hidden europe 23

Of cabbages and kinder

by Bryn Frank


Golzow seems like an insignificant village on the plains not far from the German-Polish border. But it is much more, for Golzow has an important place in the history of documentary film. Bryn Frank introduces us to 'the children of Golzow'.

Frederick the Great would be proud of it, though on a damp and blustery day the Oderbruch really can feel like the edge of the world. This is about as far east in northern Germany as you can get without actually crossing the border into Poland. There are potatoes, cauliflowers and carrots, all looking rather bedraggled, and whole fields of sunflowers, though under dark clouds they simply don't measure up to Vincent van Gogh's.

A sudden shaft of sun works wonders, even on a field of cabbages. Here's a gathering of white storks, and there an unkempt cottage garden. Wooden house, wooden fence and a garden full of Michaelmas daisies. A ginger cat is picking his way past a baby blue Trabant, the car a long abandoned icon of the old German Democratic Republic.

‘Bruch' means ‘marsh'. Frederick the Great was obsessed with draining this one, a narrow strip of land on the west side of the Oder river. He did, beginning in 1743, and it became an important market garden serving nearby Berlin. A real life tale of cabbages and kings! Frederick was an agricultural improver and he counted the taming of the Oderbruch as among his greatest achievements. Not content with cabbages, he introduced potatoes and turnips too.

On the quiet run out of Berlin on the railway heading for Kostrzyn in Poland, the slow train pauses at a number of tiny wayside halts. The sort of stations that prompt you to wonder why on earth they were ever built. Golzow is one of them. Sixty-six minutes from Berlin. Miss the stop and you'll be whisked over the border into Poland. Golzow station is unassuming and serves a number of the blink-and-you-miss-them villages hereabouts.

It is Golzow itself that really warrants a look. For in this unassuming village history has been made. As 2008 comes to an end, so does a remarkable story.

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