A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Kathrin_E

A Summer Month in Wrocław

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In 2013 I started learning Polish in an evening class in Karlsruhe. Through two international conferences I got in touch with a couple of colleagues from Wrocław who work in a similar field of research as I am. I happily tried my very limited language skills on them, to everyone's fun and entertainment, and they helped me with my homework. But then a certain someone (you know who you are!) told me about their university's summer language class, and talked me into attending. Oh my, what did I get myself into, LOL.

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So I spent the whole month of August 2014 in Wrocław, and a large amount of time in the building in the main photo, transformed into a student again despite my old age, and dealt with aspekt, czas przyszły, czas przeszły, przypadki and przyimki and all the other mean details of Polish grammar! Not only was I one of the oldest 'students' there, they put me into a group that was too advanced. Of course I learned a lot, but it was very very hard for me.

However, I did not spend all my time studying the language. Instead of studying grammar and vocabulary I was out and about in the afternoons and weekends. Seeing the city, visiting its sights and learning about its history was just as important to me as the language class, and in that field I was more successful! I think I got to know the city quite well, of course just as well as an outsider can.

Acknowledgement: I owe a lot of special guidance and unique personal tours and discoveries and background knowledge to my Wrocławian colleagues and friends - to Prof. H., to Justyna, Ania and Wojtek, and to Stefan - who showed me places and details I would never have found on my own. Dziękuję bardzo!

This blog is based on material that I had in my big Wroclaw travel page on Virtualtourist, together with some new additions. It will contain personal reports as well as practical travel tips. I am not planning to assemble a complete guidebook in here, but during thouse four weeks plus two later revisits I have seen a lot and figured out a lot. Hence it may be of help for future visitors' planning.

Wrocław gets its share of tourists but they do not dominate the overall picture. The locals have their favourite spots in the heart of the city just like the visitors. Gastronomy is (mostly) yet unspoilt, good and affordable even in closest vicinity to tourist hotspots. A lot of historical buildings have been perfectly restored, and the city is rich in culture.The traces of its difficult history between Bohemia. Austria and Prussia, between Germany and Poland are visible everywhere if you know where to look and what to look for. World War II has left its mark. In 1945 the population of the formerly German city was expelled. Instead, Poles moved in. Now it is a Polish city. Nevertheless the German past cannot be denied and is regarded with an open mind nowadays.

I herewith declare my affection for Wrocław. Despite being aware of the city's problems, its many ugly spots, dirt and graffiti, poverty and all sorts of people including some I would not want to share an apartment with... I have a warm feeling for the city.

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:47 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

Summer Language Class at University

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Each year during the summer holidays the university of Wrocław, to be precise: the School of Polish Language and Culture for Foreigners which is part of the Faculty of Philology, offers a four-week language class for foreigners. It is open to everyone, you do not have to be a university student. It consists of language lessons in the morning and lectures on cultural topics in the afternoon. Of course everything is in Polish. Language immersion and thorough language studies with competent teachers is the best way to learn. You do a placement test on the first day and according to the results groups of about 12 students are formed.

Accommodation for the participants is organized at a student dorm. Three local students were hired as „pilots“ to organize some activities outside lessons and to take care of any problems the participants might have. These three did an excellent job. They were always there, took people's wishes and needs and worries seriously whatever they were, and undertook any effort to solve every problem. And they spoke English with us if necessary so we were really able to communicate our worries.
If you are interested in more details about the course, please check out the school's website: http://www.sjpik.uni.wroc.pl

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My personal experience, however, is not entirely positive. I surely learned a lot. Trouble was that I ended up in a class that was far, far too difficult for me. Everyone does the same test, and the division into groups is done according to the points/percents scored - a fairly inaccurate method to estimate people's actual skills or lack thereof. After just one year of evening class I ended up in group 5 while others who had been studying much longer and spoke much better were in group 2. No idea how I scored those points. After two days of desperate struggle I changed to class 4 but still it was very hard, rather too hard. Until the second week many others changed groups, too, because they were not placed right.

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Usually each class stays with one teacher all four weeks; we changed in the middle of the course but that was all right. Both teachers were good and nice - although they did not realize my problems. Trying to understand the teacher, understanding the text on the sheet in front of me, understanding the grammar problem we were dealing with, figuring out what we were supposed to do with the text AND thinking about the correct answers, and all this at once, was often impossible to cope with. Most others either had a Slavic language as their mother tongue or knew at least some Russian. For them it was much easier to understand (or guess) what the teacher was saying, and to grasp the grammar which differs in many respects from our western languages. My biggest problem was my limited knowledge of vocabulary, compared to the others. Learning a hundred or more new words per day doesn't work. I'm not 20 or 25 any more...

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Did Chopin have a sister?
No, this is simply the genitive of his name.

Although the school, or university institute, has been in existence and doing research and teaching for 40 years, I could not recognize a structure how the different levels were distinguished. It seemed to me that all groups started at the same point with repetition of basic grammar but speed and vocabulary then differed so the higher groups went further ahead. What if someone comes for the second time and has already done a course on a certain level there - will s/he be doing the same stuff again? (I am comparing to similar classes I took in Italian at a private school in Florence, which was a lot better organized.)

Teaching materials consisted of a mess of photocopies with compiled exercises and grammar schemes in between, assembled from various other schoolbooks - although the school has published their own textbooks and teaching materials, but these were not used. Each teacher had to compile their own materials. Allow me to mention that this was not the first but the 40th time they were doing such a summer course.
The lectures in the afternoon were done by university docents from various subjects and dealt with many interesting topics on Polish history, culture, and society. However, being entirely in Polish they were far too difficult to understand for the majority of the participants including yours truly and wasted time. The school will have to think about that.

Conclusion: Attending this class makes sense if your Polish is already at medium level or higher and/or you know another Slavic language well. For beginners or people with weak skills like me, it is not as promising.

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Faculty Building, the former Premonstratense Convent

The baroque convent buildings behind the (now) Greek-Catholic Cathedral of St Vincent are now the seat of the University's Faculty of Philology. It is not the only building of the faculty but the main one with the set of the dean. During the summer holidays, when the regular students are on holiday, it is used for the intensive summer courses of Polish language for foreigners... in other words, in here is where I spent all weekdays during my stay, studying the language. The complex was built in the late 17th century for the Norbertine (Premonstratense) convent. It suffered quite some damage in World War II but has been beautifully restored.

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Nehring Hall

Four wings surround an inner courtyard, off-bounds to tourists but very popular among students and faculty members. The pavillon in the middle and the rose garden make it a pleasant spot to hang out during breaks.

The rooms inside the four wings are now big and small lecture halls and offices of faculty members. The first photo shows the largest lecture hall. They all have these funny school benches, with table and bench connected in one piece, instead of normal tables and chairs. The most beautiful room is the so-called Nehring hall which is used for official events, like the handing out of our certificates at the end of the course.

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:53 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

Living in a Crayon

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The two tall student dorm buildings in plac Grundwaldzki are named „Kredka“, the crayon, and „Ołówek“, the pencil. The participants of the summer course were all put up in the „Kredka“. This accommodation was offered to us as part of a package together with the language class, and I chose it because it was a) the cheapest and b) the easiest possibility to find a place to stay Our three „pilots“ were staying with us at the Kredka and helped with any problems, big or small.

Okay I have long outgrown student age and student style so this accommodation was acceptable to me temporarily but I would not want to live there for months or years. For incoming young university students who do not expect too high standards and want company, however, they are an option to consider.

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The rooms are furnished - cheaply, and the bed is lousy. The kitchen has a fridge, sink, electric kettle and cooking facilities. Everything else including cups and plates must be brought or bought. Since the kitchen and bathroom are windowless, fresh air and summer heat are a problem. Each room has a small balcony that you will share with the pigeons, who consider it theirs. The balcony would have needed a thorough cleaning to become suitable for human use.

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The dorm is organized in modules of two rooms, either single or double occupancy, sharing a bathroom and kitchen. I was very lucky, as the second room in my modul was not occupied and I had bathroom and kitchen all to myself. An unexpected but much appreciated privilege.
After about 10 days, though, the administration revoked that privilege. They wanted to make me move in with someone else who also had an apartment to herself. They pretended that there was a problem with my toilet. I had no problem with my toilet. This other person was a British lady my age who actually had become my friend already from the first day of the course – but we both looked at each other and said, no we don’t want that. The administration would listen neither to us nor to the pilot who tried to help us. Obviously they were not used to such disobedient students.
Then the pilot spoke to the deputy headmistress on our behalf. The deputy headmistress made one phone call and then told us that everything was all right and things would stay the way they were. Given her energetic personality, I have some imaginations about the phone call, how Pani Profesor notified them that This. Is. Not. Going. To. Happen. Hee hee.
We were so grateful! Old ladies like us prefer some privacy…

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View from the common room on the 15th floor

My room was on the 9th floor. I had a wide view over the eastern suburbs of Wrocław towards the Olympic Stadium and Hala Stulecia. Those on the other side of the building had the view towards the city centre, but also the sun in the afternoon. The first half of the month was boiling hot with temperatures around 35°. Leaving the windows open over night was not possible because of the street noise and most of all because of the pigeons.

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My view with rainbow

Posted by Kathrin_E 16:08 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

The Old University

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The university of Wrocław was founded in 1702 by Emperor Leopold - hence the name Leopoldina, which still sticks with the main aula. It was a Jesuit university, in other words, catholic and counter-reformatory. The city was predominantly protestant at that time, so the university could not move into any seat within the city. Magistrate and citizens would have objected. Only a small stretch of land along the river bank, the grounds of the old castle, were in the hands of the Emperor. So this estate was used to build the university, the church and the Jesuit convent.
This explains the limited space between the university building and the streets of the old town. The architecture could have done with a wide square in front for better effect, but there was no room for that. The best photo options are thus across the river, from Most Universitecki and the Marina or from Wyspa Slodowa.

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The building complex on the river bank has a representative character. Originally, as the plan shows, it was meant to be much larger. The present building covers about 60% of the intended length. The present main tower was meant to be one of two symmetrical side towers, while above the gate, which was to be the middle of the building, a much higher central tower had been planned. The Prussian conquest of Silesia in 1741 set an end to these plans.

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Aula Leopoldina

University Museum

The baroque halls in the main university building are the most magnificent interiors in the wholce city and should not be missed. A lot has already been written about them so I don't have to describe them in detail again.
The Aula Leopoldina, the large main hall, survived the war relatively unharmed. It needed some restorations of course, but what you see is largely original. The frescoes and statues show the history of the university, celebrities from various sciences, allegoric figures and so on. Let the photos speak for themselves.

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Oratorium Marianum

The Oratorium Marianum, however, suffered severe damage. The interior and the frescoes have been reconstructed. To paint the frescoes as close to the original style as possible, the university hired the best specialist available, the painter Christoph Wetzl from Dresden. In May 2014 the frescoes of the ceiling have been completed and the Oratorium Marianum can now be admired in full splendour. Only underneath the gallery a few pictures are yet to be completed - Wetzl is currently working on them. Both halls are used as venues for university events and celebrations. We had the opening ceremony of the summer language classes in Oratorium Marianum.

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The full museum visit includes the Aula Leopoldina, the Oratorium Marianum, the museum exhibitions, and the viewpoint on the tower. There are tickets for two, three, or all four of these attractions - I recommend doing the full tour.
Sorry I cannot tell you about ticket prices, audioguide and such, as I had the special pleasure to be guided by the director of the museum in person and was considered a guest. Our tour took at least twice as long as the usual visit and included at least three times as much information... A chance that one does not refuse!
Please consult the website of the museum: http://muzeum.uni.wroc.pl for opening hours, actualities, temporary exhibitions and practical details.

View from the Mathematical Tower

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The tower on the old university building is known as the „Mathematical“ tower - mathematics included astronomy and that's what the tower was used for by the early scientists.
Nowadays the terrace is a viewpoint. If you visit the old university, don't limit yourselves to the halls but buy the full ticket and climb up. Unfortunately there is no ticket for visiting just the tower, we could have done with that as we both had visited the building before.
The terrace is not very high above the roofs of the surrounding houses, so it is no „bird's eye“ view but rather like being on a rooftop. The higher buildings, towers and spires form a skyline along the horizon. The other side overlooks the river and the islands. Located between Oder bank and old town, you are 'in the middle of things' and able to enjoy a fine view together with the statues of the four cardinal virtues.

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University Church

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The University Church of the Holiest Name of Jesus (a typical Jesuit dedication) has Wrocław's most opulent baroque interior. As it was founded by Emperor Leopold for the Jesuit order as stronghold of the catholic confession in the predominantly protestant city, the best was just good enough and money was no issue. The result is overwhelming. Any guidebook will give a description so I don't have to repeat everything here. The interior is a total art work of architecture, sculpture, stucco and fresco painting.
You can pay a virtual visit of the church and explore all details of the frescoes on the website of the „virtual museum of baroque frescoes in Lower Silesia“: http://www.wirtualnefreski.pl/miejscowosci,kosciol-uniwersytecki-pw-najswietszego-imienia-jezus All explanations are in Polish only, but the quality of the panoramas and photos is top class.
A side chapel opposite the entrance contains a familiar statue: a copy of Michelangelo's Pietà from St Peter in Rome.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 13:06 Archived in Poland Tagged museum university wroclaw Comments (0)

Hanging Out in Rynek

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Rynek, the main square, is the heart of Wrocław. In fact it is not an open square but a wide, almost square ring around the historical city hall and a block of houses with three lanes in the middle. In German it was even named „Ring“. Rynek is connected with Plac Solny, the „salt market“, a smaller square that opens on the southwestern corner. Plac Solny is the seat of the flower market.
After the damage in World War II the historical houses were rebuilt rather soon. Rynek is surrounded mostly by renaissance and baroque facades, some original, some 19th century „neo“, painted in all shades of pastel colours, with the occasional art nouveau building in between.

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There is a lot to look at. The most iconic view is certainly the eastern facade of the city hall. The square has several monuments, including the one for the poet Aleksander Fredro, the pillory in front of the town hall, some gnome figures, and a couple of fountains. The most recent addition is the modern glass fountains on the western side. When the fountain was installed, discussions were controversial, many were against „that modern stuff“. Now that it is there, the fountain has quickly become a part of the Rynek ensemble and a popular spot for photos. Many tourists pose with it and have their pictures taken. The water is particularly welcome on hot summer's days.
The combination of water and glass also invites to try some experimental photography. Light and effects are already quite good in the daytime, but they are even more fascinating after dark. If you have a tripod, you have even more possibilities. But there is enough light to try without.

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I was hanging out in Rynek almost daily, doing my homework on the terrace of Pod Gryfami or another of the many street cafes round the square, walking or sitting on a bench to people-watch, and enjoying the performances of the many street artists. Rynek is always lively. There is always something going on. Sometimes a bit too much… Acoustics in the square are very good, and hearing two or three bands playing simultaneously may overstrain the spectator’s ears.
You probably know the Indian saying: No matter how fast you travel, the soul walks. When I return to Wrocław, I am never really and completely „there“ until I had my first coffee in Rynek…

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Rynek attracts people all the time – that means a good chance for street artists to make some money. Artists of all kinds are there any time. Musicians, dancers, living statues, painters, magicians, clowns, gymnasts… options seem endless. Some are there regularly, others are travelling and come to perform only once or a few days in a row, then disappear. It takes a good show to attract the crowd’s attention.

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The painter was there more or less daily, painting portraits and caricatures of customers on the spot. The guitar player with the curly hair was also a regular. One day he became the painter’s model…

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My favourite among the regulars was The Invisible Beggar. This guy was present in Rynek almost every day, or rather, he was not... who knows. There was a pair of shoes, an old baseball cap for coins, and a sign that translates to „I am invisible“. In those weeks I spent in Wrocław I never saw who is behind it. After two weeks he had extended his business (see second photo). Yes I paid him... as a reward for the funny idea!

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The pavement of Rynek must be the cleanest place in the whole city centre, regarding the amount of soap that goes down on it every day... Soap bubble making is a popular entertainment. There is always a guy or two or three with a bucket of soapsuds and self-made constructions of two sticks and a thin rope tied into either one big or a couple of smaller slings. The rope is dipped into the soapsuds and the wind does the rest of the work. The result can be gigantic. Usually they also let children use their equipment and make bubbles. Of course the guys appreciate a little donation.

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The soap-bubble men are always surrounded by spectators. Proud parents and grandparents love taking photos of their offspring. Children love making bubbles, and they also love chasing bubbles to pop them. Others, like me, love taking photos of the bubbles, so there can be a conflict of interests sometimes, LOL. Anyway, the delicate, rainbow-coloured artefacts call to be banned into pixels before they end their short existence. Even wedding photographers have discovered this photo option.

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Wedding Photo sessions seem to be a big affair in Poland. You encounter bridal couples and photographers more or less every day of the week so I assume that they don't do their photo sessions on the wedding day itself but on a different day, also because they take so long. Photographers have plenty of ideas for romantic, strange, and sometimes downright silly poses so this is really hard work for the „happy couple“. Besides I'd rather not ask what the beautiful white dress will look like at the end of the session, after having been in touch with, for example, a bicycle chain, soapsuds, and the generally dirty pavement...

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Posted by Kathrin_E 16:32 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (3)

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