Sunday, June 25, 2017 – So what seemed like a pretty routine weekend trip out of Berlin ended off or I should rather say started off in quite a surprise.
After scrounging the web for things to do this past weekend, we stumbled upon cheap bus tickets to a nearby of Szczecin, Poland. The total roundtrip fare from Berlin to Szczecin was just less than 20 Euros and took about 2 hours by bus which meant it seemed like a perfect day trip destination. For a geographical reference, Szczecin is located about 15 kilometers from the German and Polish border.
So we boarded our 8 am bus and arrived in the main Szczecin station just after 10 am. We figured that we might as well make our way to the city center and start from there. About 10 minutes into our walk, a police van pulled over onto the sidewalk next to us. Naturally, we thought it was no big deal as we were just minding our own business walking down the sidewalk, but 2 men stepped out of the vehicle and began talking to us in Polish. From the little English they spoke, I could make out that they were demanding us for our identification. At this point, I became extremely confused as I wasn’t sure why they required anything from us; and this is when everything went south.
Naturally, I don’t bring my passport unless I absolutely have to (ie. Flying), to avoid the possibility of losing it. So I showed them my Canadian driver’s license, which was the only ID I had on me. Unfortunately for me, they didn’t recognize the ID and wouldn’t accept anything but a passport. After some discussions between the officers, they decided that the best plan was to take me to their station because they had people who spoke more English there. Which come to think of it, was a terrible explanation. Anyhow, it’s kind of difficult to decline such a request. So they sat me in the back of the van, luckily my friends tagged along for the “joyride” even though they were technically free.
After a quick ride, we arrived at the station and some other guys explained the situation about needing a passport when visiting. I then showed them a picture of my passport that I had taken previously on my phone. After a lot of chatter between them, they decided that I also needed a picture of my entry stamps into Europe on my passport. Now, I don’t know anybody who takes a picture of their actual stamps but I certainly wasn’t one of them.
I’ll make this short and simple for you guys, but a lot more chatter later followed by a bunch of useless phone calls. They began showing me English forms about how I was illegally in the country; then forced me to sign it. The forms can be seen below if you’re curious.
Now at this point, I had already seen enough of Poland and was very much done with the whole situation. So I told them that I could head back to Berlin immediately and not have to deal with you guys. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem content with that solution either.
Finally, about 2 hours of chatter later they nonchalantly spoke out that they needed to “fine” me 100 Zloty (Polish Currency), but that I could also stay for the remainder of the day. Now that last sentence makes just as much sense to you as it means to me.
In my head, I’m thinking, how are you going to “fine” me for something that I don’t believe is right in the first place and still let me stay in your country when that’s what I was being fined for? From my perspective, Poland is a part of the Schengen region and that means I should be able to freely travel in the area. You don’t see me walking around in Berlin holding onto my passport every day. Also, if you check the location of Szczecin the closest countries are also a part of the Schengen region. Anyhow, I don’t want to get into the whole Schengen definition but the officer’s job is to drive around town spotting foreigners to randomly check. I would say that I was just unlucky, but I guess you learn from your mistakes.
The odd thing about this whole situation was that the officers were extremely nice and friendly throughout everything. They were smiling and trying their best to answer my questions with their limited English. When I told them that I didn’t have any money on me (which I didn’t), they were more than kind to chauffeur me to the nearest bank and even made sure that I didn’t get wet from the rain.
I guess the truth of the matter is that; money speaks. They really didn’t care about the fact that I was actually in Poland. After giving them the 100 Zloty, I was free to roam around for the day and they even drove us back to the city-center. Technically speaking, I should have been sent back immediately.
This is something you’d rarely see in the western world, but I’m sure is quite common in many places in the world. I don’t want to blatantly call this situation “bribery” but it was definitely more important that they receive the money rather than I leave the country.
So after this whole experience, I gained a great story to tell and learned an important lesson; all for the price of 100 Polish Zloty.
Unfortunately, this has somewhat tainted my first impression of Poland and oddly enough I’ll be back in Poland this week for a trip that was planned a while ago. Hopefully, I won’t run into the same guys this time!
Hope you guys enjoyed the story,
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