The Miracle Next Door: Poland Emerges as a Central European Powerhouse
Germans used to think of Poland as a country full of car thieves and post-communist drabness. On the eve of hosting the European Football Championship, however, the country has become the most astonishing success story in Eastern Europe. Relations between Berlin and Warsaw have never been better.
There are cities that are as uninteresting as the stone they are made of, rigid and heavy, done up as stylishly as if they had been completely untarnished by the vagaries of history. And then there are the other kinds, the raw, rough, unfinished and exciting cities of the world.
Warsaw is one of those cities, a place that seems to crackle and groan in all of its unfinished glory. No one would dream of calling the Polish capital a beautiful place. But how much it breathes history, how many critical, comforting and tragic things it says about the course of time to those who not only contemplate but also scrutinize its building blocks is evident in many of its structures. It is especially evident in the new football stadium in the Saska Kepa quarter on the east bank of the Vistula River, the place that will transfix billions of people on June 8, the day of the opening match of the European football championships.
Warsaw, 68 years earlier, less than a stone’s throw away. Resistance fighters with the Polish Home Army are crawling through cellars, sewer tunnels and secret underground passages, rallying against the savage German occupiers. They strike out, armed with the courage of despair, and they manage to capture important parts of the city. They are counting on Stalin’s help, after hearing on Radio Moscow that the Soviets have promised to support them militarily. But instead the Soviet dictator orders his troops to sit tight and do nothing, in the exact spot where this year’s football championship is to take place. Stalin has no interest in self-confident Poles who liberate their capitals under their own steam. The Nazis massacre 180,000 Poles, and large parts of the city are reduced to rubble. The Russians eventually do liberate the Poles, their “sister people,” but not until January 1945 — on their own terms.