Podlipie,  Poland

The Changing Face of Poland

Podlipie
Wojtek Hasior
Zurek

The Place: Podlipie, Poland

“Somewhere in Poland, just beyond the reach of Silesia, a strip of houses cuts across a hillside; an island surrounded by a patchwork ocean of farmland. Its not famous for anything and it’s not on the way to anywhere. Unless you took a wrong turn, you didn’t come here by accident. The city of Katowice has shrunk to a dot on the horizon, and cluttered suburbs have morphed into rolling hills.”

Read About Podlipie

 

Somewhere in Poland, just beyond the reach of Silesia, a strip of houses cuts across a hillside; an island surrounded by a patchwork ocean of farmland. Its not famous for anything and it’s not on the way to anywhere. Unless you took a wrong turn, you didn’t come here by accident. The city of Katowice has shrunk to a dot on the horizon, and cluttered suburbs have morphed into rolling hills. Somewhere amongst the sloping fields, Poland’s only ‘desert’, an out-of-place 32km² patch of sand and the very thing that peaked your curiosity to bring you here, hides from view. Cotton-White clouds hang gracefully – wait, no. Those aren’t clouds you’re seeing. In the distance, columns of smoke rise from factory towers that line up into ranks and stand to attention. These are now a mere footnote of the regions economy, but they are the last bastions of what was once a thriving and ecologically devastating industry that leeched noxious gases into the atmosphere. You’ve reached Podlipie, your journey terminates here.

 


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Wojtek Hasior, 34, Health and Safety Specialist

“Before I met my wife, Dorota, I hadn’t imagined myself as a father, but when I met her we decided after one year to get married… and then it was natural; we love each other and we want to have fruits out of this love, and so it was a natural decision to have children.”

See Wojtek's Full Background

I am a father of two children, and of course a husband. I grew up in a town of 100,000 people called Nowy Sacz. I try to make and spend as much time as possible with my family. I like gardening, and I wish I had more time for that, but my children keep me busy. We try to grow our own vegetables and fruit as much as possible.

 

I’m investing a lot of time in my family, which I think is the best investment somebody can make. Before I met my wife, Dorota, I hadn’t imagined myself as a father, but when I met her we decided after one year to get married, after another there was the wedding, and then it was natural; we love each other and we want to have fruits out of this love, and so it was a natural decision to have children. We’d discussed before we were married that we wanted children, and roughly how many, and we also talked about adoption if we couldn’t have children. I try as much as possible to let my children learn from her own mistakes and experiences. I remember once when my daughter had an ice cream for the first time, and took a big bite, and started crying, and I know it sounds cruel but we were laughing. So this was an example of how we try to show her how life is. This is the best way to learn life.

 

I lived in Buckinghamshire in England for three years. That was a really nice experience because it was before the ‘wave’ of Polish. So I was living in the countryside, working in a pub as a bartender and I was the only Polish person in the village, and everyone would always say “hi Wojtek”, “hey Wojtek”, when I walked down the streets. I was also doing some gardening , decorating, and babysitting for the locals. It was a great experience for me, but I didn’t feel like it was my home, and I missed my home. I didn’t have a long-term relationship with a girl – I was also searching for my second half – and I thought maybe it would be a good idea to go back to Poland for education, university, and maybe that would be a good environment to meet my wife… and I’ve done that. I found the best wife I could have done.

 

What is home to you?

“…home is not a place… I don’t mind moving away to different parts of Poland, Europe, or the world. My home is where my wife and children are waiting for me.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

In Poland we have a proverb that “your home is where your heart is.” So home is not a place, it’s just where my relatives are. I don’t mind moving away to different parts of Poland, Europe, or the world. My home is where my wife and children are waiting for me. This is home for me. It’s not a place, it’s a state of mind.

What is special about Podlipie?

“I know my neighbours; we care about each other. When we go on holiday, they look after our house… that’s enough for me; I don’t have a lot big expectations.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

Well, my family lives here! I like living here because it’s a quiet place with lots of countryside. I know my neighbours; we care about each other. When we go on holiday, they look after our house, and of course it’s very convenient to go to Silesia to work. This is the last village in lesser-Poland before Silesia. To Katowice city centre it’s half-an-hour, to Kraków it’s one hour. So it’s very convenient to live here. I don’t have any emotional feelings attached to this place. I’ve been living here for five years, and it’s just convenient. There’s lots of greenery, and everything I need is here. Like there’s a swimming pool nearby, shops, kindergarden… that’s enough for me; I don’t have a lot big expectations.

Why didn’t you return to your hometown when you came back to Poland?

“There’s big unemployment over there in Nowy Sacz. The wages are low, one of the lowest in Poland, actually. Most of my friends from school and from my area moved out of this town to bigger places…”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

How do I put this in good words…? I will not use bad language. There’s big unemployment over there in Nowy Sacz. The wages are low, one of the lowest in Poland, actually. Most of my friends from school and from my area moved out of this town to bigger places like Kraków or Warsaw, or they moved abroad. 

 

Where is your favourite place outside of Poland?

Egypt for the coral reefs in the Red Sea. I scuba dive; I’ve done more than 100 dives, so I have my Divemasters.  I was scuba-diving in Zakrzówek in Kraków quite a lot; it’s a flooded quarry. But there is no such thing as ‘the best place’…For me, most of my trips abroad, I don’t remember the places but I remember the people I met there.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

It depends. For holidays, I like Egypt or Greece. Egypt for the coral reefs in the Red Sea. I scuba dive; I’ve done more than 100 dives, so I have my Divemasters.  I was scuba-diving in Zakrzówek in Kraków quite a lot; it’s a flooded quarry. But there is no such thing as ‘the best place’. I liked England. I like the English weather even though sometimes it’s raining. The climate is mild. I like Norway because of the countryside, and the views, and I like Germany where everything is so neat and people are very friendly. I only meet friendly people, I don’t know how that happens. I like the Czech republic for the food and the people over there. I put a lot of attention on the people; for me the buildings and stuff are not so important. For me, most of my trips abroad, I don’t remember the places but I remember the people I met there. So this is what I look for and care about.

 

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Podlipie or Poland?

“It’s all saints day, and you are here and you are surprised how we celebrate this day… you remind me how good Poland is; we have our traditions, our culture, really great people and great food, and when foreigners come to Poland I see Poland through the eyes of foreigners.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

Like today. It’s all saints day, and you are here and you are surprised how we celebrate this day. For me, it’s something absolutely normal, and it’s like another bank holiday. We go to visit graveyards, and it’s not a big deal each year. But you remind me how good Poland is; we have our traditions, our culture, really great people and great food, and when foreigners come to Poland I see Poland through the eyes of foreigners. For me, everything here is normal, but when I see a foreigner is surprised by some things, then it makes me proud. Especially when I was living in Kraków, because Kraków is a spectacular city.

What is All Saint’s Day?

“…we commemorate people who passed away. We go to cemetaries, and buy special candles called ‘Znicz’. We light them and pray for the souls of those people.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

All Saint’s day is the 1st of November, and we commemorate people who passed away. We go to cemetaries, and buy special candles called ‘Znicz’. We light them and pray for the souls of those people. And we meet our family; it’s also a day when we travel long distances to our hometowns to commemorate people who passed away.

What is your main concern or worry about Poland?

“Lots of people in Poland have never been abroad, they don’t speak foreign languages, and they are afraid of everything: afraid of refugees, afraid of Armageddon – the Jehovah’s witnesses. My mother-in-law is a Jehovah’s witness; they are afraid of absolutely everything. But it’s changing. Slowly it is changing. “

See Wojtek's Full Answer

Of course, it’s people because it’s not the economy.  It’s politics as well because now we have a sh*tty ruling party which has a bizzare name: “Peace and Justice”. Like something out of a George Orwell book.  I think the founder of this party read George Orwell and decided to do the same. So this is something that’s embarrassing. They are homophobic, make enemies around the world with Germany, Russia, Israel, and the U.S.A., even though the U.S. was one of our best friends and Polish people love America.

 

Lots of people in Poland have never been abroad, they don’t speak foreign languages, and they are afraid of everything: afraid of refugees, afraid of Armageddon – the Jehovah’s witnesses. My mother-in-law is a Jehovah’s witness. They are afraid of absolutely everything. But it’s changing. Slowly it is changing. I really like when Polish people go abroad and they see that people abroad are exactly the same as us, so there is nothing we should be afraid of. Polish people are clever, and business-minded. But it’s especially the case with older people who lived behind the iron curtain that they never travelled, so they are afraid of everything. Luckily, we are pro-EU, which is at least one good point.

Do you remember some of the changes once the iron curtain fell?

“Before, let’s say if somebody went abroad for a few months to work and came back, he would be able to build a house. Nowadays that’s impossible, because the wages are catching up, and now everyone can afford a mobile phone, a car and a holiday abroad…”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

I remember long queues at the borders if you wanted to go to Germany, or anywhere abroad. Nowadays because of the Schengen zone, we can go without even I.D., we just drive. That is beautiful, I love it. People are getting richer. Before, let’s say if somebody went abroad for a few months to work and came back, he would be able to build a house. Nowadays that’s impossible, because the wages are catching up, and now everyone can afford a mobile phone, a car and a holiday abroad… it’s very affordable. Before that, we weren’t travelling abroad so much. So that’s a big difference.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in Poland in your lifetime?

“…joining N.A.T.O. in 1997, E.U. in 2004, and the Schengen zone, were the biggest steps after, of course, going from under Russian rule to democracy…   when we joined the E.U… Some people were afraid, but that was just them being afraid of the unknown… They were worried that foreign companies would buy all the land in Poland, all the buildings, and we would just be their slaves.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

Joining the E.U. was this spectacular step for us, joining N.A.T.O. in 1997, E.U. in 2004, and the Schengen zone in 2007 or 2008, were the biggest steps after, of course, going from under Russian rule to democracy. These were like milestones. At the beginning when we joined N.A.T.O, people took it very positively because of the safety that came with it. The Problem with Poland is that we are between two very big and strong countries; Germany in the West and Russia in the East. Not many people know this, but for 123 years there was no Poland. We got our independence back in the beginning of the 20th century when WWI ended.

I remember speaking with members of my family and my friends when we joined the E.U.. Some people were afraid, but that was just them being afraid of the unknown; they couldn’t imagine what it would be like. They were worried that foreign companies would buy all the land in Poland, all the buildings, and we would just be their slaves. But later on when they noticed that we have lots of money from the E.U. for schools, for roads, for football pitches… when they saw with their own eyes that we are getting a lot of profits from it, they were happier and happier about it.

 

We are getting way more out of the E.U. than we put in at the moment. It will be that way until we reach a certain level, and then hopefully Ukraine will come into the E.U., and we will help them. That’s how it should work, and this is how I, personally, imagine the idea of the E.U. and the unity that comes with it.

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of people from this area (Silesia/Lesser Poland)?

“The stereotype of Silesia is polluted and dirty cities and people working in coal mines, and this is of course based on facts… still when you travel through Silesia, you can see a lot of dirty and poor areas… Here, the industry is built on coal mines which are still operating… the environment suffers a lot because of that, especially the air.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

The stereotype of Silesia is polluted and dirty cities and people working in coal mines, and this is of course based on facts. While we are improving it, still when you travel through Silesia, you can see a lot of dirty and poor areas. This is a stereotype in my view. Here, the industry is built on coal mines which are still operating. That’s a shame. The environment suffers a lot because of that, especially the air.

 

With people from Poland, the stereotypes are smelly, drunk workers working in construction sites all over Europe. Lots of men with moustaches called ‘Wladek’ or ‘Jusek’  or ‘Franek’ eating crappy food, sleeping 10 in one room, and earning money and bringing it back to Poland. There is some truth in it, I have to admit, but it is changing. Lots of people are emigrating, not with the idea of earning money to bring to Poland, but just to settle in Europe.

How has the state of the environment changed here in Podlipie?

“…in the 1980s or 1990s, over here people weren’t allowed to grow food here because the pollution was so intense… When I was young it was unimaginable for me to drink tap water. It was full of fluoride and was just disgusting. Nowadays in Poland you can drink water straight out of the tap! It’s just great! For some people it’s normal, but I grew up in times when you weren’t allowed to drink water from the tap.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

I spoke with my neighbour, so this is not confirmed information, but in the 1980s or 1990s, over here people weren’t allowed to grow food here because the pollution was so intense. There is ‘Huta Katowice’ – the steel factory – who said the environment was not an issue. There was also a copper mine nearby that polluted the environment a lot. I can imagine that was horrible, like China is right now. My neighbour also told me that during that time, when there was rain, the cars would change colour; sometimes to a red colour. That’s not happening anymore. Now it’s very pure here. We got lots of funds from the E.U.  for the environment. We made our laws equal to E.U. law, so if somebody is polluting too much they are breaking the law. We got funds for cleaning water, too. When I was young it was unimaginable for me to drink tap water. It was full of fluoride and was just disgusting. Nowadays in Poland you can drink water straight out of the tap! It’s just great! For some people it’s normal, but I grew up in times when you weren’t allowed to drink water from the tap. We invested the E.U. money in water stations and the standard of our water rose significantly. It was a gradual change. But still people don’t drink water from the tap because of the past. It’s a shame, because people are still using plastic bottles; tonnes of them. I don’t like or support that. I drink water from the tap and I’m still alive. There was an example from my friend recently though who drank water and got Salmonella. So sometimes that happens. But this is one example which is an exception to the rule.

What is the best thing to ever come out of Poland?

“…a Polish person invented the refinery of crude oil. It was near to Przemyśl. I think it was a Jewish person… You need that to make fuel!”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

There are too many to count, but the first that comes to my mind is not well known, but a Polish person invented the refinery of crude oil. It was near to Przemysl. I think it was a Jewish person – Polish-Jewish – so we as a country invented that. You need that to make fuel. Maybe it’s not the single best thing that we’ve done, but it’s the first that comes to mind, I don’t know why.

Has religion had a very strong influence on your life?

“I come from a Roman Catholic religious family. I was raised with faith, and I try to pass this knowledge and faith to my children. So we pray every day in the evening… Now less and less people are attending mass, so we are westernising. When I go to church, I only see old people, not many young and very few children. That’s the way it is and it’s not my job to judge it.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

It has had the strongest influence. I try to follow Jesus Christ, but of course I am the crappiest Catholic ever. But for me, personally, yes. I come from a Roman Catholic religious family, I was raised with faith, and I try to pass this knowledge and faith to my children. So we pray every day in the evening. We pray and thank god for all the good things which happened throughout the day, and I feel because of that it has made me a better person.

 

When I go to other places it’s strange for me where it’s not like that as much, like in England. But there are churches there and I was attending church every Sunday so I didn’t have a chance to miss it. It’s good to know other cultures, and Jesus Christ is not the most influential person everywhere you go. In the Czech republic, half the population is atheist, for example. Faith in Poland is changing now. The richer people are, the less catholic they are, generally speaking of course. Now less and less people are attending mass, so we are westernising. When I go to church, I only see old people, not many young and very few children. That’s the way it is and it’s not my job to judge it.

 

This is Poland. You know pope John Paul II was Polish. In my opinion, because of our faith, we still exist; Poland still exists. As I said, for more than 100 years, Poland didn’t exist, and because of our faith we survived; it held Polish people together. This is my opinion. Our religion is a part of our culture; these days like all saint’s day are part of culture.

What do you eat during the Holidays here?

“…for Christmas it’s supposed to be 12 courses, so I don’t remember them all…We have a very Polish fish; in English it’s called Carp. It’s only a Christmas fish… For Easter we have a bucket of food and we go to the church so the priest can bless it, then we come home and have Easter breakfast.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

First of all, for me ‘holiday’ is when it’s summer and when we go abroad, but you mean Christmas. So for Christmas it’s supposed to be 12 courses, so I don’t remember them all, you can google that. We have a very Polish fish; in English it’s called Carp. It’s only a Christmas fish. You never have it otherwise. Dorota and me are different because sometimes we eat it at other times in the year, but the average family doesn’t. So Christmas is famous for Carp, and Easter is famous for eggs and horseradish sauce. For Easter we have a bucket of food and we go to the church so the priest can bless it, then we come home and have Easter breakfast.

 

You talked about producing your own food; what kind of stuff do you grow/make?

I make a lot of oils, like blackseed oil… Most oils cure core problems like high blood-pressure, and these cold-press oils have so many benefits that it’s difficult to say… My brand is Olelove (Oil love)… I’m very careful where I get the seeds from, because I give the oil to my own children! I feed myself with it. This isn’t my main source of income, it’s an extra thing because I have a job. So I don’t have a pressure to make or earn money from it.”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

I make a lot of oils, like blackseed oil. Blackseeds are very healthy, and people say that ‘they cure everything but death’. When you are sick, it helps, or if you have trouble sleeping you can take it at night and it helps you sleep. Some people say it gives them colourful and vivid dreams.  Some people use it as a painkiller if they have a toothache.  Every person is different, but it helps with many different illnesses; like if you have high cholesterol, or if you’re overweight it helps you to reduce your weight. Another one I make is flax seed oil. It’s very rich in omega 3 fats. It’s good for your skin. Most oils cure core problems like high blood-pressure, and these cold-press oils have so many benefits that it’s difficult to say. I don’t really have a company, it’s more of a brand because I’m the owner and the only worker! My brand is Olelove (Oil love).

Nowadays it’s difficult to find good sources of food. There is a proverb: ‘if you want to do something well, do it yourself’. I don’t completely agree with it all the time, but in this case I do, and if you want to have fresh and good quality oil, then you have to do it yourself. That was an idea and then I had some funds and some time, so I thought maybe I’ll try to do that. And now with sometimes bigger, and sometimes smaller, successes I’ve been doing that for two years. I sell it to local shops within the range of about 50km from here. I have lots of happy customers who come back to me for this stuff. I try to select the seeds I use. I try to buy from Polish farmers. Of course, I trust everyone, but I sometimes have a feeling that one particular person uses less chemicals so I get the seeds from them. I never believe when food is called ‘organic’, because it’s often cheating.  But I’m very careful where I get the seeds from, because I give the oil to my own children! I feed myself with it. This isn’t my main source of income, it’s an extra thing because I have a job. So I don’t have a pressure to make or earn money from it. For me, I’m happy when people come to me and say “your oil helped me”.

What is your favourite and least favourite Polish Dish?

“We eat lots of Pasta cooked the Polish way, and Polish pastries. I like sour cabbage very much. In Poland, in the past, sour cabbage was the only source of vitamin C during the winter. It was easy to keep and preserve for the whole winter, to prevent it from rotting. So people were eating potatoes, cabbage, onion, and some dried meat”

See Wojtek's Full Answer

There are too many. My wife is such a great cook so I love everything. I’m not fussy at all. I just eat everything. We eat lots of Pasta cooked the Polish way, and Polish pastries. I like sour cabbage very much. In Poland in the past, sour cabbage was the only source of vitamin C during the winter. It was easy to keep and preserve for the whole winter, to prevent it from rotting. So people were eating potatoes, cabbage, onion, and some dried meat, or maybe fresh meat if they’d killed an animal.

 

Nowadays I feel like chicken doesn’t taste like food for me anymore. I used to like it, but now I don’t like the taste. It smells, and it’s not food for me anymore.  Chicken soup is very famous and common in Poland. Maybe it’s subconscious; maybe I’ve read or seen articles about antibiotics put into the chickens, and maybe that made some changes in my brain, but I don’t like chicken anymore.

 

Reccomendation:

“Zurek is quite interesting because to prepare it you need to have a special liquid made of fermented flour. That’s the base for Zurek and there is a piece of sausage in it.”

See Wojtek's Full Reccomendation

Zurek. It is very Polish, and you won’t have it anywhere as far as I know when abroad. Zurek is quite interesting because to prepare it you need to have a special liquid made of fermented flour. That’s the base for Zurek and there is a piece of sausage in it.

 

Or you could try Barszcz, which is beetroot soup. Beetroot in Poland is a bit of a forgotten vegetable. They say that beetroot is a vegetable of happiness, because it has some stuff inside which changes your hormones and makes you happy! It’s very Polish.

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The Plate: Zurek (this time without the bread)

“…the myriad stews and soups merge into one. Most of them have the same yellowish-golden shade, and their names have far too many consonants (yes, ‘Barszcz’, I’m talking to you), So… I was unaware that Kajtek, in Wrocław, and Wojtek, in Podlipie, had recommended me the same thing… however, the presence, or lack thereof, of an edible bowl made a much bigger difference than I expected.”

Read About Zurek

 

Here’s the thing about Polish food; though hearty, delicious and rather exotic for a Brit like me, the myriad stews and soups merge into one. Most of them have the same yellowish-golden shade, and their names have far too many consonants (yes, ‘Barszcz’, I’m talking to you), and I quickly found myself overwhelmed. So, at the time of my interviews in Poland, I was unaware that Kajtek, in Wrocław, and Wojtek, in Podlipie, had recommended me the same thing, though the latter unfortunately did not specify a bowl made of bread. My, mistake, I apologise to any offence dealt to Polish food connoisseurs. Despite that, however, the presence, or lack thereof, of an edible bowl made a much bigger difference than I expected. Bread doesn’t taste of much, but it’s certainly absorbant. So by the end of Kajtek’s reccomendation, I was essentially fumbling with soggy mulch that wilted inwards, threatening collapse. But when Zurek is left unadulterated by starch, it’s flavour is much more intense. Fermented flour, which is nowhere near as bad as it sounds, rides forth with a sour charge, but this is beaten back by a delayed briny taste. Though the flavours don’t seem to get along, they’ll hold your attention and never get boring, and there’s an added bonus that you don’t find yourself in a race against time as the structural integrity of your bowl is tested. For a cyclist, it’s perfect; jam-packed with energy and protein and served in, as is always the case in Poland, enormous portions.

 


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Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

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