We brought my mother-in-law to the Baltic Sea resort town of Ahlbeck which is near the Polish border for her 90th birthday. My mother-in-law visited the resort in one of its former heydays of the 1930s. At the time she was ten years old, and very active as a swimmer—as 90 year olds will, they wanted to visit the memories of their childhood.
Ahlbeck is on the island of Usedom, which is mostly in Germany, though a tip of the eastern part is in Poland. Along the coast is a strip of small towns featuring villas built by the wealthy nobility and bourgeois during the nineteenth and early twentieth century—they wanted weekend houses away from the hustle and bustle of Berlin where they could hang out on sandy but cold beaches.
After World War II, the town fell into disrepair under the Communist regime of former East Germany—bourgeois villas were to be a think of the past. In 1990, though, Germany was reunified. The wealthy of the western Germany and particularly the newly reunified Berlin had a new place to invest their money, and spend their weekends while creating a new Europe. The old villas were repaired, and even some of the dreary eastern bloc-style drab apartment buildings given new facades. Seemingly all that is left of the former East German influence are the FKK beaches described in tourist brochures—no clothing allowed.
Anyway, we had dinner at Italian restaurant last night, and talked to the waiter. He was from Brazil, but noted in accented German that it was ok to be Brazilian at a Italian restaurant, he could get by with Italian, too. The toilet seats in the bathroom had pictures of the Leaning tower of Pisa, and the Statue of Liberty in New York.
The next day I went for a walk into the next Polish town, where we found a coffee shop specializing in Belgian chocolate. We had a cup of coffee, and paid with our Euros, even though Poland still uses the Zloty as a currency. We talked to the waitress in German, though it was clear from her accent she was Polish, as it is clear from my accent that I am American. We then called my daughter in Thailand on the Polish internet.
Never did though get to see evidence of the FKK beaches. Even in June, everyone I saw was bundled up against the cool breezes coming in off the sea.
Another odd thing. I did not hear English on the street all weekend. There were plenty of languages, German of course, Polish, Romance languages (Spanish and/or Italian?), but no English. There were also Thai, Chinese, and Mexican restaurants, so I assume people from those countries were there, too. This is unusual in a German tourist town—every other place seems to be over-run with English speaking tourists (and others) from around the world. But seemingly not here.
But still, even in this remote corner of eastern Germany. Germany is indeed “Mulit-Kulti.”
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.