Set in a thick forest, ringed by limpid lakes and free of violent crime, the town of Borne Sulinowo in northwestern Poland has undeniable bucolic charm — except for the ghosts on every eerily quiet street of the Nazi and then Soviet soldiers who built it.
Governed for the past three decades by Poland, the town was controlled by and was part of Germany before World War II, seized by the Red Army in 1945 and occupied by Moscow’s forces until 1992. For a time, it embraced its dark side, eager to attract visitors and money to a forlorn and formerly forbidden zone so secret it did not appear on maps.
Military re-enactors, including enthusiasts from Germany and Russia, visited each year to stage a parade, dressed in Soviet and Nazi uniforms, which are banned from public display in Germany.
A Polish businessperson opened the Russia Hotel, decorating it with photographs of himself and a friend dressed in Russian military uniforms and with communist-era banners embroidered with images of Vladimir Lenin. His other ventures in the town included a cafe named after Grigori Rasputin and boozy, Russia-themed corporate events.
Russia’s full-scale of invasion of Ukraine stopped all that. Kitsch became offensively creepy.
“Everything changed very quickly,” said Monika Konieczna-Pilszek, the manager of the Russia Hotel and daughter of its founder. Online reviews, she said, suddenly went from “commenting on our food to talking about burning us down.”
She told her father they had to change the name. “Instead of attracting people, it was repelling them,” she said. The inn is now called the Borne Sulinowo Guesthouse. A big Soviet banner hung in the hallway next to its restaurant has been turned around so Lenin is no longer visible.
“Nobody wants to be reminded of Russia these days,” Konieczna-Pilszek said.
Dariusz Tederko, a local official responsible for promoting the town, lamented that the war in Ukraine “has turned everything upside down.” The military re-enactors, he said, are no longer welcome. The Russians couldn’t come anyway because of a government ban.
Trying to draw more Poles and Western Europeans, he now promotes the town’s less-triggering charms. “We have lots of beautiful heather,” he said, waving a brochure with pictures of hiking trails and wildflowers.
“Everything Russian stopped being funny after the war in Ukraine,” he lamented.