What is Poland known for?
Poland is a country in northeastern Europe. It is east of Germany and is almost as big. But only about half as many people live there. The land on the Baltic Sea is rather flat, but in the far south there are also mountains.
For a long time Poland suffered from two other countries: Germany and Russia. The capital, Warsaw, was badly damaged during World War II, as was the rest of the country. After that, the Soviet Union was able to control Poland a lot. Since 1989 the country has been free again and a democracy.
What does the country look like?
The north and center of Poland are flat, only in the south does the country become mountainous. There part of the Giant Mountains is Polish. This is where the legend of Rübezahl comes from, the giant who helps good people and makes fun of bad people. Many people do winter sports in the Giant Mountains.
In the north, Poland has a long coast on the Baltic Sea. There is Gdansk, the most important port city. There the Vistula flows into the Baltic Sea, the longest river in Poland. In the east there are still large forests and swamps and the Masurian National Park, where bison live, the only wild bison species in Europe. In winter it is usually much colder in Poland than in Germany because it is further away from the Atlantic.
What is Poland's history?
In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, Poland and Lithuania were one large country. In the 18th century, the large neighboring countries divided it up: Russia, Austria and Prussia. Since then there has been the Polish people, but no Polish state.
That only changed again after the First World War. Since 1919 Poland was a large country again, but there were also many people living in it who were not Poles, for example Germans, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. There was a lot of argument about it. Poland had started out as a democracy, but within a few years the president became more and more alone.
In 1939 Poland was divided again: National Socialist Germany and the Communist Soviet Union, formerly Russia, drew a line on the map of Eastern Europe. Germany attacked Poland and the Soviet Union followed. This started the Second World War in Europe. Their soldiers met in the middle of Poland. Both states exploited Poland and were very cruel.
The Second World War lasted until 1945. The Soviet Union, meanwhile itself attacked by Germany, conquered all of Poland and also a large part of Germany. Poland lost land in the east to the Soviet Union, but received the east from Germany. The Germans there were chased away. The Soviet Union forced Poland to become communist itself: a communist Polish government prevented democracy and prescribed the people how they should live.
But there were always people who resisted it. Some founded a free trade union in 1980. It went on strike and took care of workers' worries, unlike the communist unions. In 1989 Poland became a democracy again. Fifteen years later, the country also became a member of the European Union.
What do you have to know about the people of Poland?
Almost all Poles speak Polish as their mother tongue. The rest belong to very small minorities, like the Germans or the Kashubians. Kashubian, like Polish, is a Slavic language.
Many Poles live in the west and in the middle of the country. The largest city is Warsaw, followed by Krakow in the south, where the Polish kings lived in the Middle Ages. Some large cities used to be German or had many German residents: Breslau, Posen, Danzig and Stettin. In Polish they have their own Polish names.
The vast majority of Poles belong to the Catholic Christianity. Lots of people, including children, go to church often. They are proud that a Pole was Pope for a long time until he died in 2004: He called himself Pope John Paul the Second.
Who is in charge in Poland?
In the communist era, the communist party ruled everything. In addition, Poland had to do what the Soviet Union wanted. That changed in 1989 with the Third Polish Republic. This is what the Poles have been calling their state since it was again a democracy.
Poland has a president as head of state. He is allowed to make a little more decisions than his colleagues in Germany and Austria. The Parliament of Poland has the old name Sejm.
What is Poland known for?
The Second World War ruined a lot in Poland. But the Poles rebuilt the beautiful old cities. Often you can find a large market square in the city center with old houses in different colors.
Some scientists from Poland have become world famous. Nicolaus Copernicus, who had Polish and German relatives, was an astronomer and contributed a lot to our idea of what space looks like. Marie Curie was an important physicist and chemist who even won the Nobel Prize twice. Thanks to her, we know a lot about radioactivity. Frédéric Chopin is certainly the most famous musician from Poland.
The last large primeval forest of its kind in Europe is in Poland. It is a so-called "lowland jungle" called "Bialowieza National Park". So it is not in the mountains. A small part of it is in Belarus. The entire jungle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, he is also currently threatened. The government allowed it to be cleared. The matter is now before a court. Many environmentalists work to ensure that the forest is preserved.
How do people in Poland earn their money?
When Poland was communist, it worked with other communist countries. What was manufactured and what was brought to which country was ultimately decided by the Soviet Union. For example, Poland received iron from other countries and turned it into tractors and ships. But it all worked badly, and the Poles were poor.
When Poland turned to Western Europe, it also had to prepare its economy for it. The big companies that were owned by the state fell into the hands of entrepreneurs. But many Poles became unemployed. It took a long time to get uphill again. Poland now deals primarily with the countries in the European Union, especially with Germany.
Poland makes good money from tourism, many vacationers visit the country. But a quarter of Poles still work in agriculture, for example they grow potatoes, grain and sugar beets. In the west of the country people are more likely to be richer than in the east.
The Marienburg from the Middle Ages, near the city that is now called Malbork
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