Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Dark Side of Gdansk, Poland

Imagine being a referee in a tiny boxing ring, you're feet bound to the mat, in the middle of two heavy weights slugging it out, who are so blinded by ego and desire to dominate, they keep punching after the other retreats, uncaring of the collateral damage to your face.
this Soviet style building looks far better in
this photo (due to flash) than in reality
That's pretty much what the Poles have felt like the majority of the 20th century, stuck between Germany and Russia. First WWI, then decimated by the Germans during from the opening salvo of WWII, followed by the Russian counterattack, then annexed and enslaved by the Soviets, The scars of battle are still etched on the unhappy faces of Poles today.

Fallow Land
Aside of the very center of the city, a tremendous amount of space lies fallow in and around Gdansk. You'd imagine land to be relatively cheap, and thus single family houses would quickly spring up.
Instead, the area is dotted mostly by large Soviet built apartment buildings, each uglier than the next, the only make-up, rouge in the form of brightly colored red flowers applied to the window sills and balconies.
In an impoverished population, it's apparently more economical to put everyone atop one another.


An example of the fallow land which exists around Gdansk

How Poor?
Minimum wage here is a dollar in half an hour. Aleksandra's friend Alice works full time in a small stand selling pastries and breads for $300 a month, sitting 10 hours a day, a tedious, and what would be thankless job except for being able to gift muffins and donuts to her friends. A smile spreads across her face, during an otherwise glum afternoon.
Some laborers are on the job 20 hours, multiple days in a row. Don't like it, that's fine, there's a line of people waiting to take your place. Overtime? What's that?
There is little of sense of loyalty between employer and employee here, and vice-versa. Its the wild wild west of labor, a nearly lawless divide, circa Great Britain at the start of the industrial revolution.

Government + Lack
During Communistic times everything from clothing, to heating fuel, to food was in short supply. Often there wasn't enough to eat, and people had to fight for the few available resources.
The accompanying scarcity mentality still exists in Poland, the hangover of Communism still strong.
People stream onto the bus, elbowing each other in the side as they battle for the available seats. It's a habit you'll feel in peoples' presence outside as well.
A money changer gives me a fake currency, augmenting his income substantially ($33) for the month.
If you can afford to pay your bills and go to the cinema a couple times a month, people assume you're most likely in the mafia. For those who are prospering at all, tremendous jealousy is society's response.
But dishonest bill changers and the mafia are not the greatest of Polish peoples' worries. As Peter (23) tells me, "There are thieves, and then are thieves ... and then, there is the government."
You want to get rich in America, you start a corporation and succeed. Want to get rich in Eastern Europe? Work your way up the government ladder.

Outlook
Peter rationalizes his unhealthy habits. "Smoking calms me down, without it Polish people would kill each other. As for the heavy drinking, we do so to forget our reality."
Asleep at the bus stop- look carefully
Look carefully at the above photo. This middle aged man is asleep at the bus stop, blood dripping down his face and onto his shirt. 
Being drunk and falling asleep in public- a recipe to be assaulted by the unhappy populace. Many men go to bars in search of a fight, something to make them feel strong, to justify their existence. 
As Peter tells me, the only thing that is easy about Poland, is the decision to leave. In full agreement, I booked my ticket for Germany immediately, leaving in the morning.

Lotos- huge building in the center of town- the Polish oil company

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