Its six fifteen a.m. this is Berlin, Bogdan Kazimirek catches the eastbound Eurocity train to Poznan in Poland, the Polish frontier is just 60 kilometres from the German capital. The German and Polish border regions have decided to join forces and link their economies and administrations. It Is known as the Oderpartnership.
Bogdan is a border-hopper, he feels at home in both countries and speaks both languages. As a trainee in the Oderpartnership “Pro-Polska” programme, Bogdan receives professional training in Germany and Poland.
Bogdan Kazimirek, Pro-Polska trainee, Berlin Senate Department for Economics: “The good thing about Pro-Polska is the five months work experience. We get in touch with the people over the border, we make friendships. After the traineeship. These contacts can be useful for finding work. The knowledge of language is crucial. There are lots of people in Poland speaking German. But it is easier to approach people when you can speak their own language.”
Shortly after sunrise we cross the river Oder into Poland. Since the country joined the Schengen agreement, the border is an open crossing. The German and Polish flags caught in an embrace, this is the unifying symbol of the Oderpartnership, that brings together 21 million people with a GDP of around 300 billion euros a year.
Bogdan spent his Polish work experience in the accounts department of a German company, which has a Polish branch in the city of Poznan and completes his training in the Berlin Senate. Poznan is developing quickly and is interested in closer ties with Germany. It is a place where 40 per cent of pupils learn German in school. Berlin and Poznan produce a bi-lingual publication aimed at the business community, mainly small and medium sized enterprises.
It details regional, national and European support schemes, listing phone numbers, web-links and business contacts, it is a tool for entrepreneurs planning to invest on the other side of the border.
PSI Poland is a branch of the Berlin based PSI group, which develops software systems. Having gone through hard times a few years ago, PSI decided to change it’s strategy and “go global”. Establishing a Polish branch helped save the company. PSI recovered and now employs 1,400 people worldwide.
Arkadiusz Niemira is the General Manager of PSI Poland: “To be honest, we have here a win-win situation, on one hand PSI benefits from relatively low hourly rates here in Poland. Thanks to this, PSI can be more competitive on the global market. On the other hand we sell PSI products on the Polish market. From the moment we established PSI Poland, the number of PSI employees in Germany has gone up.”
There is a new Oderpartnership project underway, called “Finance for Innovation.” Small and medium sized enterprises wanting to enter into international markets can get better credit conditions through a transnational fund.
There are German and Polish coordinators of the partnership. On the German side, the Oderpartnership is run from the so-called “red town hall” in Berlin.
Harald Wolf is the economy minister in the Berlin Senate: “The enlargement of the European Union gives new opportunities to rebuild this economic region, to develop cooperation, to bring together companies, in particular small and medium sized enterprises. By doing this, we will get more growth and thereby more employment on both sides of the Oder.”
For centuries there have been close trade links between the cities in the region. These 180-year old panels show the trade-routes of the Berlin based tobacco trader Ermeler, which sold its wares in Italy, France and Poland.
The Berlin-based “Scandinavian Holz”, branch of an Estonian company, selling panels for construction from Russia and Brazil to Poland.
For 12-months, the European Fund for Regional Development and the Berlin-region pay half of Agnes’ and Agneta’s salary, the bilingual marketing assistants are trained to research the regional timber market and to find clients in Poland.
Before , the managing director tried on his own without success, but with the support of Agnes and Agneta, new deals have been signed.
Stanislaw Stroh is the Managing Director of Scandinavian Holz: “Being based in Berlin instead of operating only in the Baltic States, trading with Poland becomes easier. There are very short distances between clients. And we have a large number of Polish citizens, living here in Berlin. Among them we can find qualified employees.”
The next stop off for our Pro-Polska trainee Bogdan is Berlin’s technical university.
One in five students here carry a foreign passport. China, Turkey and Poland are the main countries of origin.
The president of the technical university invited his polish colleagues into the Oderpartnership region to improve contacts.
Lukasz Hady, an Engineer at the technical university, likes the idea and stresses the advantages of his German-Polish double-diploma: “The question if I will work here or in Poland is still an open question for me. But there are opportunities on both sides of the border. – Comparing Germany and Poland, I have the feeling that there are some different methods, different ways of approaching a scientific problem, and that’s why it’s important to have this experience and to obtain this German-Polish double-diploma.”
For his research on telecommunication, Adam Wolisz is world famous. He works in Berkley and Berlin.
Adam Wolisz, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Berlin’s technical university: “I believe that the exchange of lecturers and the mobility of students can play an extremely important role. – There is this medieval tradition of years of travel to study. That should be part of university study today as well. And this is exactly the difference between studying and going to school: to form ones own view by listening to different teachers who are lecturing from different viewpoints, then you make up your own mind; this is one of the big benefits you get when listening to a plurality of voices.”
The Oderpartnership provides the environment where a relationship between nations goes beyond the usual diplomatic ties.