartens and crossborder cultural events. Further infrastructure projects are planned to improve commuter connections and crossborder communications.
“We hope to see more people coming to Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice to live and work here,” says Mr Bollmann. “The most important challenge is the language challenge, and with that, the mentality to become attractive as a German-Polish town, to bring the Polish side closer to the German people, and vice versa.”