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Eastern Germany, Western Poland

We're just starting to think about a trip to Germany-Poland. Our trips are usually about 10 days. We would like to go in somewhat pleasant weather. This area specifically because of family genealogy, not to do research but to see general area where family came from, Goerlitz, Dresden, part of Poland that was Germany at the time & hopefully Bavaria. Also interested in sightseeing & have seen pictures of Bastei Bridge...(reasonable distance?) Would we fly into Berlin?

Posted by
1888 posts

It would help to see more specific cities. I would consider Berlin as a good start. Do you have specific villages or specific areas in mind?

I myself have done ancestor touring in Serbia. I needed an interpreter. I might think that parts of Poland might need interpreters, but much of Germany (even the East) will have English speakers.

A frequent poster, MarkK, is from Berlin. You might look for his posts, and consider a PM for specific questions.

Posted by
1780 posts

You'd be surprised, Poland actually has a large amount of English speakers, in fact Poland has a higher English language proficiency than Spain, Italy, or even France, and is ranked just below Germany. https://www.ef.edu/epi/

Posted by
1878 posts

I did this itinerary in May 2018:
Gdańsk (3 nights)
Krakow (4)
Goerlitz (2)
Dresden (2)
Berlin (4)

And it was awesome. You could start in Krakow instead to trim it, but that would be a shame because Gdańsk is a highlight of this itinerary. Actually this trip is all highlights.

As we arrived in the late afternoon in Krakow, or maybe early evening, we only had three full days there. This was a bit short.

We took the bus to Wroclaw from Krakow and dropped our bags in a locker, toured the city, then on to Goerlitz. This broke up the journey and allowed us to see Wroclaw. I think the second leg was on the train but not sure. Flixbus is a good service, but the legroom is poor. Book ahead and show up for the bus twenty minutes early to get a good seat. The train from Gdańsk to Krakow was around five hours but it was a really nice train.

Adding Bavaria is way too much in the time you have. Bastei Bridge would be great but for my itinerary it would have wrecked our short stay in Dresden. I.e miss the place you are visiting for a day trip. It takes discipline to avoid that but Dresden is a great museum city and that was the choice we made, having only a short time there.

Also: May was a great time to go for us.

Posted by
4668 posts

I'm one of the few people who thinks that Wroclaw is over-rated. We didn't have time to go to Poznan, but I feel that would be a more "authentic" visit to pre-war Poland than Wroclaw was. We did go to Lodz, which my father's parent's left (luckily, around 1920.)

Poland has excellent trains, but you should not underestimate the travel time needed to combine Berlin with Western Poland. Ten days are not enough for what you sketched, but the response from someone who saw Wroclaw with bags in the station locker does show a way to check-off a city in less than a day. It's not my style of travel! I don't recommend including Bavaria. Krakow would be more worthwhile than Munich, for example. (Yes, of course, that's an OPINION.)

I see they don't fit into your family itinerary, but if I were in Dresden, I'd want to see Leipzig, Weimar, and Erfurt. I still have the palace in Gotha on my list. Mine isn't the only one, but I have a recent trip report on Poland:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/four-cities-in-poland-2019

Posted by
1780 posts

We didn't have time to go to Poznan, but I feel that would be a more "authentic" visit to pre-war Poland than Wroclaw was.

You're not wrong there, considering Wroclaw (then Breslau) was part of the German Reich pre-WWII lol! ;-)

Anyways, I'm actually a big fan of Wroclaw and found it to be a unique city with an interesting multi-cultural past, reflected in it's architecture and historical sites. It's my favorite city in Poland and has some fantastic day-trips if you are interested in the German history of the area. Here's an excellent trip report from fellow forum contributor about her recent trip to Wroclaw: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/trip-report-wroclaw-and-swidnica

Posted by
16 posts

10 days are not enough to cover such a lot of ground. The part of Poland that was Germany at that time is (probably Lower) Silesia. I suggest you skip Bavaria altogether (which is totally out of the way) and fly into Frankfurt with a connecting short flight to Dresden. If you want to visit places where your family came from, then I think you better calculate three days minimum (better four) for Dresden (side to Bastei easily doable), two or better three days for Görlitz, three days for Wroclaw/Breslau and the rest for a town inbetween - highly recommended the Karkonosze mountains, a stay in Hirschberger Tal (the valley south of Jelenia Gora) with many castles turned into hotels. Very beautiful scenery!

Posted by
860 posts

This area specifically because of family genealogy, not to do research
but to see general area where family came from, Goerlitz, Dresden,
part of Poland that was Germany at the time & hopefully Bavaria. Also
interested in sightseeing & have seen pictures of Bastei
Bridge...(reasonable distance?) Would we fly into Berlin?

Berlin or Prague.
I guess your family came from Lower Silesia? In this case I would recommend to read "Uprooted: How Breslau Became Wroclaw during the Century of Expulsions" by Gregor Thum, to understand how the region changed after 1945 (not only the population was exchanged, history was rewritten too, cultural assets destroyed etc.).
I would skip Bavaria and focus on Saxony and Lower Silesia. There is more than enough to see and do. You could divide your trip into three parts: historic Saxony, Upper Lusatia, and Lower Silesia. Upper Lusatia is the region between Dresden and the German/Polish border. Historically this area shared the same fate with Lower Silesia until 1945, and culturally belongs to Eastern Germany, which was lost after WW2.

I would recommend something like this:
Saxony (Dresden, Saxon Switzerland, Meissen) - Upper Lusatia (Görlitz, Bautzen, Zittau Mountains) - Lower Silesia (Wroclaw, Jelenia Gora Valley, Ksiaz castle)

Definitely see the Silesian Museum in Görlitz, which is the best way to introduce you to the Silesia your ancestors knew.
IMHO it could make sense to rent a car. The area is rather rural, you could save quite a bit of time, and see the LOVELY villages of Upper Lusatia, which are a hidden gem.

Posted by
12084 posts

Good that you're focusing on eastern Germany and western Poland with cities like Wroclaw and Poznan, and others you have in mind. Wroclaw (Breslau) was Prussian since 1742, prior to that it was part of Austrian Silesia. Poznan was Posen (the former German), was Prussian since 1815 as it was awarded to Prussia at the Congress of Vienna (Wiener Kongress). It stayed part of Germany until 1919 when the German garrison troops pulled out when confronted with a Polish uprising.

Keep in mind that in light of WW2, the city of Breslau was plastered, obliterated in 1945 as it was declared "Festung Breslau" similar to Küstrin an der Oder. If you want to see Pompei like ruins of the war on the Oder, see Küstrin, most of which is east of the river, except for one district.

I would suggest too Frankfurt an der Oder....interesting, eye-opening, especially the Oderbruch area.

Posted by
860 posts

Keep in mind that in light of WW2, the city of Breslau was plastered,
obliterated in 1945 as it was declared "Festung Breslau" similar to
Küstrin an der Oder.

That's actually not true. Half of the destruction happened during the war, the other half after the war. Breslau, now Wroclaw, was used to rebuilt Warsaw, just like other Lower Silesian cities. The medieval bricks, windows and doors, the Baroque altars and pictures used to reconstruct Warsaw came mostly from former German territories. That's why many of the big Lower Silesian churches are so empty. The most infamous example here is Lubiaz, Lower Silesias most important monastery, which turned from this to this.
This was also part of the efforts to de-Germanize the region, a policy that led to the destruction of all big cemeteries of Wrocaw in the 1980s for example. Today the only preserved pre-war cemeteries are Jewish... ironically.

If you want to know more: I really recommend to read the book I mentioned earlier.

Posted by
1780 posts

The medieval bricks, windows and doors, the Baroque altars and pictures used to reconstruct Warsaw came mostly from former German territories. That's why many of the big Lower Silesian churches are so empty. The most infamous example here is Lubiaz, Lower Silesias most important monastery, which turned from this to this.

Your anti-Polish sentiment is quite apparent, as usually. I actually did visited Lubiąż Abbey (did you?) and most of the destruction was done by the Germans and Russiana during WWII:

"During World War II, the buildings of the former abbey were used for secret research laboratories and manufacturing facilities, among other things for the development of radar components (by Telefunken), housed a company named "Schlesische Werkstätten Dr. Fürstenau & Co., G.m.b.H.", and then saw production of engines for V1 and V2 rockets (using prisoners for labour). At the end of the war, the former abbey housed soldiers of the Red Army, and then a Russian military psychiatric hospital, with significant damage (e.g., wooden furnishings were burned in stoves) Since 1989, the abbey has been under renovation and has become a significant tourist destination."

The 2 main Baroque halls of the Abbey have since been restored and are quite magnificent.

This was also part of the efforts to de-Germanize the region, a policy that led to the destruction of all big cemeteries of Wrocaw in the 1980s for example

This is also simply untrue... the largest cemetery in Wroclaw, Grabiszynski Cemetery, established in 1881 still stands and is quite well maintained. Includes grave of WWI and WWII German and Italian Soldiers.

Posted by
860 posts

Your anti-Polish sentiment is quite apparent, as usually.

It's anti-Communist sentiment, actually.

I actually
did visited Lubiąż Abbey (did you?) and most of the destruction was
done by the Germans and Russiana during WWII:
"During World War II, the buildings of the former abbey were used for
secret research laboratories and manufacturing facilities, among other
things for the development of radar components (by Telefunken), housed
a company named "Schlesische Werkstätten Dr. Fürstenau & Co.,
G.m.b.H.", and then saw production of engines for V1 and V2 rockets
(using prisoners for labour). At the end of the war, the former abbey
housed soldiers of the Red Army, and then a Russian military
psychiatric hospital, with significant damage (e.g., wooden
furnishings were burned in stoves) Since 1989, the abbey has been
under renovation and has become a significant tourist destination."

Well, the wooden furnishings you see in the first picture, called Engelsgestühl and from 1680, are in Stezyca now. Of the 43 paintings you see in the upper part of the picture, all by Michael Willmann, the most important Silesian Baroque painter, 28 are in churches in and around Warsaw now, 3 are in a museum in Warwaw, the rest is in a museum in Wroclaw.
Almost the complete interior survived because the Germans concealed it at the end of the war, and there wasn't much the Russians could destroy.
Do you want to know why the church still looks so devastated, despite the fact that almost the complete interior survived? (that's something guides don't tell you)

This is also simply untrue... the largest cemetery in Wroclaw,
Grabiszynski Cemetery, established in 1881 still stands and is quite
well maintained. Includes grave of WWI and WWII German and Italian
Soldiers.

Yes, one survived. Do you know why? Because of the graves of WW1 soldiers. Not German or Italian soldiers, but Russian soldiers, which the Polish Commies didn't dare to destroy. All others, especially the historically and artistically important ones, are gone.

I actually did visited Lubiąż Abbey (did you?)

I visited the abbey several times, and know the region very well.

Posted by
12084 posts

True, that after the Vertreibung, the next logical step was to de-Germanise an area that had been part of the Drang nach Osten since the 800s AD. It also depends where this de-Germanising effort was more thorough. In Gdansk is a WW1 and WW2 military cemetery, Danzig Soldatenfriedhof. If you are interested in the specific address, I can list that too.

If it's Italian soldiers from WW1 you want to see, the Starnsdorf war cemetery near Berlin is one place, where half of it is Italian and the other half British from WW1.

Posted by
5 posts

Hello,
I am reading your posting and am curious if you went on the trip to eastern Germany and Poland? Like you, my family came from Silesia and I am planning a trip to eastern Germany and Poland. My understand is Goerlitz is close to what Lower Silesia was like before WWII. We are planning on flying to Berlin because of cost. We were planning to go to Wroclaw (Breslau), Goerlitz, and Dresden. I am definitely planning a side trip to Bastei Bridge especially because with have kids and need to include sites that would interest them.
Thanks
Kristin

Posted by
6 posts

Kristin, Because of the virus, our trip will have to be postponed. I'm not sure when we will reschedule. Our itinerary was to have been , Day 1 Wittenberg, Day 2, Eisenach to see Wartburg Castle, ( Martin Luther trail) Day 3 Colditz to see family towns Geithain. Day 4 Dresden Day 5 Saxon Switzerland Nat. Park Day 6 & 7 Gorlitz * staying one night at Czoch Castle, Days 8-10 in Western Poland with friends then back to Berlin for 2 days. I don't know if we will keep the same itinerary when we reschedule

Posted by
860 posts

Day 1 Wittenberg, Day 2, Eisenach to see Wartburg Castle, ( Martin
Luther trail) Day 3 Colditz to see family towns Geithain. Day 4
Dresden Day 5 Saxon Switzerland Nat. Park Day 6 & 7 Gorlitz * staying
one night at Czoch Castle, Days 8-10 in Western Poland with friends
then back to Berlin for 2 days.

A lot of one night stays, but doable...
BTW: the area around Geithain is full of castles. Colditz is the most famous in the English-speaking world, but among the locals the other castles are more popular. The best by far in the region is Kriebstein castle.