Poland is bracing to join the Schengen passport-free zone this week, but dozens of its citizens have already helped melt the frontier by snapping up property in a small German border town.
Loecknitz, a 3,000-strong community in northeast Germany, lies in the hinterland of Szcezcin, a Polish port city of some 420,000 people.
Little by little, Loecknitz is being transformed into a cross-border suburb of Szczecin, as Poles go hunting for real estate bargains. They now make up 10 percent of the population.
"After joining the European Union in 2004, Poles started looking for apartments and houses on the German side," said estate agent Jan Rybski, who is himself Polish.
Until 1945, Loecknitz was a well-heeled district of the then German city of Stettin.
But the Polish-German border was shifted westwards after Germany lost World War II.
Loecknitz found itself in communist-ruled East Germany. Poland also became part of the Soviet-dominated bloc, which collapsed from 1989.
After East and West Germany were reunited in 1990 -- bringing the ex-communist state into the EU -- the town felt the chill wind of economic crisis. Its young people left in droves to look for work in the west, investors shied away, and today around a quarter of the population is jobless.
Across the border in Poland, meanwhile, the once-shambolic economy gathered steam in the 1990s, and has powered ahead since the country joined the EU.
When Poland and seven other ex-communist EU newcomers join the borderless Schengen zone from December 21, it will boost Loecknitz's existing draws for Poles.
The town is only a 20-minute drive from central Szczecin, and has schools, hospitals, a gym and other leisure facilities, as well as being set in the largely unspoilt Pomerania region.
Polish property hunters also get far more for their money. Real estate prices have spiralled in Poland in the past three years, but have barely changed in Loecknitz.
Marek Fiuk, 30, bought a magnificent red-brick farmhouse near Loecknitz with his brother several weeks ago. The price tag: under 50,000 euros (73,000 dollars).
"For that, I'd have been able to buy a studio apartment in Szczecin, around 32-35 square metres. In other words, nothing," he said, smiling.
"Here I've got a whole house. I always dreamed of that."
Fiuk is also planning to set up the headquarters of his multimedia firm in his new-found home.
"I travel a lot to Germany for work, and now I'm going to live there. And from December 21 there won't be any border checks. You won't have to show your ID card, which is sometimes pretty tiresome," he said.
Maria Theresia Odentall, head of Loecknitz's municipal housing office, said that all the homes bought by the newcomers had been on the market for years.
"The Poles do these places up," she said.
Less well-off Poles also opt to rent in Loecknitz.
"Three years ago, 15 percent of municipal apartments in Loecknitz were empty. Now it's around one percent," Odentall said.
In public, the Polish influx does not appear to have caused bad feeling.
"At the beginning we had to get used to it. Now it doesn't bother us at all," said 83-year-old resident Anne Marie Hedwig.
Nonetheless, Germany's far-right NPD party, which is hostile to Polish migrants, won almost 21 percent of the vote in Loecknitz in regional elections last year.