A Look Back at the Eastern Bloc

And in these grey streets, life went by at an almost artificially slow pace. People hardly ever rushed, because there was little to rush to. Well, unless perhaps you got word that a store across town would take delivery of some hard to come by goods, like refrigerators or sewing machines. Then you'd want to be there fast to sign up – and maybe get one in a few days.

Today, the scene is strikingly different. Bratislava, Budapest, Vilnius, Warsaw now look much like their counterparts in the Europe that was west of the Berlin Wall.

Streets are busy, colorful, and there is a sense of life and purpose. Newfound capitalism manifests itself in an excessive number of billboards and neon lights, but at least they do add splashes of color. Czechs, Latvians, or Slovaks, sipping their espressos in street-side cafes, look no different than their European cousins from the west.

But only 20-odd years ago, they did. Indeed, it would be hard to find someone sipping coffee in a street-side cafe in the first place. You'd be lucky to find a cafe then, and even luckier to find drinkable coffee.

Men and women had to make do with locally available fashion – and variety was meager. Most men stuck to plain -- for some inexplicable reason -- usually baggy, suits. They often wielded brown, leather briefcases. In them would be sandwiches, as there were no places where you could get lunch once you left home.

Women with any ambitions of elegance were faced with a real challenge – they had to use all their imagination to stand out and not look like their friends who happened to have chosen the same dress from a selection of maybe six. Therefore, almost every woman was an amateur seamstress, improving on what little was available in state-owned shops.

Tyschko also remembers how his mother knit sweaters for him. "Back then, you had to be creative and inventive. Money mattered less because there was just so little to buy. To buy a car, you had to sign up and sometimes wait for years. Foreign travel was practically impossible. Anywhere you'd want to go, you needed a visa. On top of that, you had to ask the state for permission, " he said.

Today, Tyschko, his wife and two sons drive to Berlin regularly.

"From where we live, it's closer than Warsaw." And he added, "And I just can't get over the fact that there is no border."

Every weekend the streets of Tyschko's town, just like those of numerous other towns in western Poland, are full of Germans. "They come for their weekend lunch or dinner, to buy gas and do their shopping since prices here are still a bit lower."

Is there anything he doesn't like about the changes of the last 20 years? "Yes," said Tyschko. "The grey hair I got from credits, mortgage, utility bills, lack of security. It's all about money now."

Is there anything he misses from the previous era? "We were poor, but carefree. We had less choices and less pressure. There was more friendship, more laughter and less competition. No unemployment. But, I'd never want to turn back the clock, I don't think any sane person would."

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