A Travellerspoint blog

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Ratusz – City Hall

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The majestic city hall (Ratusz) is the central building in Rynek, impossible to miss. Both the view from the west with the high tower and the elaborate eastern facade are must-have photos for every visitor. The seemingly countless gables, oriels, scultures and reliefs and ornaments indicate that this building has grown over a very long time, and more or less each generation aimed to add theirs and embellish it even more.

The history of the building begins around 1300, when the first and rather small town hall was built. It consisted of two naves under separate roofs. In the early 14th century a tower and a room for the sessions of the city council were added, then the great hall on the upper floor and the chapel. The assembly room for the elders, the treasure chamber and the hall for the law court are additions from the 15th century, as well as the southern wing. Shortly after 1600 the main hall received its late gothic vaults.

This is of course a very brief and simplified overview of the city hall’s complicated history.

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The museum in the town hall includes all the historical rooms, the gothic halls from the 15th and 16th century as well as the rooms of the council and the mayor with renaissance ornamentation and furniture. Two rooms upstairs contain an exhibition of the city council's treasure, mostly silversmith works. A side room is dedicated to the city's shooters guild and their history.

The hall on the ground floor contains a collection of (modern) portrait busts, depicting famous citizens of the town. See if you know anyone...

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Photos can be taken to your liking (without flash please). My camera also enjoyed plaing with the views through the windows, in particular those with rough, slightly coloured glass. They offer new perspectives of the Rynek...

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The old town hall is administered by the museums of the city. The visit to the „permanent exhibition“, i. e the historical halls, is free, you just walk in and explore to your liking. All rooms have explanations in three languages. Only the temporary exhibitions in the „Gallery in the Patio“ charge a small fee.
Opening hours: Wed - Sat 11.00-17.00, Sun 10.00-18.00, closed on Monday and Tuesday

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:01 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

Wrocław revisited (1): October 2015

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Finally back...

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In 2015 a very honourable invitation to a conference brought me back to Wrocław for a couple of days in October. I was in touch with a big research project at Wrocław University on a topic very close to my own research, so I was invited as one of several „international experts“. No comment:-)
This time I did not have to give a conference talk (I had done so at their previous conference in Vienna two years earlier) but I was asked to „chair“ a panel.

I do not want to go into details what the conference was about or who the organizers were, because I prefer keeping personal and professional details about my identity out of these blogs. Insiders may draw conclusions from my frequently mentioned interests.

I arrived at Wrocław airport in the early afternoon. Experienced Wrocław traveller that I am (ha, ha), I did not bother with taxis but went straight to the bus stop, loaded my Urban Card with a one-week pass, and boarded the airport bus into town. Research on the genius route planner at
https://jakdojade.pl/wroclaw had shown me where exactly to change to which tram to the hotel. The conference took place at a hotel outside the old town and everyone except the locals was also staying there.

At the reception I enquired about my reservation, using my (limited) Polish language skills. They were really nice. All staff spoke excellent English and German, but when I tried my Polish they spoke Polish with me. It actually worked. I was so proud. (The basic hotel stuff is already lesson four in the schoolbook we used in class.)

While I was talking to the receptionist, the lift door opened and who emerged – my favourite Hungarian colleague. Big salutation. The Hungarians employed me on the spot as their guide for the first walk into the old town. So that first afternoon was well filled. I carefully guided them to a nice cafe in Rynek so I got my „Arrive in Wrocław“ coffee…

The following two days we had our conference lectures and learned a lot about the state and results of their research project. Since everyone was staying at the same hotel, the evenings involved dinner and drinks and talks. I do have that secret crush on a certain someone, who is unfortunately but definitely not available so there is no need to worry, but I thoroughly enjoyed that one evening when there were just the two of us to have a long talk over some Polish beer...

During the conference there was little time for sightseeing apart from a short walk after lunch. I was glad that I already knew Wrocław so well, so I did not worry. Others ran off for a couple of hours to see a museum or sight.

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On the last day we all went on an excursion through Lower Silesia. This excursion took us to Dzierzoniów first, then to a tiny village named Niedżwiedzica, to the town of Wałbrzych, and finally to Świdnica to see the Peace Church. More about these in separate entries!

The conference ended in the evening after the excursion. On the last morning I had some time to play with because my flight departed in the early afternoon. At breakfast I heard that someone wanted to pay a quick visit to Ostrów Tumski in the morning, so I accompanied her. Afterwards she already had to rush to the airport, while I used the couple of hours I had left for some shopping. Got some stationery and gifts and treated myself to new CDs of Polish music…

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:20 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

"Churching" Excursion in Lower Silesia

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The conference excursion took a busload of participants through Lower Silesia to some places the average tourist won‘t visit. The focus was on „churching“ and there was no time planned for anything else, neither for the necessary small breaks nor for taking photos. However, a bunch of grown-up scientists is not as obedient as a group of university students…

We started from our hotel in Wrocław right after an early breakfast and set out in southwestern direction. Our first destination was Dzierzoniów, a small town at the foot of the mountains.

Dzierzoniów

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Dzierzoniów is a typical Silesian small town. Due to its location as gateway to the mountains along the Czech border, which are a popular weekend and holiday regions for the Wroclawians as well as popular with Germans with Silesian background, it has a bit of tourism.
The German name of Dzierzoniów used to be Reichenbach, or more precisely Reichenbach im Eulengebirge (in the Owl Mountains). The German population either fled or was expelled after the end of the war, and replaced with Poles from the lost eastern parts of the country. After the war the town was first named Rychbach, the Polish version of the original name, but then renamed after a regional celebrity, the priest and apiarist Jan Dzierzon.

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A useful house

The schedule of your excursion was tight and we focused on just the two churches Dzierzoniów no time to look left or right. The bus could not enter the town centre, so we had to get off and walk, or rather run after the professor. Luckily our way led us across Rynek, so we got an impression of the town centre. I caught some quick photos on the run. Looks like most streets in the centre have recently been neatly paved. Many houses, though, could do with some care and fresh paint. All in all we spent hardly more than one hour in town.

First we passed, but did not enter, the former Augustine church. Its origins date back to the 14th century. After the reformation the Augustine convent had been closed down and the church was then used for various profane purposes. Since 1713 the catholic cult has been reinstalled. The small church and the adjacent convent building were built from rough stones. Probably the facades were formerly covered in plaster, because these walls do not look too pretty like this. The general appearance tells of various repairs and changes. The gothic structure is still recognizable. The tall pointed arches of the windows have been closed with bricks(?) and smaller windows installed. The little spire looks like a modern addition, and one where the designer has sadly failed.

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The main square, the heart of the town, is named Rynek or Ring. Just like in Wrocław, the town hall occupies the middle of the square. This seems to be typical for Silesian towns. It is surrounded by townhouses with mostly 19th century facades. One half of the square is pedestrianized, the rest is a parking lot. In the side wing of the town hall, that might be useful to know for visitors, you find the tourist information office.

The town hall has medieval origins, but little of them is still visible, actually no more than the gable of the brick-gothic former cloth hall which now hosts the public library. The core of the tower originally dates from the late middle ages. But the old town hall was demolished due to decay in 1872 and replaced by a new building in the following three years. The facades show a simple style that can be described as neo-renaissance, resembling the Rundbogenstil which had been popular around 1850.

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One house in ul. Świdnicka, opposite the (now) Church of Mary Mother of the Church, is particularly useful for visitors: The facade has been painted with a huge map of the town. Practical when you are there! Unfortunately it is too big to carry it along... but the solution is easy: Take a photo of it, so you have the map with you in your digital camera.

The structure of the town centre is easy to grasp. Within the ring roads that formerly were the fortification, there is a grid of four or five streets in each direction, with the rectangular Rynek (main square) in the middle.

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Entertaining detail: In the small square in front of the house they have put up a statue of Pope John Paul. The Pope is depicted walking fast against the wind, and it looks as if he, too, is using the big map to find his way...

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The parish church of St George (kościół parafialny św. Jerzego) is the oldest church in town. This was our first destination. Due to its tall gothic structure and the high spire it is also the most impressive church in town. Its origins date back to the 13th, legends even to the foundation of the town in the 12th century. The building is a basilica with four naves, built from bricks. The reformation turned it into a Lutheran parish church in 1555. Several elements inside, like the galleries, the pulpit (1609) and the main altar (1615) and some epitaphs still give testimony of the protestant era. During the 30 Year War the counter-reformation reinstalled the catholic cult in 1629. Since then the church has been once more Roman-Catholic. Statues of saints and side altars were put up. The main altar was changed and extended in the first half of the 18th century to adapt it to catholic theology. Professor gave lengthy explanations and discussions but since the choice was either listening or walking around and taking photos, many of us chose the latter. Having photos is more important to an art historian…

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The finest religious architecture in town is now known as the Roman-Catholic Parish Church of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church (Parafia Maryi Panni Matki Kościoła). It was designed and built as a protestant church, though. The church dates from the Prussian era in the late 18th century when the Protestants of Silesia finally gained full freedom of religion. It is part of a whole „family“ of similar churches that were built all over Silesia in the 1780s and 1790s. This is one of the later examples, built in 1795 – 1798. The architect in charge of these projects was Silesian-born Carl Gotthard Langhans, the very same who later designed Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Before his move to Berlin Langhans lived and worked in Wrocław.

The outward appearance is still late baroque but inside Langhans used the then modern neoclassical style. The basic design of the church‘s interior is a longitudinal oval formed by the galleries – compare to, for example, the Court Church in Wrocław or the protestant church in Wałbrzych. Three galleries give room to seat a large community. They are carried by columns in the classical, antique sequel of orders.

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The early 20th century installed stained glass windows on the ground floor like the one in the photo: the Last Supper of Christ and the disciples, dated 1911 with the name of the German donator.

Until the 1970s the church was still used by Dzierzoniów‘s protestant parish community. The community became too small to maintain it, though, so it was finally given to a catholic community, refurbished and reconsecrated. The new statue of the Virgin Mary is a sign for the change of denomination.

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This architecture, however, is absolutely unsuitable for catholic mass. The attempts to turn it into a catholic church are a disaster in all respects of design. The new altar in a pseudo-baroque style (in the catholic church the baroque era has never ended to this very day), the oversized inscription on the gallery that invokes the Virgin Mary, do not fit into this neoclassical architecture. The yellowish colour also does not suit it – this architecture calls for white paint.

Niedźwiedzica

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Back on the bus and off we went further into the mountains. It was a foggy autumn day. The leaves were turning colour. The landscape was beautiful. With a little more sunshine it would have been spectacular.

Our next stop was a village in the mountains, a village so small and remote that even the bus driver had trouble finding the one and only road which leads there. The village has a German history just like the whole region, which was part of Deutsches Reich until 1945. Its German name was Bärsdorf. In Polish it is called Niedźwiedzica – niedźwiedź is the bear.

But there is the little village church, and this church is valued high enough to receive a thorough restoration. Through these works, late medieval frescoes have been discovered on the walls. The interior dates from the 16th and 17th century. Even the benches are original. Galleries and ceiling are painted with beautiful renaissance ornaments. The pulpit has inscriptions in German, which indicate that it dates from the post-reformation era.

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The church is not lutheran any more, though. After the expulsion of the German population in 1945, Poles settled in the village and they needed a catholic church. A tabernacle was added to the medieval altarpiece, a modern celebration altar set up in front of it, the bell was attached to the sacresty door and so on. The existing old furnishing remained untouched, though. Poverty is a good monument conservator…

The little church is surrounded by a walled churchyard. Some historical tombstones are still there.

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The current cemetery is located further down the hillside. Outside, the cemetery, there is a medieval stone cross by the road. It was then set up as redemption for a murder that was commited here.

Niedźwiedzica is, judging from its appearance and the general atmosphere, a village at the end of the world. Everything was quiet. I wonder how many people are still living there. We did not see anyone in the streets. In photos this looks all very romantic, but life in such a place is probably not so easy. Without a car one would be totally lost.

Wałbrzych

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Our next destination was more urban: Wałbrzych, in German Waldenburg, an industrial town in the Sudete mountains not far from the Czech border. The town’s economy is based on mining, and since the mining industry has hit rock-bottom, so to speak, Wałbrzych is suffering from severe problems. The city looks rather run-down, many houses are blackened and crumbling. Only the most central squares have been refurbished with new pavement. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

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In Wałbrzych we visited another Langhans church, the same type as the one in Dzierzoniów with galleries that form an oval shape. This church is a bit older, the dates are 1785 – 1788. Unlike most churches in Silesia it is still in the hands of a protestant parish community. Hence the furnishing and liturgical pieces are preserved in their original shape. The pulpit remained in its central location above the altar, a very protestant constellation (the sermon is the central part of the service) which a catholic community would have changed in an instant, as we had just seen in Dzierzoniów.
They call themselves „evangelicko-augsburski“, i.e. evangelical according to the Augsburg Confession, which translates to Lutheran. The community is small, though, they have about 150 members. Maintaining the large church building is a gigantic task to them, as the parson told us.

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After several hours of work a break was necessary. The parson kindly opened the parish centre for us so that we were able to use the facilities. A long line formed. Then some discovered the bakery opposite the church – coffe and tasty cakes! The news spread quickly. Another long line formed. I think the little shop made the business of a month on that day! There was but one young lady behind the counter to make coffee and sell cakes, though, so serving everyone took its time. After a while the professor sent one of his students in to tell us to hurry up. However, we said, no we won‘t, this takes as long as it takes. Period.

When I left the bakery I looked into the professor’s face. He did not say anything, but clearly he wasn‘t used to such an amount of ‚civil obedience‘ – his students would never dare. I kept a straight face but inside I laughed so hard…

The cake was, by the way, superb! I forgot its name but I remember something that involved chocolate and cherries. Yum!

But then we had to hurry and get back on the bus because we had one more place on our list, and that was the most spectacular of them all: th Peace Church in Świdnica.

Świdnica

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Swidnica's main attraction is the so-called Church of Peace, one of three wooden churches that the Protestants of Silesia were allowed to build after the Peace Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Two are preserved, this one and another in Jawor, the third one in Glogow is gone. Both Jawor and Swidnica are listed as UNESCO World Heritage.

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The lore of Martin Luther and the Evangelical confession entered Silesia already in the 1520s. In the 16th century a large part of the population was protestant and a protestant preacher was installed in the town parish church. Being under the rule of catholic Habsburg caused problems, though. The 30 Year War brought an enforced recatholization, then several changes of religious denomination depending who currently occupied the town and the area. The war hit the area incredibly hard. With the Westphalia Peace Treaty of 1648 Silesia was confirmed as part of Bohemia and hence under Habsburg rule. The peace treaty also contained the stipulation that religious denominations had to be returned to the state they had been on January 1, 1622 - in other words, freedom of faith for the Protestants. Habsburg's approach to this was restrictive, though. Nevertheless a special article was added to the peace treaty which allowed the Protestants in Glogau, Jauer and Schweidnitz to build one church each, but outside the boundaries of the town.

In 1652 the protestant community of Schweidnitz received permission to build a wooden church outside the town walls, under the condition that the construction works would not take any longer than one year and that the materials were nothing but wood, sand, straw and loam. Master builder Albrecht von Saebisch from Breslau designed a cross-shaped church. Works started in August 1656, and already in June 1657 the new church was inaugurated.

The result is the biggest half-timbered church in the whole of Europe, 44 metres long and 20 metres wide. The ceiling has a height of 15 metres. It accommodates 7,500 people and has 3,000 seats. From the outside it looks plain. The pattern of the timberframe is the only ornament of the facades. There is no steeple, only a tiny turret on top of the roof.

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The interior, however, is ornated with overwhelming splendour. Every bit of surface is covered in paintings or ornaments. Altar and pulpit were renewed in the 18th century from private donations in even more splendour. Just like we were a bit tired at the end of this long excursion day and our attention was not as good any more as it had been in the morning, I am now a bit tired of typing long descriptions. So let the photos speak for themselves…

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Posted by Kathrin_E 03:14 Archived in Poland Tagged churches silesia swidnica walbrzych Comments (0)

Wroclaw revisited (2): December 2015 - Christmas Market

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I love Christmas markets, and every year in Advent season I do a trip to somewhere new to see a new market. Usually within Germany. But after reading so much about the Christmas market in Wrocław I chose to return and check it out. This time I treated myself to a hotel round the corner from Rynek. The room faced an inner courtyard, so it was quiet, and I had close walking distances to about everything. nevertheless I got the public transport pass as usual, being the proud holder of a Wroclawian Urban Card. A local friend said that this almost makes me a real Wroclawian citizen, LOL. Using the tram network means freedom and saves a lot of walking.

In addition to spending time at the market, I had planned some off-the-beaten-path sightseeing and exploring at relaxed pace. I had an appointment with some colleagues from the project at university who wanted my expert knowledge (ha, ha). And I had a ticket for a concert at the newly opened concert hall!

Jarmark bożonarodzeniowy - Christmas Market

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The Christmas market fills approximately two thirds of Rynek: the southern and eastern and parts of the northern side, and extends into ulica Świdnica and ulica Oławska.

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The market is most beautiful at night. The square is beautifully decorated with coloured lights in garlands and star-shaped patterns.

Decorations in Poland tend to be more colourful than ours in Germany. Wrocław’s market has one colour concept, using two shades of violet and white, so even this extravagant colour does not feel like too much. The lights on the Christmas tree also have the same colours.

The giant Christmas Tree in front of the city hall was still turned off on my first day. Only on the first December weekend they turn on its lights, although the market had already been on since the second last week of November. On Thursday afternoon they switched it on for a test. Friday night saw the ceremony of illuminating the tree, which I missed because I was at the concert.

The tree is not a real tree, though, but a cone-shaped metal structure covered in fir twigs. Looking for such a huge fir would be unrealistic, and it would be a shame to cut such a majestic tree. The shape would not be this perfect either...

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The part on the northern side of Rynek is an international market with stalls selling food and knickknack from various countries round the world.

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In front of the city hall they have a Bajkowy Lasek, a „Fairytale Forest“ with showcases that display and tell fairytales (Brothers Grimm!), and there is a small rollercoaster and a merry-go-round for children.

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German Christmas markets were the model for Wrocław’s market. The biggest proof is the grzaniec stall in the shape of an oversized Erzgebirge pyramid. The market is certainly aimed at tourists as well as locals. I heard a lot of German spoken. Some stalls sell what qualifies as souvenirs. But there are also nice arts and crafts.

A lot of food items, including Polish specialities like meat products and cheese, and sweet can be bought. The cheese stalls put slices of smoked cheese on the grill and serve them hot with jelly, a delicious and filling snack. Street food also involves frytki holenderski (Durch fries), kiełbaski z Turingii (Thüringer grilled sausages), Hungarian Langos and so on.

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Wata cukrowa (cotton candy) in different colours is popular with children.
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This girl got a r-e-a-l-l-y big serving.

And of course there is grzaniec, Glühwein, mulled wine.

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There are various types of grzaniec on the menu. Grzaniec świąteczny is the classic, plain mulled wine. Then there is Grzaniec wrocławski, which is also made from wine but with I-do-not-know-what added, this was my favourite and much tastier than the plain one. The others are made from various fruit wines (cherry, blueberry, plum and so on), and they also have hot chocolate. I had little trust in the fruit wines as this sweet stuff can be real headbangers, so I did not try them but stuck with my grzaniec wrocławski. All these hot drinks are served in fancy mugs shaped like little boots. Every year they have a different colour. In 2015 it was pale purple. I brought one of them home to serve as coffee mug.

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What did I buy on the market? Some little wooden stars for my bunch of fir twigs that I have at home every Advent. A piece of pottery from Bolesławiec, namely a plate and cover for butter. Smoked cheese and żurawina (berry jelly) for our Polish class‘s Christmas party.

Christmas markets seem to be a relatively new tradition in Poland. Only big cities have them. I was amazed that even during peak times like Friday and Saturday when a German Christmas market would be packed wall to wall with people, it was still relatively empty here. Hanging out on a Christmas market is not (yet?) that popular as an evening activity.

Mikołajki Parade

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Only for the Mikołajki parade on the eve of St Nikolaus Day the market was really full. This was a rather noisy matter. Santa Claus came on a sleigh mounted on a cart which was drivn through the market. He was accompanied by a bunch of strange figures like a snowman with a long pointed nose that looked like a stork’s beak, a clown, a devil, and some huge winged creatures that were probably supposed to be angels but looked quite scary. The music they played was not exactly Christmassy either. Small kids must be frightened to no end of this Santa Claus and his entourage. Or are Polish kids tougher than their German counterparts? Perhaps. Hopefully Mikolaj is nicer when he comes down to meet the children after the parade…

There are more such events on other weekends in the run of the season, for example a parade of the Ice Queen, or one with Rudolph the Reindeer.

The market‘s colourful website is worth a look: http://www.jarmarkbozonarodzeniowy.com
It contains information about all events, the merchants, things to do, and has photo galleries and many entertaining extras. Click the flag for your preferred language.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 13:08 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw christmas_market Comments (0)

Gnomes at the Christmas Market

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What does Russell want for Christmas?

Gnomes populate the city all year round, but there is one among them who makes his appearance only in late November and December while the Christmas market is on. His name is Prezentusz. He is the one who fulfils all wishes. All you have to do is rub his hat three times and think of your wish, and it will come true at Christmas.

Prezentusz is just as small as the other gnomes. Finding him on the big crowded market takes a bit of searching. Hint: He is sitting on a box not far from the big Christmas tree!

There are two more gnomes roaming the market, rather oversized gnomes. These are not made from bronze but they are plushy and inside there is a live human being. They take part in a funny marketing campaign which is free for visitors and are always accompanied by a photographer. You can have your photo taken with them. The photos will appear in the „Souvenir“ gallery on the market’s website a couple of hours later, as soon as the photographer has downloaded them from his camera, sorted by date and time. You can then download your photo from the website, share and use it for free. It comes as a framed postcard with a text in Polish, German, or English according to the language version of the website that you used.

Here is ours..

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Posted by Kathrin_E 14:00 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw christmas_market Comments (0)

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