There’s an easy way to tell you’re in Frankfurt an der Oder rather than its larger, more successful namesake, Frankfurt am Main. The latter’s coat of arms carries a terrifying eagle, while the Frankfurt that sits on the border with Poland has a chicken as the centrepiece of its coat of arms. These two birds encapsulate the divergent fortunes of two towns that bear the same name but couldn’t be any less alike. One is the financial capital of Germany, the other, not so much.
Frankfurt an der Oder has been dealt some bad cards, historically speaking. A chicken as town emblem is the least of them. To its credit, the town has embraced its poultry emblem, and here and there I spotted decorated plastic chickens. It’s always a relief to discover a town with a self-deprecating sense of humour. For centuries though, Frankfurt (Oder), as it’s known, was a successful city that controlled trade along the river.
In 1368, it joined the Hanseatic League, the confederation that dominated European trade. Its growing wealth and strategic position made it a target for rivals in the wars that swept across Europe. The town was besieged and occupied by the Swedish army during the Thirty Years’ War, occupied (for the first time) by the Russians during the Seven Years’ War, and fell to Napoleon in the early part of the 19th century.
It would recover from these setbacks to become an economic success story later in the 19th century. Disaster arrived at the end of the Second World War, when a second and very different Russian army occupied it. They took control of a town that was little more than a shell of its former self. Post-war communist mismanagement and apathy did the rest. The town you see today though, still has some reminders of past glories.
The Gothic Rathaus dates from the early 17th century, and there’s a scattering of 18th and 19th century buildings that survived. The 13th-century Marienkirche is the town’s true architectural glory though, famed for its stunning medieval glass windows. They tell the story of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark and Jesus, and they have the only known depiction of the story of the Antichrist – you can clearly see images of the Beast in the the glass.
The church was severely damaged in the war, but the stained glass had been sent for safekeeping to Potsdam just days before the Russians arrived in April 1945. This was a false dawn. Potsdam was under Russian control after the war and the windows were looted and taken to Lenningrad. For the next 50 years they vanished from sight. Only in 2002 were the majority of the pieces returned. The final six pieces were found in 2005 and returned in 2008.
Slubice, on the other hand, has the air of a place that was never meant to be, and until 1945 it was the Frankfurt suburb of Dammvorstadt. It became Slubice when German land east of the Oder was granted to Poland after the war. As an independent town it didn’t really make sense, and even today seems to exist only to sell cheap alcohol and cigarettes to Germans, who cross the border in droves to get their hands on unhealthy bargains.
Slubice feels down at heel in comparison to its German neighbour. I walked around and failed to find anything to entertain myself. There was, however, the rather surreal sight of a monument to Wikipedia. There’s no connection between the town and one of the internet’s most recognisable names, the statue is the work of enthusiasts. Not all are fans though. In 2019, one of the four nudes holding the Wiki globe had two fingers cut off. That seems like a fitting tribute to Slubice.