Friday, December 18, 2015

Hard Hats and Sculpture

Hard Hats and Sculpture

This post focuses on two disparate events in recent days, and could address a good deal more. Given the time, I would post every day to report the many activities and discoveries that define our days here. However, you don’t have the time to read all that, and I’m finding, just as in the U.S., work tends to cut into my day significantly.

Protective Gear Required

It’s not often that teaching public relations requires hard hats, safety vests and work boots, but last Friday was one of those days. Something I never thought I’d have to ask from students is their shoe sizes, but it was necessary in preparation for a visit to the construction site of what will soon be the largest shopping mall in Poland. Dubbed “Poznania,” this behemoth boasts 300,000 m2 (3.2 million square feet) of total surface area and 100,000 m2 (more than 1 million square feet) of leasable area. It will have 220 boutiques, 40 restaurants and 40 medium and large stores, and will be equipped with 4,000 indoor parking spaces.

I have become acquainted with Philippe, the project director for Poznania, through the church we attend here (appropriately called Poznan International Church). Philippe graciously invited me to bring my students for a tour of the site. Because the project involves a French company, Eiffage (Philippe is from France), undertaking this massive project employing almost exclusively Polish construction workers and navigating Polish bureaucracy for permits, approvals, inspections, etc., I thought the idea of a briefing and tour had merit. I was not disappointed.
Philippe begins our visit with a briefing on the scope of the project.

Philippe and his leadership staff began our visit with an explanation of the scope and timeline of the project. The cornerstone was laid in July 2014, and construction is on target for an August 2016 completion – just over two years of construction. Philippe says there are roughly 2,000 employees and contractors working now, and that figure will reach 4,000 as work intensifies in the coming months.
Philippe points out features of the mall.

The interest for my students was double-faceted. For my Internal Communication students, they focused on the efforts by Eiffage to build a sense of community and identity among so many workers with varied backgrounds and responsibilities working on a project of massive scale to a looming deadline. For my International Public Relations students, they took notice of the challenges of building that sense of community across cultures. Philippe described in detail the difficulties in conducting critical meetings when emotions can run high, trying to convey those emotions through interpreters. Philippe said he and his French leadership team had developed a comprehensive organizational plan before departing for Poland, then found they had to make extensive adjustments in the actual circumstances in Poznan. For example, job titles were easily translated from French to Polish, but there was not always shared meaning regarding the parameters of responsibility for those job titles. The discussion between my students and Philippe made for a most interesting interchange.

We then donned our protective gear: hats, vests and boots – all provided by Philippe. On a chilly, damp Friday morning, we trudged through the rough construction site and into the labyrinthine, cavernous interior of the structure. All around us, workers scurried up and down ladders, operated construction vehicles, welded, bolted, drilled and hammered as each activity moved the project slightly closer to completion. It’s hard to see appreciable progress as it’s underway, but Robin and I pass the site frequently as it’s near our apartment, and we have watched as the mall steadily takes shape.
The interior of the mall is taking shape, and we can discern the layout of walkways and shops.

The students pose in what will become one of eight movie theaters in the mall.
I must stress that this visit was voluntary for the students; it was outside normal class time. In fact, it occurred on a Friday, traditionally a free day for the students when they can catch up on their demanding course work or perhaps travel. Nevertheless, about 25 of my students elected to participate, and I believe they found it to be a fascinating and valuable experience. That's a reflection on their commitment to professional development.
The design includes sweeping balconies that will feature coffee shops where customers can enjoy a beverage while observing mall activity.
Disappointingly, the mall is slated to open about a month after we return to Charlotte, North Carolina, but I’m sure we’ll return to Poznan in the years ahead. It will be interesting to walk the marble floors (huge boxes of marble tiles were scattered throughout the interior of the construction site) and recall the skeletal beginning of the mall.

Chipping Away

An unusual event in Poznan this past weekend was an international ice carving competition. National teams from around the globe converged on the Stary Rynek (Old Market Square) to vie for recognition as the best in the world in several categories of ice carving. With temperatures hovering just above freezing, carvers used tools that shaved, shaped, melted and re-froze their ice blocks. In one competition, carvers were briefly shown a drawing of an object (typically a Disney-like character) and had 25 minutes to recreate the figure in ice in 3-D. The crowning event lasted several hours on Sunday evening when each team created the sculpture of its choice. Of course, such an event draws crowds, and the attraction was amplified by an outdoor Christmas market in the square along with concerts and displays.

Here, without further commentary, are photos and links to short videos of the event.

Crowds brave the chill to watch the carvers at work.

The team from the Philippines in action.

Japan's team.

A beautiful setting for the Christmas market.

Nearly finished.
Creative lighting enhances the effect.

And here are links to three short videos of the event, each less than two minutes long:

That's it for this edition of my blog from beautiful Poznan. Thank you for your virtual visit. Do widzenia!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Fulbright Thanksgiving and an Update on Teaching

A Fulbright Thanksgiving and an Update on Teaching

Polish Hosts Embrace a U.S. Tradition

Thanksgiving is, of course, a U.S. holiday, at least on November 26 this year, and the day is a normal workday here in Poland. Thanks to the Polish Fulbright Commission, however, U.S. Fulbrighters in Poland were treated to a splendid celebration in Warsaw that I'm sure rivaled any similar events in the United States. About 20 Fulbrighters serving in Poland converged on an elegant restaurant in the heart of Warsaw on that Thursday for the traditional feast of roast turkey and all the customary accompaniments. Added guests included Fulbright Commission staff who orchestrated the event, Polish Fulbright alumni, Polish government officials including the Minister of Science and Higher Education (a cabinet-level appointee), and officials from the U.S. Embassy, including the Deputy Chief of Mission.

Our Polish chef prepares to carve the Thanksgiving turkeys.

Guests enjoy socializing before sitting down to the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Superb service in an elegant setting.

Robin and I rode the train from Poznan to Warsaw that Thursday morning (3 hours), arriving comfortably in time for the 2 p.m. banquet. It is always a delight to gather with other Fulbrighters and compare our experiences in various cities in Poland, and the event also afforded the opportunity to make new friends. Robin and I opted to stay in fascinating Warsaw through Saturday. Although we have visited the city previously, there is always more to see and experience. Our focus this time was a visit to the recently completed Museum of the History of Polish Jews -- a story that begins 1,000 years ago. It was yet another extraordinary sight. I spent close to four hours working through the well-designed museum and progressed only through the end of World War I. At that point, I was simply overwhelmed and could not absorb any more; even then, I had seen only about half the content. Completing the experience will require another visit to Warsaw.

A display in the Museum of History of Polish Jews.
One of the displays depicting the wooden synagogues that used to exist in large numbers throughout Poland.

A vertiginous view of central Warsaw from our hotel window. The Central Train Station is at lower left, with an extensive shopping mall just beyond it (with the undulating glass roof). The older structure center right is the Palace of Culture, constructed in 1955 in the Socialist Classicist style. It now houses offices, cinemas, theaters, libraries and a university.
Our visit to Warsaw included another Charlotte connection. Roman and Monika are friends of ours in Charlotte who are originally from Poland. Roman's brother, Mirek, and his wife Grazyna, live in Warsaw, and the connection to Roman and Monika was ample reason to invite us to a delightful dinner at Mirek and Grazyna's home. Once again, Polish hospitality shone as we enjoyed a wonderful evening of laughter and storytelling. As Grazyna said, it seemed as though we were old friends.

Rewards of Teaching

We're now about 2/3 through the winter term, which began in September and will continue through early February. My two graduate classes (Internal Communication Management and International Public Relations) are progressing well, and I like to think my students are benefiting from the experience as much as I am. They're big classes for graduate level -- 45 in one class, 35 in the other. That compelled me to adjust my teaching style from the norm, but we're all making the adjustments. I try to combine lecture with class discussion and small group exercises so students have opportunities to experiment with fundamental principles and concepts through applied cases and situational challenges.

Students working through a small group problem in one of my classes.

Students working through a small group problem in one of my classes.

Nearly all my students are in Poznan under the Erasmus program, an extensive European Union student exchange program. Consequently, they come from Spain, France, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and elsewhere. I also have students from Columbia, China, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan. They are here for just one semester, typically, and none has a thorough grounding in public relations before coming into my classes. That requires another layer of adjustment in my curricula, but it's working out well, and it gives me an extraordinary opportunity to provide future global leaders with an understanding of the role strategic communication can play in business, government, nonprofit and other sectors.

Students working through a small group problem in one of my classes.

In addition to my regular classes, I'm often called upon to guest lecture in other classes. This afternoon (December 8), I'll teach two consecutive classes on public relations legal issues. Last Saturday, I led a 3 1/2-hour graduate seminar on international public relations for a dozen Polish working professionals pursuing their master's degrees through weekend courses. Next week Saturday, I'll teach a session on internal/employee communication for graduate students at another university here in Poznan. So I always seem to have plenty of items in my in-basket, but that's what makes this entire experience so great.

Finally, I will leave you with a short video Christmas greeting. As we're in Poland, Robin and I will not send Christmas cards this year, so I'll take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas. The video reminds me of how proud I am of my Air Force background (22 1/2 years) and captures a bit of the spirit of the season. The U.S. Air Force bands are commanded by my friend Colonel Larry Lang - you'll see him conducting in this video. We worked together in Hawaii in the early 1990s, and it does not surprise me at all that he has risen to the top position. It also doesn't surprise me that he orchestrated the remarkable event showcased in this video. So please enjoy this 9-minute greeting. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mozart, Soap and Dynamite

Mozart, Soap and Dynamite

Welcome back to my blog from Poznan! Activities continue apace as leaves continue to fall and blustery, drizzly days signal the promise of winter weather approaching. This post touches on an event in Poznan and a weekend visit to the city of Bydgoszcz (find a Polish friend to pronounce this one for you). I'll begin with an evening of Mozart that reveals important aspects of Polish culture.

Mozart's Requiem

This is a tale that speaks to the Pole's love of music, their strong faith and their welcoming warmth. It begins with an announcement on the Academy of Music website here that there would be a performance of Mozart's Requiem featuring full orchestra and choir on a recent Saturday evening. It would be held in a suburban Catholic church in Poznan. Robin and I extended an invitation to Danuta and Marek, who live here in Poznan, to join us for the concert. It gets a bit complicated here. We had never met Danuta or Marek, but we had a tenuous connection. There is a member of our church in Charlotte who has a brother living in St. Louis. That brother and his wife visited our church in Charlotte earlier this year on a Sunday morning, and we met them on that occasion. The brother's wife, as it turns out, is Polish and is from Poznan. We had a short but delightful conversation, and during the conversation, our new Polish acquaintance from St. Louis (but visiting Charlotte) promised to connect us with her parents in Poznan, Danuta and Marek. Still with me? Before leaving Charlotte for Poznan in September, I reached out to Danuta and Marek by e-mail, and they insisted we contact them when we arrived in Poznan. We did so, but we had not been able to coordinate getting together. The Mozart Requiem performance provided an opportunity.

A full choir and orchestra performing Mozart's Requiem
I e-mailed Marek and Danuta, inviting them to meet us at the suburban church for the Mozart concert. Marek was traveling, but Danuta would be delighted to join us. I was unaware that Danuta was a graduate of the Academy of Music that would be performing and is a professional classical musician. I looked like a genius, but it was a complete coincidence. So we finally met not only Danuta, but her brother and another friend who joined us for the concert. Afterward, her brother invited us all to his home for a delightful casual supper, and we talked well into the night like old friends, despite some language challenges. 
Casual supper with our new Polish friends in their home following the concert.

The evening illustrated several cultural aspects of Poland. One is the deep love and appreciation for great music. The church was full to the point of standing room only for this performance, and it was outstanding. Second, audience members had to wait to enter the church on this Saturday evening until the Mass was complete -- the church was also completely filled for that, leaving only a few minutes for the congregants to depart, the concert audience to enter and the orchestra and chorus to take their places. The vast majority of Poles faithfully attend church. Third, the evening reflected the warm Polish spirit as we U.S. American strangers with the most tenuous connection to Danuta and her brother were embraced and treated with generous hospitality.

Soap and Dynamite

Robin and I are trying to take advantage of our time in Poland to explore the country through weekend excursions. Our most recent one took us to Bydgoszcz, a city less than two hours northeast of Poznan by train. It turned out to be another gem we might easily have overlooked. Even some of our Polish friends asked, "Why would you want to go to Bydgoszcz?" Like many cities in Poland, especially in the west, Bydgoszcz formerly went by its German name: Bromberg. With nearly 400,000 residents, it's a substantial city, situated on the Brda River. We found the Old Market Square and the old streets of Mill Island quite interesting, but I will highlight just two primary attractions that make Bydgoszcz unique. First, I can check off my bucket list a visit to the Museum of Soap. Look no further than Bydgoszcz for this quirky oddity. More than the history of soap, this museum traces the history of personal hygiene from the Roman Empire and before to current practice. If that's not enough to compel you to visit, the modest entry fee entitles you to make your own bar of soap in the museum's workshop.

Robin being schooled in the mysterious craft of soap making.
The tour began, in fact, in the workshop where we were guided in selecting a mold to shape our bar of soap as well as choosing ingredients determining color, texture and fragrance. Our mixture was then placed in a refrigerator to cool and harden while we continued with the tour. We learned, for example, that during the Middle Ages, bathing was considered risky as it was associated with the plague. We also learned which countries eventually raised standards of personal cleanliness and which lagged far behind. I don't want to create an international incident here, so I'll keep that information to myself; you'll have to take the tour yourself if you want to know which countries are more fastidious in this department. Regardless, our bars of soap turned out beautifully.

Our guide providing me with training in the use of a washboard, as if I didn't already have considerable experience!

A much more somber and disturbing sight we visited in Bydgoszcz, and one that I highly recommend, is a facility with the unlikely name of "The Exploseum." What is open to the public is a small fraction of what was once a major manufacturer of TNT, nitroglycerin and smokeless gunpowder for the Nazis during World War II. That's disturbing enough, but the more horrifying fact is that this work was carried out by 40,000 slave laborers, mostly Poles, but also Hungarian Jews, who were forced to work under the most appalling and dangerous conditions with little or no protective equipment. The tour of this facility is not for the squeamish. Life expectancy in some sections of this vast complex was six months before the laborers would succumb to the effects of the toxic and corrosive chemicals. The 2-hour tour in English was illuminating if unsettling. 

Our guide at the Exploseum describes the vast complex of the facility. A small yellow rectangle at the lower left of the board outlines the area that remains and is now open to the public.

A complex network of tunnels connected hundreds of the buildings on the site. They were not for the passage of workers but rather for the safe transport, via pipes, of the toxic and explosive liquids involved in the manufacture of the explosives. 

This view of one of the buildings reveals how materials were transferred from one step in the process to the next (note the holes in the concrete floors). The rooms are designed so any explosion would be channeled outward and cause less interruption to the production process.

The explosive manufacturing facility was concealed laterally by its placement deep in thick forest, and from the air by the planting of grass and other foliage on all the roofs. At its peak in 1944, it comprised more than 1,000 buildings, 250 miles of roads and 25 miles of railroad tracks servicing the operation. 

You can view more of our photos from Bydgoszcz at this Dropbox site: Bydgoszcz Photos

Finally, I'll end this post by noting that our visit to Bydgoszcz permitted us to connect with two other Fulbrighters. Maria and Victoria recently completed their bachelor's degrees and were awarded highly competitive Fulbright fellowships as ETA's -- English Teaching Assistants. They are teaching at a university in Bydgoszcz and joined Robin and me for a fine dinner in a picturesque restaurant on the bank of the Brdo River during our visit. We'll see them again next week when Fulbrighters in Poland gather in Warsaw Thursday for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of the Polish Fulbright Commission.

Victoria and Maria join Robin and me for a delicious Polish dinner in Bydgoszcz.
As always, thanks for visiting my blog. Do widzenia!

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Fulbright Gathering, Some Accordions, and a lot of Candles

A Fulbright Gathering, Some Accordions, and a lot of Candles

U.S. Ambassador Paul Jones

I have a number of events to report on in this issue, and I'll start with a visit to Poznan by the top U.S. diplomat in Poland, recently appointed Ambassador Paul Jones. Ambassador Jones, just recently sworn in by Secretary of State John Kerry, is posted in Warsaw, but spent the day October 28 in Poznan, primarily at Adam Mickiewicz University, participating in a conference and meetings. One of those meetings was a gathering of current and former Fulbrighters, hence my attendance. That meeting brought together roughly 15 students and faculty members, the majority of whom were Polish scholars who had spent time on U.S. campuses through the Fulbright program. It was a chance for Ambassador Jones to see the positive impact of the Fulbright program on U.S./Polish relations and to appreciate the tangible results of these exchanges. One Polish scholar, for example, who had spent a season conducting research at the University of Notre Dame, said the experience completely shifted and refocused his understanding of and approach to research in his field (photochemistry), and it inspired him to help launch a laboratory in applied photochemistry in his home university in Poland. 
Fulbrighters meet with U.S. Ambassador Paul Jones (center, in dark suit with red necktie).
I was the only U.S. Fulbright faculty scholar attending the meeting, but there were several great Fulbright student scholars from the U.S. who are serving here in Poznan. Generally, these students teach courses in English at various colleges and universities in the city. Also, to my surprise, there was an active-duty U.S. Air Force officer attending the meeting. He is in Poznan under an Olmsted Foundation program that supports active duty military members pursuing advanced degrees internationally. This Air Force member is completing a doctorate with Adam Mickiewicz University here in Poznan. How nice and unexpected to find a fellow Air Force member here!

Some Accordions

I've posted before (and will continue posting!) about the wonderful concerts conducted frequently in the Aula Nowa of the Academy of Music here in Poznan. Last week, I could not resist attending a concert featuring accordions. In the U.S., it's an instrument associated with polka bands and perhaps French and Italian bistros. On this evening, though, the accordion was convincingly presented as a versatile and inspirational classical instrument capable of a wide-ranging repertoire. The men and women who played, students in the Academy, quickly dissipated any preconceived notions I might have had of tedious renditions of "Lady of Spain." In trios or solos, sometimes supported by other orchestral instruments, the performances were captivating and highly impressive. The concluding piece was performed by nine accordionists backed by percussion, a bassoon and a flute (I can't imagine there is a large library of music composed for such an ensemble!) and genuinely rocked the house. 

One accordion piece (plus strings) included choreography.

Nine accordionists plus other musicians combined for an impressive composition.
I had not previously seen the style of instrument most musicians played. I'm more familiar with an accordion with buttons for chords on the left hand and traditional piano-style keys on the right. These, however, featured buttons on both hands. As a reed instrument, this makes sense -- borrowing more from the oboe or the clarinet. Regardless, it was an impressive evening, and it considerably expanded my impression of the virtuosity required to master this instrument.

Candles, Candles, Candles

This past weekend marked Halloween, and in the U.S., this has become a much larger holiday than I recall from my youth. Additionally, the event has transitioned from a mild opportunity for kids to dress up as football players or ballerinas into a celebration of the dark, sinister and macabre. In terms of focus on decorations and merchandising, Halloween is threatening to eclipse Christmas. This is not the case at all in Poland, and it provides an excellent opportunity to highlight a stark difference between the two cultures.

There was some acknowledgement here in Poland of Halloween, and I saw a handful of people that night in costumes -- exclusively a few college students on their way to or from parties. Overall, though, Halloween is barely a blip. Here, instead, the focus is on November 1 rather than October 31, and it's one of the most important holidays of the year, earning a rare 3-day weekend. November 1 is All Saints Day. On this day, Poles honor their ancestors who have passed. Commercial activity ceases, and families visit the graves of their relatives, even if that means traveling long distances.

Respect for the deceased is manifest in the placement of flowers and candles on grave sites. For weeks before All Saints Day, stores feature special displays of elaborate, votive candles and candle holders. Flower shops and kiosks dramatically increase their inventories as the day approaches.

Polish families and individuals head to cemeteries at dusk on November 1, All Saints Day, to honor deceased relatives.
On Sunday evening, November 1, Robin and I visited one of the largest cemeteries in the area, Park Cytadela, situated on the site of Fort Winiary, a 19th century fortification built by the Prussians who occupied the region at that time. The 100-hectare (250 acre) park includes a number of distinct cemeteries, most of which are related to various conflicts. On this cool but pleasant evening, the effect was mesmerizing. Hundreds and hundreds of people meandered reflectively through the gravestones, placing bouquets and candles on and around each headstone. There were families, individuals and small groups solemnly commemorating All Saints Day in this moving display of reverence. It was astonishing to watch even groups of teens seeking out headstones that were not adorned and placing candles and flowers upon them. It didn't seem to matter whether the visitors knew the deceased; the point was to remember their lives and sacrifices. Many of the graves mark the remains of soldiers who lost their lives during World War II. There are graves of Poles, Russians, Germans and others. On this day, their nationality did not matter. All graves were honored.

Headstones are decorated with flowers and candles.

Children are included as parents demonstrate the importance of remembering lost relatives and others.

The grave of a British soldier, age 30, killed in 1941, remembered by the Poles.

The reflective quality of the evening is somber and peaceful.

A Polish man, in his early 20s and probably killed in the war in 1945, is honored.

How different from the holiday being celebrated in the U.S.

That's it for today. Thanks, as always, for your visit. Do widzenia!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Concert, an Opera and a Train Trip

A Concert, an Opera and a Train Trip

The past 10 days have been quite eventful as we become increasingly comfortable in Poland and eager to experience all it has to offer. This post describes several events that illustrate the multi-faceted opportunities available to us here.

Academy of Music Inaugural Concert

Associated with the Poznan University of Economics, where I am teaching, is the Akademia Muzycna, or Academy of Music. On Friday, October 16, its symphony orchestra performed the year's inaugural concert in the Aula Nova, or New Hall, just across the street from the building in which my office is located. The facility is stunningly beautiful and elegantly designed. The 75-piece student orchestra is exceptionally gifted with young talent of the highest caliber. I played French Horn in a number of orchestras and symphonic bands for several decades, and I know I would not have auditioned successfully for such an ensemble! Bedecked in formal attire, poised and professional in every respect, the orchestra performed magnificently. No wonder the hall was packed, with standing room only for many patrons.

The entrance to the Aula Nova in Poznan
The first piece was a symphony written by a local composer. I must admit I'm a more traditional musician, and this piece was a bit too experimental for me. Nevertheless, it showcased some of the talented performers in the orchestra, and the audience was appreciative. Next, the stage was rearranged slightly to introduce a concert grande piano downstage center. A young man took his position at the keyboard and, supported by the full orchestra, performed Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Nr. 3 in D Minor, one of the most technically challenging piano concertos in the standard classical repertoire. His performance was stunning. Thunderous applause demanded three curtain calls from this superb pianist, leading finally to an encore performance -- Chopin, of course. After all, this is Poland!

The audience eagerly awaiting the start of the concert
The orchestra is in place, awaiting the conductor's arrival
The evening's concluding piece was Scherazade, the symphonic poem by Rimsky-Korsakov, based on One Thousand and One Nights. The piece blends traditional Russian style with music of the East and provides a showcase for a number of orchestral instruments. Performers on flute, oboe, bassoon and, of course, strings, were featured and displayed artistic and technical mastery of their instruments. 

What a delightful Friday evening in Poznan!

A Bit of Argentina

The following evening, we attended a fine performance of Evita in the Teatr Musycny here in Poznan. Teatr Musycny is housed in an older building, and the interior is somewhat reminiscent of London West End theaters. It appears to be organized at least partially as a repertory company, and the professional level of the performers is comparable to any major U.S. city. As impressive as the individual performances were, the staging of this opera was especially remarkable, making highly creative use of limited stage space for such an ambitious production.

Teatr Musycny in Poznan
The performance was in Polish, but Robin and I are sufficiently familiar with the piece that no translation was needed. In fact, we had seen a very early production of Evita in London around 1982, not long after it first opened there. It was remarkable to think, as I was enjoying the recent performance here in Poznan, that when I first saw the opera in London, it was very much in the context of the Cold War. As a U.S. Air Force officer then, my focus was very much on the geopolitical situation that defined the time. I'm sure it never occurred to me, as I was seated in that London theater in 1982, that a few decades later I would be enjoying the same opera in Poland!

Return to Szczecinek

Last week, Robin and I made the 2 1/2-hour train trip north to Szczecinek, a city of around 40,000 situated on a lovely lake and surrounded by forests and farms. The importance of the area to me is that documents indicate my Great Grandfather Karl Freitag emigrated from here around 1880, arriving in the U.S. port of Baltimore and eventually finding his way to Milwaukee. He would have been in his mid-20s at the time, a tanner by trade. I can't imaging the courage it must have taken for him to make such a journey, knowing that a return was highly unlikely. Szczecinek was known as Neustettin then and was part of the German territory of Pomerania. Life was difficult for Poles in this region under German rule, even brutal at times, especially from 1939-45. At the end of World War II, the city returned to its Polish designation and identity, and nearly every vestige of German presence was erased. Consequently, I had no expectations of finding "long lost relatives." Still, the prospect of walking and exploring my ancestral grounds was magnetic.

Central Square and  City Hall, Szczecinek
We spent several hours in Szczecinek's "Archivum," the repository of official documents, paging through collections of magistrate proceedings from the mid-19th through the early 20th centuries, but found no references to the Freitag family. Archivists were exceptionally helpful and tried their best to accommodate our search, but they explained that most official records -- such as birth, marriage and death certificates -- are maintained in the nearby city of Koszalin, essentially the county seat of the region. Looks like another family history search trip in our future.
A helpful employee in Szczecinek's Archivum helps with our search

Anna, a curator at the Regional Museum in Szczecinek was delightfully helpful and provided a personal, guided tour of the museum's modest but fascinating collection. Anna holds a degree in film studies and spent a bit of time in New York City pursuing her deep interest in classic Hollywood films, especially those by Polish-born American director Billy Wilder. Anna was able to recount to us the remarkable sweep of history that defined Szczecinek and the surrounding region.

Scanning through the delicate pages of 19th century city records
We retrieved one document on line indicating that Karl Freitag's father, Gottlieb Freitag (my great, great, grandfather) was married in the church in Hütten, a village a few kilometers outside Szczecinek, in 1852. Hütten reverted to its Polish name of Sitno in 1945. Last Saturday, I made the short trip from Szczecinek to Sitno/Hütten and found a tiny, peaceful village surrounded by rich, expansive farms. There is only one church in the town, but it was built in 1909. Nevertheless, it's reasonable to accept that the village church has always existed on the same piece of ground. To my delight, the church doors were open, and a young woman was inside preparing the church for Sunday worship services. She was genuinely interested in the purpose of my visit and explained that Sitno was her home. However, her husband was in Berlin working as there were simply no jobs in their home village. She hoped to join him soon in Berlin, but said it would be very sad to leave her village. I thought Karl Freitag must have faced similar circumstances 135 years earlier. 

Anna describes some of the Regional Museum's artifacts
So I learned a good deal about the area from which my ancestors originated, though nothing new about my forebears themselves. I'll have to keep working on that. Nevertheless, I can certainly report that Szczecinek is a delightful destination with much to offer. A lakeside resort town with a central pedestrian walkway and many attractive features such as historic architecture, important historical sites, fine restaurants and an impressive museum, Szczecinek is certainly worth a return trip or two.

The church in Sitno, constructed in 1909, likely on the site of earlier churches

I've include a few photos in this post, but I've posted many more on Dropbox at these sites:
So that's a recap of events since my last post. In between these adventures, my classes continue to progress productively, and my students seem to be thoroughly engaged in the topics and activities introduced in each class. The perspectives I'm gaining from the dozen or more countries represented by these great students are invigorating. The weather has been chilly but sunny in recent days, and the charms of Poznan seem inexhaustible. Thanks for your visit to this blog, and I hope you will continue to return. Do widzenia! 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Higher Ed in Poland, an Italian Market, and a Search for Roots

Higher Ed in Poland, an Italian Market, and a Search for Roots

One month of the ten we will spend in Poznan is already past, and as we feared, the time is passing swiftly. I should clarify that I received a 9-month Fulbright fellowship (the maximum), but Robin and I tacked one week to our start date and three weeks following our end date to permit some "settle in" time at the beginning and some travel at the conclusion. Hence the confusing references to a 9-month fellowship and a 10-month stay in Poland.

Classes and Curricula

My classes are progressing smoothly, though I have many more students than we anticipated. We expected about 20 students per class. However, I now have 45 students in my graduate International Public Relations course and 34 in my Internal Communication Management course. Of course, that necessitates adjustments in teaching style, and I have made those accommodations.

I was privileged to deliver my first guest lecture this week -- a 50-minute presentation on PR pioneer Edward Bernays, one of the most colorful figures of the 20th Century in the U.S. This was for an introductory PR course taught here at PUE by my colleague Dr. Waldek Rydzak. It's impossible to cover this topic in one session, so this was just part one; I'll return soon to complete the presentation.

Introductory PR students attending lecture on Ed Bernays

Freitag delivering guest lecture on Ed Bernays

Unlike most higher education in the U.S., undergraduate students here follow a prescribed plan of courses as they work toward their degrees. The concept of selecting required courses from a menu of options and taking elective courses is not the case here. And the curriculum is rigorous. I spoke this week with a Polish undergraduate student and asked about her course load. This is her second year, and she rattled off the list of her current courses: economics, accounting, tax law, insurance, calculus for business, German and English.  Graduate students pursue a similarly demanding agenda. A typical master's student in my class is taking (and I'm not making this up!):

  • European Union Tax Systems
  • Creative Industries
  • Human Resources Management
  • Electronic Commerce and Business
  • Strategic Management in the Polish Business Environment
  • Globalization and Regionalization
  • Retail Management
  • Internal Communication (my course)
  • Health and Safety
  • Cultural Differences in International Marketing
That's her course load for one term! In this case, the young lady is from Italy, taking her courses from Polish professors (except for me) in English. Typically, master's students are carrying 8-11 courses per term. I am humbled.

Cheese, Sausage and Olives

There are often fairs, exhibitions and similar events going on in Poznan, and a few weeks ago there was an open market of gourmet food products from Italy. It was held in one of the city squares, Plac Wolności (Freedom Square). It made for a very pleasant stroll after work one afternoon. Of course, I was socially obligated to bring home some cheese, sausage and olive salad.

This tent offered all types of olives and olive salads. The piles of red items on the near side are sun-dried tomatoes.

The Italian cheeses were superb!

The vendors did a steady business over several weeks, and the agreeable weather helped.

Return to Family Soil

Next week, I will try to get all my class prep work done early as Robin and I have planned a very special trip departing on Wednesday. We're taking the train about 2 1/2 hours to the small city of Sczcecinek. Do not try to pronounce the name without proper medical training! With a population around 40,000, it would not ordinarily be a destination for U.S. visitors. However, the town is extremely special for this visitor.

My cousin Diane is our family's unofficial geneologist, and she has done extraordinary work tracing our family's roots despite the lack of documentation. The Internet has been a big boon to this type of endeavor, and a couple years ago Diane discovered evidence that our family originated in the German/Prussian city of Neustettin. In fact, she found records that indicate our Great, Great, Great Grandfather Gottlieb Freitag married Caroline Ring on November 21, 1856, at the Evangelische Kirche (Evangelical Church) in Hütten, a village connected to Neustettin. Further research revealed that in 1945, Neustettin returned to its Polish name of Szczecinek. A colleague here at PUE did some research on my behalf and learned that Hütten is now called by its Polish name, Sitno, and it's about 5 km (3 miles) from Szczecinek. Although my surname is German (it means "Friday"), our ancestral home is now situated in Poland. In fact, Poland essentially did not exist from 1795 through 1919; during that time, what is now Poland was divided among Germany/Prussia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Russia. The Treaty of Versailles ending World War I re-established Polish boundaries.

Diane's records indicate the Freitags immigrated to the U.S.probably in the 1850s, so it's likely that Gottleib and Carolina made that journey. So next week, at least one Freitag will return to the family's home soil. I will devote a subsequent blog post to letting you know what I discover. This is like a reality show.

I'll leave you with this link explaining 27 reasons why you should never visit Poland. Click on the image for the full explanation....

So some people like to believe Poland is beautiful.

Thanks, as always, for your visit. Talk to you next time.