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Manors in the German-Polish border region. The mutual cooperation of heritage authorities across the border
The post-war situation of the rural areas along both sides of the German-Polish border region did not offer good conditions for the rich manorial heritage which had developed over centuries in Silesia, Lusatia, New March, Pomerania. The disappearance of the former forms of landownership by the properties’ nationalization and by the transition of the former big farms into highly inefficient, state-driven socialist agrarian economies, as well as the exchange of almost the whole population on the polish side, led to a neglect of hundreds of manors on both sides of the border. Since the political change of 1989 the situation has slowly improved. In spite of the current problems, like city-migrations and demographic decline, a clear progress in the reuse of the manors in some regions, especially those located close to great metropoles such as Berlin or Dresden, becomes visible.
Various state-supported “castle foundations” as well as the conservation authorities play an important role in German federal states. Admittedly, a direct financial support is limited only to a low percentage of (outstanding) castle ensembles. But the demonstration of good practice is of great “didactical importance” and helps to shape imagination of private investors. On the Polish side of the border, the intervention of the State remains incomparably lower and the private investors, mainly little aware of the relevant high professional standards, have more freedom as far as reusing old manors is concerned. This can open up ways to dangerous functional planning focusing on the rate of return only.
Despite all asymmetries of economic and social preconditions, the challenges on both sides of the border are getting more and more similar. A great number of manors are located far from the bigger cities, in areas affected by a shrinking population and by serious structural problems. The new challenges affecting existing buildings and concerning energy saving, accessibility for disabled people, fire safety in public buildings etc. are also the same. An equal, new problematic issue is certain specific, private investors who come partly from different continents, buy a ruined castle for less money, but who do not have the means to safeguard the buildings at all. In order to share all these recent experiences, a group of experts representing heritage authorities in the border regions of both countries has started a cross-border cooperation. A new exhibition depicting the good and bad examples of castle and manor treatment is currently in preparation. It will be presented for the first time during the biennially Heritage Fair “Denkmal” in Leipzig in November 2016 and can then be presented in other places. The German-Polish cooperation can also be understood as a preparation for and contribution to the European Cultural Heritage Year that is scheduled for 2018.
Paul Zalewski, Professor at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder (Germany)