Słubfurt: a European double dream

Border cities all have one thing in common: they are geographically and politically distant from the centers of power. For this reason, they are ideal places to observe spontaneous forms of coexistence. In 2019 I traveled to the German-Polish border to photograph a special place: the border towns of Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice. An hour by train from Berlin, they now look like a unique conglomerate connected by a blue bridge, but the two districts remained separate for 60 years. Over many decades the people there went through many political events that changed radically the demography and the identity of the two towns.

Up until 1945, the two cities were both within the Third Reich. Following the post-war agreements, the neighborhoods to the east of the river – the future Słubice – found themselves in Polish territory, and German inhabitants were forced to flee by night, camping on the western bank of the river. Słubice became a ghost town so the government decided to repopulate it by forcibly bringing in thousands of new inhabitants from the east of Poland. Since then, the destinies of the two towns divided, and in the following decades, crossing the bridge over the Oder meant strict controls and hours of waiting. This changed in December 2007, when Poland became part of the Schengen area and the remains of the border posts were dismantled: the relationship between the two cities intensified, giving life to a model of cross-border development that touched on sectors such as urban planning, services, and education as well as tourism, and even creativity.

In 1999, the German artist Michael Kurzwelly from Frankfurt (Oder) came up with the idea of “Słubfurt”: the virtual union of the two towns (although a real council body exists), a concept aimed to fight the stereotypes fed by over 60 years of separation. An ideal town where its inhabitants collaborate to give shape to a new identity. I strongly believe that the story of this specific borderland, marked by past conflicts and demographic upheavals, may contribute to the discussion on the new conflict at the gates of Europe.

All the pictures have been taken in 2019. The project was co-financed with a STEP travel grant by the European Cultural Foundation Labs.