Wednesday morning, we stopped at the Coca Cola facility across the river from Warsaw in Radzymin. Even before getting to the bottling facility, the story of Radzymin was as fascinating as any other we’ve heard regarding Poland’s story:
Immediately as you cross the river is a former communist factory which, if I remember correctly, produced cars. The state made sure to 'take care' of their workers and built a series of apartment buildings close to the factory so that they would bbe close to the work place. Those flats still stand opposite of the highway which now runs between the two.
The highway system itself was built as a result of money Poland was promised from the European Union. This money has been applied to infrastructure development, including the building of the highway system prior to the 2012 Euro Cup games when Poland and Ukraine hosted the games.
Also noteworthy were multiple shrine-like decorations every few kilometers alongside the road. These set ups were similar to what you would see on the alter or praying station of a church – a Christian cross surrounded by flowers and sometimes a note in Polish. I asked our tour guide if he knew why these set ups were there. While he wasn’t sure, he indicated that it very well could have been in honor of someone who died. Whenever anything happens, even at the border where a city ends, you are likely to find a shrine set up to commemorate that; between that and the strong Christian environment (to quote our guide, Marcin, “Poland is all about Christianity”), you’re likely to see this kind of celebration. His point was clear, though – given how new the highways still are, driving on the new auto route and the highway deaths which come along with it are a new concept to the Poles.
The Coca Cola plant was everything one could dream of in terms of a Coke sancturary. The facility has been around for 25 years, but it has a modern welcoming feel as you walk through the door.
Coca Cola has done very well in Poland in recent years, but once again, the political history was presented as a clear influence which controlled its success Poland. The Coca Cola product itself was actually introduced in 1957 after the death of Stalin. At that time, the communist government made a point to label Coke as a product of the enemy, both Capitalism and the United States. Coca Cola has made a point to market past this previous perception, and today it holds the largest volume of non-alcoholic beverages in Poland.
The story of Coke is a particularly interesting one to me because our presenter (Wojciech Obidzinski, Executive Advisor) was the first of our presenters who clearly lived and worked both during communist times as well as now. He made several references indicating his past, having worked in a yard and also joining his coworkers in strikes against the state before eventually being fired (a moment he laughed about as a high point of his past). He had indicated that the introduction of a Coca Cola Facility to Poland after the Solidarity Movement was symbolic of the new era - it truly represented the move past communism to what seemed as a bright future under capitalism.
I asked Mr. Obidzinski if the symbolic Coca Cola presence of moving toward the capitalistic economic structure was why he had decided to work for Coke. With a smile, he responds (paraphrased), “Yes! Coca Cola was the symbol of capitalism and it was a very promising thing. I didn’t know if I had a chance, but I figured I needed to give it a try.”
My brief chat with him made it clear that the motion to be a part of the movement to develop the Polish democratic society was an important thing to those who were living through the change. It meant more, and it meant a lot, to be a part of the developing the future that Poland had fought so hard for. He indicated that having such well-know American brands in Poland was the period at the end of the sentence, a clear sign that Poland had joined the ranks of the Democratic and Capitalistic superforces which had done so well.
All of a sudden, seeing the likes of Subway, MetLife, Burger King, TGI Fridays, and so on have more meaning. As a tourist, I still get a bit annoyed seeing the trades I already know, but lesson learned – you never really know what you’re looking at until you understand the context. Understanding now that these brands are milestones to prove they are a global player, Poland is clearly moving up with plenty more room to rise.
If nothing else, the excitement Mr. Obdzinski exuded and the clear joy he had when talking about his work with Coca Cola resounded loudly. You don’t have to study any books or number about Poland's past or current state when you see that kind of emotion....that language is universal.
Since, we've been to Can-Pack, State Street Bank, and we had our tour of Krakow last night. Today, we visit the successful Brain.ly (Brainly.com), and then the visit we've all be curious about - the historical Auschwitz-Birkeneau concentration camp. It will be an emotional day for sure, though there have been many. I'm sure my classmates would agree, though, that the entire trip has been impactful and memorable.
It would be an understatement to say how rich Poland is beyond the economy...the culture is deep and the future is promising because of the history Poland has endured.