HITCH-HIKING THROUGH GDR AND FISH FACTORY

I’d like to get back in time to my college years in the 60s – 70s. Polish students, unfortunately, weren’t rich. They aren’t always either, but at that time it was a standard situation. They often had to wheel and deal pretty well to make ends meet. Of course education always came as first but other spiritual needs, as according to Maslow’s pyramid, were necessary as well.


Internship in plant fish in Sassnitz (GDR)


After one-year hard work of absorbing knowledge at lectures and taking exams, there finally came time to organise holiday voyages. Everybody tried to figure out how to plan holiday while not having any money. Each of us chose different possibilities. Some worked to earn for holiday. Polish students could organise it somehow as they had three months for it. The condition was all the exams passed, at best even before the set examination period, in the so called pre-period. Then they had even more time. After the first year of studies each Polish student was obliged to undergo a training period in an employment facility. One had to work for a month doing some physical work in a factory or a plant. I fell to cleaning lawns in a facility of municipal greenery.

Having finished our work training period we managed, with my friend Jola from Romance studies, to arrange a trip to work in a fish processing plant in Sassnitz in GDR in Rugen. The work there wasn’t easy at all. We had to get up at 5m as our work started at 6am and finished at 3pm. Our job was to pack mackerels, which were previously smoked in a special furnace, picking them from a moving line. Having cut a head and a tail with scissors, we put it in a tin and it kept travelling on a moving line. It was sealed and then tins were packed into boxes. It was an organised work. It our time off work, we were visiting the island.

More or less we looked at work in a factory . Source: www.bildermeer.com
More or less how we looked like at work in a factory . Source: www.bildermeer.com

Hitch-hiking from Poland to GDR


Oh! I remember how I got to Sassnitz in GDR. I was going from Jelenia Góra to Zgorzelec to cross the border in Goerlitz. My train was late, so I missed my other train going to Sassnitz. It seemed to be a problem as I was to start my work the next day in the morning. I decided to approach the cars waiting at the boarder to cross. I started asking whether someone was going in my direction. A man travelling with his little daughter came out of one car and said that he could drop me off to Dresden because later he was going to Ludwigshafen, a town situated in Federal Republic of Germany. It was the zone I wasn’t allowed to enter as Polish. It was located on the Rhine in Rhineland and it wasn’t on the territory of GDR. I got happy as I thought I would catch a train connection from Dresden to Sassnitz where I wanted to get.

5. Ludwigshafen

From a train station I got to my place of accommodation which I was to share with my friend from Opole. It was a room at German family. A propos the man who gave me a lift to Dresden. We exchanged addresses. He was a German of Polish origin who was the President of Polish community in FRG. We kept in touch by writing letters and 10 years later he was a guest at my wedding. Isn’t it great?


Student life on the island of Rugen


Having arrived at Sassnitz, my host lady showed me my bedroom and other rooms I could use. Jola had already been there when I arrived. The best thing was that we didn’t speak German. We had a German dictionary, which was supposed to be of help in everyday contacts with people.

The next day we went to a fish processing plant. We were given our workwear, same like other workers, namely white aprons, smock, rubber boots and white gloves.

In the spare time after work we were doing walking through the port of Sassnitz with Jola
In free time after work we were doing walking through the port of Sassnitz with Jola

After work we used to walk and admire the area. A few times we managed to take part in local fests with music, beer and sausages. I liked fish soup most. It was for free. You didn’t pay for anything. We liked it very much as we didn’t have much money. The most frequent meal was Eintopf – cheap and nutritious for 50 pfennigs. Well, and of course chocolate with grapes and nuts, which was a great delicacy then.

Our attraction was drawn by German girls, who not very pretty and of streamlined shapes, wore miniskirts. We, on the other hand, wore long skirts as they in fashion in Poland at that time, so we looked kind of exotic to them. I don’t know who looked more exotic but surely we were fine girls. I’ll say it immodestly that we might have aroused interest because of that. Haha!


Again hitch-hiking and crazy shopping


Finally there was time to come back home. Having received remuneration for our work, we set off. Till this day we wonder whether they paid us as much as we really deserved. At that time we weren’t able to verify it. We were sorry to spend this money on a train ticket. We definitely preferred to spend it on shopping. Not thinking too much we decided to hitch-hike home. At that time this form of travelling was very popular among young people.

 A small lunch break while sightseeing in Stralsund
A small lunch break while sightseing in Stralsund

Stop Rostock


From Rugen we got to Rostock located in Mecklenburg. It was a port town with an old and modern market, St. Mary’s Church with an astronomical clock, an old lighthouse in Warnemunde and a picturesque port on the Baltic Sea. Our other purpose was to do shopping, especially that there were a lot of shops in the old market. We ran in the stores for the whole day. They were so well equipped in various products that Polish stores lacked. We especially looked for lingerie, that was very much in fashion at that time, stockings with lace and leather shoes.


Direction Berlin


Having done successful shopping we moved for the conquest of Berlin. At that time it was the capital of German Democratic Republic (GDR). In order to do it we went to a motorway. It was a bit hard for us as we had big suitcases packed with tins full of different fish for our families. At that time suitcases with wheels were very rare. They weren’t available everywhere. And if they were available, they were horribly expensive. Students, most often, couldn’t afford them. I still laugh at myself how we could go hitch-hiking with such baggage. I wouldn’t decide to do it now. Youth abides by its own rules and the impossible becomes possible. Oh! One more thing I was carrying was “Kasia”, which is a vacuum cleaner for carpets. In Germany vacuum cleaner were much cheaper than in Poland. Most Polish families couldn’t afford to buy them. In that trip throughout GDR I was accompanied by a stick from that “Kasia”, while its other part was packed in my suitcase. Sheer madness! It makes me laugh when I think how I must have looked like with that stick on a motorway. As a good daughter I wanted to please my parents, by bringing them such a present and, moreover, for the money I earned myself.

5. odkurzacz kasia


Casual accommodation in train


We got to Berlin as it was getting dark, and there a problem appeared. We were in a big city, had no place to sleep and hotels were too expensive for us. We were moving around the city hoping to find a place to sleep there, e.g. in a hotel lobby on a sofa. We hoped they would allow us as young travellers. Germans weren’t as hospitable at all. It looked we had nothing to count on so Jola and I headed towards Bahnhof, which is a train station. On our way we met a group of students with their academic teacher. They had their training period in Berlin and they got interested when they saw us. They asked where we were heading to, so we admitted that we had no place to sleep. We were lucky. They invited us to stay with them for a night. It turned out they had the whole sleeping carriage at their disposal. This is how we spent the first night in Berlin sleeping in a train.

 Berlin seemed to city gloomy and cool in contrast to what is now
Berlin seemed to city gloomy and cool in contrast to what is now

After shopping in Berlin time for Dresden


The next day we ate breakfast and set off to visit Berlin. And, as befits women, we did shopping by the way. Berlin seemed to be a gloomy and cold city. It wasn’t as vibrant as it is now. We didn’t stay long in Berlin as we wanted to come back home finally. The way of travelling we chose made it last longer in time. The advantage of it, however, was that we could visit Germany going from the north to the south.

Then we reached Magdeburg and from there to Dresden, the capital of Saxon, where Polish rulers of Wettin dynasty came from. We loved the town very much. We were especially delighted by Dresden gallery, the residence of Wettin dynasty or Old Town in Dresden.


Time to back home 


Having visited Dresden, we tried to hitch-hike farther by thumbing another lift and then another. We kept asking the drivers “Fahren Sie nach…?” and kept doing this until somebody finally gave us a lift.

We were very tired with all that changes. Finally we got to Zgrzelec. Then I went to my parents to Jelenia Góra and Jola went to Opole. This is how our working adventure came to an end and turned out to be a great lesson of how one can travel combining business with pleasure, not having much money, not knowing the language and not having a mobile phone. Today even small kids have smartphones.


What do you think about it? Share your opinions in the comments. And perhaps you experienced similar adventure? What do you think about life in PPL time? See you on the occasion of my next story on my travelling adventures behind the Iron Curtain.

Ewa

Ewa

Mother of a curly daughter, graduate student of political science and Russian philology, a demon for work, a woman with a great heart and with a past, a favourite history teacher since 30 years, a political scientist, a traveller since 19 year of age who travelled the world from Berlin to Arctic Circle. Travelling behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t only an adventure for her but a way to support herself and get money for her studies.
Ewa