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Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Poland  ,
Thursday, June 29, 2006

It took a while for our heart rate to settle after the race to the train. We were on the Berlin to Warsaw express - a nice train, and as we went along we wondered if it actually might continue on to Swiebodzin after all.

We realised, when the immigration guys came around asking for passports that we must be leaving Frankfurt Oder and now entering Poland, and with exit and entry stamps now completed, we could sit back and wonder when we would be at Rzepin. It was interesting to see the scenery change. Not so much the environmental, but the social - it was clear that Poland was much poorer country economically than Germany.

We spotted the sign for Rzepin, and so grabbed all of our luggage and prepared to get off... the next stop was Poznan, so it was definitely not stopping at Swiebodzin. It was amazing to get off at Rzepin - it was a tiny station in a very quiet area.

We first had to get some Polish currency - we had to buy onward tickets, so we looked around for an ATM at the station... hmmmm nothing. We approached the office and asked "Do you speak English" - a funny little guy came up to us and replied (in English) "No, I speak German".

Relieved, we asked about tickets for Swiebodzin - there was a train coming in about 20mins. Ok, good... then we asked about money - we have no Polish Zloty, only Euros... he smiled with a look that we knew we were out of luck.

Enquiring if there was an ATM or "bankomat" nearby, he paused and said yes, there is one bank, but its a 600m away and pointed a certain direction. Glenn left his big pack with Christie at the station and set off on a run towards town... except it was not obvious where the "town" was. The road forked almost immediately after the train station and it was such a small place that either option looked as quiet as the other, without any obvious town centre.

There were a few cars waiting at the rail crossing and Glenn asked one guy walking past if he spoke English... no, and he kept walking. Hmmm... this won't be easy. The crossing opened and all the cars drove off... leaving no one around... great, what now.

Wandering towards a building nearby that may be an office of sorts... although on closer inspection, it was deserted and quite run down - Glenn realised he was getting desperate.

Seeing a lady coming his way, Glenn approached and asked if she spoke English... no! As a last resort, Glenn said "Bank?" - and this she recognised and started rattling instructions off in polish. Glenn got her to point the way, but it wasn't clear, and she ended up walking him to the correct branch of the fork and then trying to give more directions with pointing and instructions in polish. Glenn, about to set off on a run, was stopped as she realised that he would miss it, so she drew out directions in the sand for him, explaining that after the second intersection, turn left!

Glenn thanked her and set off on a run again - struggling running in jeans in the heat and with his daypack filled with too much bottled water. He followed the directions and saw the sign "Bankomat"! Woo hoo! Except, to add to the stress, there was a queue!!! In such a tiny town, with the streets half empty, there were about 6 people queuing in front of Glenn! Arrrgghh! Wishing to cut in, but unable to explain his situation (no Polish!) Glenn waited patiently, as the queue dwindled.

Finally, armed with Polish currency, he set back on a run to the station... and on the way he passed the helpful lady who gave him instructions. Thank yooouuuuu... Glenn said as he passed her and ran back to the train station, where the train was alongside the platform and due to depart in a minute or two.

While Glenn was gone, one of the rail staff had paced past Christie a few times and then approached her to tell her that this was the train to catch to Swiebodzin - but Christie still had to wait for Glenn to get back! This was stressing both Christie and the train staff!

Everyone sighed a sign of relief as Glenn returned, looking puffed. Before jumping on, Glenn had to double check that we couldn't buy tickets at the office... "no no, on the train".

So we jumped on the train to Swiebodzin and found a seat. Again, it wasn't long before the train pulled away - second close call for the day! Of course Glenn was exhausted and dripping with sweat - and spent the rest of the journey catching his breath and drinking the water (that he ran with).

We kept our eyes open for the stations as we stopped and as Swiebodzin came up we were very excited. Grabbing all our luggage and jumping off the train, Glenn took a few snaps to remember the moment. It was quite an emotional moment for us (especially Christie) - we had made it to Swiebodzin where Christie's Oma and Opa had grown up and lived before the war, and Christie's uncle was born. (known then as Schwiebus - a German town at the time).

Before we had left Australia, we had a desire to try to find where Oma and Opa had lived, and if still standing their old house. We had hoped to maybe learn something about their lives at the time, but didn´t really have any information to go on other than the name of the town.

Most of our hopes were with the information that we understood that Inge had, Oma and Opa´s cousin, whom we stayed with in Germany. We had understood that Inge had an old address from where they used to live.

But we were quite disappointed when we found out that the address she had was for another place in Germany - that they had later moved to, and not Schwiebus. However, we were excited to have reached this place - a small town that was certainly not in any guidebooks, and with so much information from that period around the war gone, other than the town name - we had no more information. We now didn't know what we would or could find here. This was sure to be an adventure.

We crossed the train tracks and went through the station - and noted that they at least had a ticket office here - Rzepin really was a tiny station! Luckily we had done some prior planning and booked one of the two hotels in town and had printed the directions to find it, so off we went looking at the street names and found our hotel. It wasn't too bad a place - for a budget hotel with a shared bathroom. We had lots of fun with trying to communicate with the hotel receptionist. She of course spoke no English and we no Polish. Luckily we all had some understanding of German so we managed to get a room okay in the end. We had an old radio in the room, and it was tuned to an English music channel, so we had fun listening as we settled in. The station was actually playing old hits that we grew up with... and we soon found ourselves singing away.

Our hotel doubled as the tourist information for the town - ie a few brochures in Polish or German, the same languages that our hotel staff understood, but we did find a town map so that was a good start.

We were now really exploring - no guidebooks, gathering information as we went, and in a town that spoke very little (or no) English. The old town was centred on the town hall with the "Market Square" around it, with streets circling outwards around it. So we set off to see some of the key things on the map - two huge churches - one was obviously catholic, the other we wondered if it could have been Lutheran (Oma´s religion).

Then we made our way through the main streets... it was quite a beautiful town but definitely small - with a working class element through it, a little uncomfortable for us as we didn't know how safe we actually would be - it was our first day in this country.

After wandering around, trying to get a feel for the place as well as searching for some link to the past, to the life of Oma and Opa, we eventually called it a day and went back to the hotel. Discussing our feelings, what we thought of the place, and how the town felt so Polish - so different for Christie's family in Germany, was really a bit of a shock to our expectations. Christie was quite down and at a bit of a loss of what to do - this place didn't really remind us of Oma or Opa (unlike our time in Germany) and we had no links, no references, no clue how to find more information. Was this it? We found the town, but it felt like it had changed so much that it didn't really feel like the same place except in name (well, that had changed too). Discussing our options, we decided to stay the next day and go to the museum (housed in the town hall) and we also decided to get in contact with Christie's mum to see what information she could dig up to help us. We went out and found an internet place and sent off a plea for help...

The next morning, after a yummy Polish breakfast at our hotel, we eagerly set off to the internet place to see if we had a reply. Except - they were still closed! We checked the time and waited... Once they opened, we were really excited to have some news from Christie's family - they had searched through all the remaining photos and came up with a few addresses and bits of information. We then called Christie's uncle to see if he could recall any other bits of information (he was born here, although he was very young when he left Swiebodzin) and the one bit of information that he said that Oma and Opa had kept referring to was a street - "Mulle Strasse", but he wasn't sure what it meant to them.

Excited that we had some leads, but not sure if they would get us any further we set off, heading towards the town hall. On the way, we passed a street that Christie thought sounded a little like a Polish version of Mulle Strasse, but without any old German maps, we would only be guessing.

At the town hall, we entered the museum and the lady at the desk, although speaking very little English, was very welcoming. Glenn tried to tell her that Christie's grandparents came from this town and that we were interested in information from that time, but we didn't know if she really understood when she motioned us into the museum.

The first part was quite a disappointment - we had hoped to find some links to the past, to the history of the town, but the section was about animals that lived in the area, hmmmm... although our spirits jumped as soon we found the history section. Here there were some really old maps - to the ancient times of the village - when it was a circular small old town. This was interesting, but it dated back too far.

Into the final room we found the right era - when the town was German, and it was filled with lots of exciting information - we saw old photographs - through the years up till the present and how the town had changed. There were lots of old relics from the time also - notes and coins from the era, we were both engrossed.... when suddenly Christie called out from the other side of the room - Glenn, come here! On the wall was an old map of the town with all the old German street names - exactly what we needed!

By now, busting to visit the gents, Glenn had to suspend the excitement and head out to find one. At the entrance, the lady at the desk stopped him and proceeded to show all the English books she had found about the town and area from the time period we were interested in. Trying to be polite and look at each of them , while really needing to go!, he gave up and asked where the toilet was. She pointed over to another part of the building when another lady came up and introduced herself (in English!) - she worked as part of the museum research area (her English was pretty good!) and asked what we were searching for. Glenn started to explain that we were just trying to find some old addresses or links to Oma and Opa. She asked for the names we were searching for, but by this stage Glenn had to interrupt... toilet first!

Coming back, Glenn went back in to get Christie to get involved in the discussion - and when he found her, Christie was really excited - she had found an book in one of the display cases - and on the page it happened to be opened at, there was the name of one of the relatives we were searching for - giving the address as well! Glenn dragged her away... I've found someone who is willing to help!

Discussing with the research lady, she went away and soon came back with a book from 1932 listing all the (head of the) households in the area, with addresses and occupation! We searched through it and found Oma's father, Opa's father and some other relatives that linked us with the family in Germany! Wow! And now we had addresses - just had to go back into the museum and get a photo of that German street map of the area.

So now, ecstatic that we had found the information we had been hoping for (well, even more than we could have hoped for really) - we set out to find the streets where they all used to live and see if we could find a house or two. They had advised us at the museum that the street numbers had all changed, and of course many of the houses had been updated or demolished since that time. Still some of the old houses remained and gave us an idea of what it may have been like.

We found all the old streets, and really enjoyed the day. From such despair the night before, we had come so far - and the Mulle Strasse link from Christie´s uncle - two of the relatives had lived on that street! So all the clues were helpful. So from all our supportive family - at home and in Germany, we say a big thank you for all your clues - we feel as though we put together a bit of the puzzle, and understood a little more of the life of Christie´s grandparents. It made our trip to Sweibodzin so much more worthwhile, and something to remember for the rest of our lives.
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