Warschau is not an easy city. Many tourists do not open up immediately. There is no real center, but especially wide roads and lots of skyscrapers. Italian tourists, who enjoy strolling through the streets of Pisa or Rome, would be disappointed. But those who give Warsaw some time are often elated.
So does the 25-year-old Elisabeth Klein. "The city is like Cologne," says the tourist from Poland, herself from North Rhine-Westphalia. "At first glance, no beauty, but very lovable at second."
The selection of good and affordable restaurants has done to Klein. The many, above all, historical museums convince them. Only the traffic frightens her: "There are so many cars, everywhere it buzzes."
The student stands for a trend: For years, the number of German tourists in neighboring Poland has increased. For 2017, the Warsaw Tourist Board has counted 228,000 German visitors in the city.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, 2.8 million Germans spent their holidays across the country during the same period, preferably on the Baltic Sea coast. At the same time, Klein is in a minority.
For as good as the numbers are, Poland still does not belong to the top travel countries of the Germans – despite the proximity, the good connection by bus, train or plane, the imposing nature and the cultural treasures.
Although they have to travel longer distances and pay more, the Germans prefer southern Europe to the East: in 2017, about four times more Germans traveled to Spain or Italy than to Poland, eleven million each.
With victory of the PiS the Poland picture suffered
Poland is far from catching up with these countries – despite the increase in tourism. However, Germans are also reluctant to travel to other countries in Eastern Europe: the number of German tourists in Hungary was just over 728,000 in 2017, compared with just over 742,000 in Romania (2016 figure). How can that be?
Tour operators are puzzling over why relatively few Germans drive across the border to the east. For them, the numbers express prejudices against Poland in particular – and how should they be dismantled if many Germans do not even consider traveling to the neighboring country?
Since the victory of the national-conservative Justice and Justice Party (PiS) in the parliamentary elections of 2015, Poland's image has clearly suffered in Germany anyway. The anti-refugee and homophobic rhetoric of the ruling party and vociferous demands for reparations for crimes committed by Germans during the Second World War deter potential German visitors.
In Warsaw, a government-affiliated club had ever hang placards on which German visitors were requested in German to pay for war crimes. The expectation of a negative attitude towards Germans and the old prejudice of a "backward East", however, usually do not coincide with the experiences of most tourists to Poland, as the example of Elisabeth Klein shows.
"We see that those who travel to Poland are very positively surprised by the country," says Carsten Wolf, Managing Director of the travel agency Travel-Netto, based in Kolberg, Poland, to WELT. "They highlight cleanliness, hospitality and a good organization."
For many years, Wolf has been offering tours of various kinds to Germans throughout the country, whether short, round or individual. Hardly anyone knows better what German tourists like about Poland and what not.
Wolf describes two phenomena: On the one hand, he is pleased that in recent years more German tourists have come to Poland, on the other hand, he believes that there are still too few – measured by the proximity to Germany and the good tourist infrastructure.
As a businessman, of course, Wolf wishes to have as many customers as possible, but he is also driven by the German-Polish relationship. For him, the reason for the relatively low numbers of tourists is not in the picture provided by the Polish government of their country, it sits deeper.
"The Germans have old prejudices against Poland, towards everything east of the Oder-Neisse border," says Wolf. "Many Germans associate Eastern Europe with poverty, less civilization, a certain disorder."
The student Klein believes that prejudices like these are less common, at least in their generation. Klein stands at the Square of the Three Crosses in Warsaw city center. Behind it is located on a traffic island, the cylindrical St. Alexander Church, a landmark of the Polish capital. Klein is enthusiastic about the architecture.
She's in town for the first time, in Poland for the third time ever; previously she was in the south in Silesia. However, having fewer prejudices does not seem to mean that anyone is interested in Poland. "Many of my friends and fellow students hardly ever get anything from Poland," she says. "From Bonn, where I study, you look to France, not to Poland."
This does not seem to apply only to the West of the Republic. "I have many friends and acquaintances in Berlin who have never been to Poland," says Wolf. Berlin is just eighty kilometers from the Polish border. "That would be like people in Kaiserslautern never go to France," Wolf says with a startled undertone.
Poland is not a cheap country
Despite these observations, travel to the Polish Baltic Sea coast, for example, is particularly popular in the eastern German states. The fact that tourists can drive in just a few hours by car to Świnoujście, Kolberg, Ustka, Sopot or even to Gdansk speaks for the area.
For a long time, the low hotel prices also played a role. But that is changing. In recent years, incomes in Poland have risen sharply, products in supermarkets, alcohol or coffee, for example, are sometimes more expensive than in Germany. All this has an influence on hotel prices. Poland is not a cheap country.
So most Germans in Poland are on holiday at the Baltic Sea or at the large lakes in the Masuria in the northeast of the country. Wolf also arranges many trips south to Silesia. City trips, however, are less popular among Germans.
In Warsaw, on average, there are hardly any more Germans than US tourists, 207,000 in 2017 – even though the Americans have to accept long air journeys. Accordingly, Elisabeth Klein belongs to the smallest German tourist group in Poland: the city holidaymakers. She has, she affirms, not the impression of hearing tourists speak German in museums or in front of monuments.
In her circle of acquaintances, it is also those who have families in Poland or whose parents come from Poland, sometimes visit the country, she tells. German Poles generally do not have to break down prejudices against Poland.
"It's definitely the case that people who have never been to Poland have more prejudices about the country," Carsten Wolf emphasizes again. The tour operator can console themselves with the fact that the travel numbers have increased for a long time. However, he expects Poland to wait a long time for Poland to become the new Italy.
. (tagsToTranslate) Poland (t) Germany (t) Prejudice (t) Eastern Europe (t) Warsaw (t) Tourism (t) Eastern Europe (t) Warsaw (t) Italy (t) Federal Statistical Office (t) Rome (t) Świnoujście (t) Baltic Sea (t) Travel (t) Silesia (t) Elisabeth Klein (t) Poland (t) Italian vacationer (s) PiS (t) Carsten Wolf (t) Pisa (t) Kołobrzeg (t) France