A Travellerspoint blog

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„Transition“ - the Invisible Underground Passage

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This cool monument consists of fourteen life-size bronze figures, depicting passers-by, ordinary people of all ages, crossing the street through a non-existent underground passage. On one side of the street they seem to sink into the pavement, on the other side they re-emerge.

Their dress and acessoires, old-fashioned and outdated, suggest that these are people from the communist era. There are workers of various professions, a young mother with her baby in a pram, an old woman walking with a cane, her handbag clutched tight, others are returning from the office or from grocery shopping.

The people depicted remain anonymous, the significance of the sculptures is not clear. On the one hand it is funny to see them disappearing in the gropund and reappearing on the opposite side, a fancy idea of the sculptor. On the other hand, the monument can also be interpreted more seriously, as symbolizing the transition and changes in Poland since the end of communism, or as referring to the era of the martial law in the 1980s when the opposition had to go 'underground'.

Location: intersection of ul. Swidnicka and Pilsudskiego, not far from the central station. Accessible any time.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 13:00 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (1)

Leśnica: A Suburb with History

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Being the proud holder of an Urban Card loaded with a one-month pass for unlimited travel on the public transport network, I explored some parts of the city by tram. One day I rode the tram 10 to the very end of the line, which is in the suburb of Leśnica. The tram line passes through socialist residential quarters with what people like to call „commie blocks“, then past Park Zachodni, past the football stadium and through mostly empty grounds until it reaches its destination.

Leśnica is a former large village or small town, hard to decide what to classify it as. Since 1927 it has been a suburb of Wrocław in the far west of the city. Its German name is Deutsch-Lissa. In the late 19th century it must have been an upscale residential place, as villas like the one in the photo tell. Then there are the two churches, the catholic church of St Jadwiga which has gothic origins, and the former protestant church, a neogothic 19th century building, now also catholic.

Nowadays the place is a bit run down and very much „daily life Poland“, I doubt they ever see tourists there. However, the place has one attraction that is worth a quick look, i. e. the palace.

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The Palace

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The little palace in Leśnica has changed hands many times in its history and has been refurbished many times. Its outward appearance is now baroque. The palace is surrounded by fortifications with round bulwarks on the corners, quite unnusual for an 18th century palace. These indicate that the building is older than it seems.

In the late middle ages it was the residence of Duke Bolesław I. In the 15th century it was owned by a patrician family, to whom it owes its present ground plan. The fortifications were added in the 17th century. Further changes took place in the 18th century to give it its baroque shape. Note the asymmetry of the bridge and the main facade, which they carefully tried to hide by placing the left tower a few metres away from the corner.
Nowadays the building serves as „Dom kultury“, cultural centre of Leśnica. The facades have been beautifully renovated. Nothing is left of the historical interiors, though. Inside there are exhibitions, concerts and other events.

The palace is surrounded by a park, with benches, a pond, a playground and everything a park needs. On the one hand it is very pleasant to go for a walk there. On the other hand it is a favourite hangout of the local youths and I am not sure if all of them are trustworthy, hence it's better to stay aware of what‘s happening in your surroundings.

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One Moment in History

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Only once in its existence this place has made history. Leśnica's One Moment In Time took place in 1757 and involved, of course, the Prussian King Friedrich II. (Frederick the Great). He had just won the battle against Austria in nearby Leuthen. When the officers of the defeated Austrian army assembled in Lissa (Lesnica) palace, all of a sudden Friedrich appeared among them and saluted them in most elegant French.

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The event is depicted in a large sgraffito on the wall of the post office. The post office building is located in ul. W. Skoczylasa, a few steps from the tram stop on the way towards the former protestant church.

The post office is a late 19th century building with a little tower on the corner, half-timbered tower top and gable, and facades ornated richly with sgraffito pictures and ornaments.

Posted by Kathrin_E 13:11 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

„Warnings and Dangers“: What and Whom to Beware Of

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... they had certainly predicted sunny weather for their wedding day.

Meteorologists

... are known to be notorious liars elsewhere, too, but I found the weather forecasts in Wrocław extremely unreliable. If they say it won’t rain, better take a folding umbrella nevertheless. If they say it will rain, take an umbrella, too, but in summer you should not dress too warm respective wear a t-shirt underneath so you can peel off the outer shell in case it suddenly turns sunny and boiling humid.

By the way, „umbrella“ is „parasol“ in Polish. How come...

Naughty Birds

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Both sparrows and pigeons have discovered that winged individuals, provided they are not too picky about the quality of their food, can live very well in a place where many humans hang out and where food is served. One has to take the chance and be fast and fearless.

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The sparrows in the photos above are the same birds. These two pictures were taken within 30 seconds on the terrace of a cafe on Ostrów Tumski.
The sparrows' advantage is that they look cute while pigeons do not. Also they are smaller but a lot cleverer than the pigeons. You'll often see a sparrow stealing food from a much larger pigeon, flying off, and the pigeon being left behind with a stupid look in the face. Because of that, some pigeons are downright aggressive towards the sparrows.

Why am I posting this among „warnings and dangers“? These birds have lost any respect of human beings because so many people feed them. Be prepared for low-flying pigeons that almost hit your head. Be prepared to chase winged visitors away from your table in outdoor restaurants. It is also wise to have a closer look at the benches, especially in Rynek, before picking a spot to sit down to avoid stains on your clothing. And keep your mouth shut when looking up.

Ochrona: The Watchman

The Watchman is omnipresent and a very important personality. No idea why all public or semi-public institutions feel the need for extra-tight security. Is criminality really that high, or is it the Poles' general mistrust towards strangers?

Anyway, „ochrona“ is a word that you ought to know. It translates to „guard“ or „watchman/-woman“. The guys and gals in the vests with this word printed on the back are well conscious of the authority they have. Rare individuals of this species show a sense of humour, like the guy in the shopping mall at Skytower who informed me that animals are not allowed in (the animal in question was Russell the wombat, my plushy travel companion!) Most of them don't, though, and going the tiniest bit astray, walking a few metres off the usual path, taking photos of something unusual makes you highly suspicious and will lead to being told off in Polish.

For example (personal experience), walking up to the parking deck on the roof of Renoma mall to take photos. This roof has an excellent view but is not meant to be used as a viewpoint - for no apparent reason, just because.

The Pavement

While some streets and squares already have neat new pavement, many others don't. The old pavement is often in really bad shape, a mix of materials due to repeated repairs through the decades, with plenty of ups and downs, holes and gaps. Watch your steps. High heels are not the wisest choice of shoes...

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Posted by Kathrin_E 13:25 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (2)

Church of St Elizabeth – Kosciół Św Elzbiety

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The church of St Elizabeth in the northwestern corner of Rynek is one of the two main churches in the old town. The church, a characteristic example of Silesian gothic, is a basilica with main nave and side aisles but no transept. Lower chapels accompany the side aisles of nave and chancel. It is entirely built from bricks, including the steeple.

The parish church was probably founded around 1250, the present church was built in the 14th century. With the introduction of the reformation in 1525 it became Lutheran, and remained Lutheran-protestant until 1945. After World War II it became a Catholic parish church, and the interior was adapted to the requirements of the new confession - for example, the baroque main altar was equipped with a painting of the Madonna of Czenstochowa. Nevertheless the church still contains a large number of artworks from the four centuries of the German-speaking, the protestant era. The pulpit's back wall has a German inscription with a verse from psalm 96: „Preach his salvation day by day“ - a very protestant reference to the importance of the sermon, and the biblical promise. Along the walls and pillars and inside the chapels there are dozens and dozens of tombs and epitaphs from the 16th to the 18th century which commemorated important (and wannabe-important) families and individuals from the parish community.

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The Steeple, and the Fallen Spire

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The steeple of St Elizabeth is the highest building in the old town. It can be climbed, so if you have two healthy feet (unlike me) and feel like some exercise, go ahead. The entrance is from outside the church at the foot of the steeple. Tickets can be obtained from the little hut next to the entrance.

No matter if you decide to climb up or not - have a look at the wall of the steeple. Among some tombstones and epitaphs there is a stone relief that recalls a dramatic incident. In 1529, four years after the introduction of the reformation, a heavy thunderstorm struck and the spire fell off. Luckily there were no fatalities, the only victim was a cat, a beer mug was broken and some roofs in the surroundings suffered light damage. The catholic citizens of the town called the incident God's punishment for the protestants' denegation of the true faith.

The protestants, however, considered it a miracle that no one was hurt and no severe damage occurred - they said that angels had caught the falling spire and lead it gently to the ground, and this miracle was actually proof that theirs was the right way. The relief shows the flying angels with the broken spire underneath and explanatory inscription.
(Nobody asked the cats' opinion.)

Modern Stained Glass Windows

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During the decades since World War II the now catholic church has received new stained glass windows which refer to its present confession. Styles differ widely.
The central window in the chancel behind the main altar depicts the rose miracle of St Elizabeth (photo 1). I assume that this was one of the earliest windows after the war; the style of the faces and figures bears resemblance with 19th entury paintings. The most interesting windows, however, are those in the side chapels. They commemorate important events in Poland's history of the 20th century. Some still have clear glass and are waiting to be filled.
Photo 2: Pope John Paul II. The window recalls his visit to Wrocław in 1997 for the Eucharistic World Congress. The face can be seen from the outside as well.
Photo 3: The massacre of Katyn in 1940, where thousands of Polish army officers were murdered by the Soviets.
Photo 4: Stalinist work camps in Siberia and commemoration of the victims

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The Lost Organ

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The gallery in the west of the nave is where the organ belongs, but it is empty. St Elizabeth had a magnificent baroque organ, built by Michael Engler in 1752 - 1761. A fire in 1976 destroyed the instrument. Since then the church community has been dreaming of rebuilding it.
The organ was built in the era of Prussian government; the front of the gallery bears the monogram of King Friedrich II (F R = Fridericus Rex) under a crown.

A model in a showcase in the northern aisle by the chancel shows what the organ looked like. For the costly reconstruction donations have been collected for years but not enough yet.

Tombs and Epitaphs

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The church of St Elizabeth is full of tombstones and epitaphs from the protestant, German-speaking era. There are several dozens inside, and many more on the outer walls of the church. Experts (I know some) could give a spontaneous lecture on the development of protestant sepulchral art from the 16th to the 18th or 19th century along these examples, but no worries, I will not bother you with too many details.
Fashions and styles changed. In the 16th and 17th century many tombs and epitaphs had pictures, often biblical scenes or symbolic theological images referring to salvation thanks to divine mercy - which ist purest Lutheran theology. Later times preferred having just inscriptions, German or Latin, sometimes combined with allegorical figures. Portraits of the defunct were also popular.
Being buried inside the church was a special privilege and honour which was not granted to everyone. If that wasn't possible, an epitaph (i.e. a memorial stone or platter without a real grave underneath) was the second best option. The parish counted many ambitious, noble, influential, wealthy, learned, or otherwise important citizens among its members. Their grave monuments are symbols of status. The best artists and craftsmen were hired to make them.

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Jas i Małgosia and the Artist

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The two houses that frame the former entrance to the churchyard of St Elizabeth are usually nicknamed „Jas i Malgosia“ (Hansel and Gretel, like in the Grimm fairytale). Originally they were built as residential houses of the altar priests at the church. There were more of them, only two are left. „Malgosia“ is now a pub and restaurant.

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The smaller of the two, „Jas“, was in very bad shape but was saved thanks to the sculptor Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz, who rented the house, had it repaired, and installed his studio inside. The artist has in the meantime died, but some of his works are on display on the facades of the house. This guy must have been a bit excentric methinks...

Towards Rynek there is his self-portrait on the wall.

Another work is attached to the shady northern wall facing the church, the Do It Yourself Crucifix. Funny, philosophical, or downright blasphemic? Decide for yourselves.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 10:54 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

Greek Catholic Cathedral of St Vincent

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The church of St Vincent in Plac Nankiera was originally built by and for the Franciscan convent, later the monastery and church became property of the Norbertine (Premonstratense) order. Until World War II it was a Roman-Catholic parish church. Only in the 1990s the Greek-Ukrainian community took over, after war damage had been repaired. This is not an orthodox but a catholic church, subdict to the Pope in Rome. Nevertheless some elements like the images/icons and the screen that closes off the chancel resemble orthodox churches. Most of these images look very new but there are also some older icons which have probably been brought from the Lemberg/Lviv/Lwów region after World War II.

The adjacent baroque convent building is now the seat of the faculty of philology and used for university purposes, for example language courses in summer – in other words, the seat of my school where I spent my mornings struggling with the mysteries of the Polish language.

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The church is open in the daytime. It is a very visitor-friendly place, tourists are actively welcomed to walk around and see everything. The concierge at the entrance will hand everyone a candle to light inside the church. The caretaker who was around in the church would also happily explain about the church and its history and point visitors to the church’s attractions in various languages.

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The church is 15th century gothic in the typical shape of Franciscan churches. Underneath you can see the remains of the much older, Romanesque crypt. To find it, you have to venture down the narrow staircase in the northern side nave.

However, the crypt is not exactly a beauty. Looks like the church caretakers use it as their storage cellar for flower pots, cleaning tools, ladders and whatever is needed to keep a church running (LOL).

More impressive, however, is the baroque Hochberg chapel, built by an abbot from a noble family. Restorations have only recently been finished. Note the mirrored fake windows.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 11:28 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

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