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City of Gnomes

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The Professor

There is a second city in the city, inhabited by little people, and a second society that happily lives among the Wrocławians. More and more of them are moving in every year. They work in various crafts and professions, they have their own infrastructure including post office and bank, and they enjoy their leasure time just as much as humans do. The representants appear at many street corners or doorways.
Yes I am talking about the gnomes. In Wrocław they are known als Krasnale or Krasnoludki. They are bronze figurines, approx. 30 cms high, which can be found in many spots in the old town and also in other quarters.

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The Watchman

The origins of the gnome figures are said to be related to the Orange Alternative, a protest movement of students in 1980/81 that used the gnome as their symbol. Other locals told me, though, that this is a rumour and they are just a tourist attraction. Decide for yourselves what you want to believe!
In 2013 the total number of gnomes was given as about 250. New ones appear all the time. Most are sponsored by businesses, shops etc. who chose the motif and have the little statue created by an artist. Other gnomes refer to the historical significance and tradition of the place whre they are located, like the miller on Wyspa Piasek or the butcher in ul. Jatki.

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The Fire Brigade

If you want to go ‘hunting’ for them you can buy a map of the city with their locations marked at the tourist information and at souvenir and book shops. The map also has pictures of them and explanations about each gnome’s name and occupation in three languages including English. There are new ones all the time and not all of them are registered, hence the map is not complete.
I got myself the map but I think that spotting them by coincidence is more fun. Watch out for people who take photos of and/or pose for photos at weird street corners where there seems to be nothing to take a photo of... there surely is a gnome involved.

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Papa Krasnal

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„Papa Krasnal“, the daddy of all gnomes, was the first gnome statue erected in the city in 2001. With him, the gnomes started invading the city. However, this wasn't planned. In fact this statue has a much more serious background than his ever-growing offspring, it is the memorial to the Pomarączowa Alternatywa, the Orange Alternative.
In 1981, while Poland was under martial law, an anti-communist protest movement of formed in Wrocław and other Polish cities, called the Orange Alternative. Their symbol was the dwarf, which appeared in graffiti all over the city. 20 years later the statue was erected as a memorial to their activities, in a location where many of said activities had started.

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The dwarf is standing on top of an oversized fingertip. Compared to that, in natural scale he would not be taller than a few mm. Unlike his colleagues he is naked (ladies, note the view from the back, LOL - what a bum!) except for the pointed hat.
In summer 2014 I could not find him in in the place where he was supposed to be. The statue had been taken away due to construction works on the underground passage and the tram stop But at my second visit in October 2015 construction works were (almost) finished and he was back where he belongs. The exact location is at the crossing of ul. Świdnica and ul. Kazimierza Wielkiego, northeastern corner.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 17:18 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (1)

Royal Palace and City Museum

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Street front in ul. Kazimierza Wielkiego

The Royal Palace takes us back to the Prussian era in the city's history. In the First Silesian War in 1741 Friedrich II („Frederick the Great“) conquered Silesia and Breslau, as it was named then, became part of Prussia. To have a residence in the Silesian capital Friedrich bought this palace from a local nobleman and extended it as to befit the ambitions of a king.
Nowadays the palace hosts departments of the city museum: the pemanent exhibitions „1000 years of Wrocław“ and the art collections since 1850, in addition to that there are temporary exhibitions.

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Zoom view from Skytower

I highly recommend the exhibition about the history of the city to anyone who is even remotely interested in this topic as it is very well done. All explanations are trilingual (Polish, German and English) and you can also obtain an audioguide should you want to. All eras from the beginnings in the middle ages to the socialist era and its end are covered and presented room by room, illustrated with characteristic objects, often pieces of high quality and value.
This exhibition also includes the 'historical' rooms (of course it is all reconstructed) of the Prussian kings in the beletage.

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A small rococo garden has been reconstructed which can be entered from inside the palace. It looks a bit alien among the surrounding run-down socialist buildings and onstruction sites, though...
The art collection is still not very big as they only started it recently and plan to enlarge it slowly slowly. It assembles works by artists who studied and/or worked in the city. There are some interesting artworks among them. By the time I got there I was a bit too tired to really appreciate the paintings properly, I'm afraid.

Practical Hints:

Entrance fee: The good news is that the permanent exhibitions are free. Only for temporary exhibitions there is an entrance fee of 15 PLN, and there might be a small charge for the hire of the audioguide.
Opening hours: 10.00 to 17.00 on weekdays, to 18.00 on weekends, closed on Mondays.
Directions: ul. Kazimierza Wielkiego - three blocks south of Rynek

Posted by Kathrin_E 17:35 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (1)

Searching for German Breslau

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Inscription of a carpet shop („Teppiche“)
that reappears under post-war paint,
corner ul. Kotłarska/ul. Szewska

Until 1945 Wrocław/Breslau was a German-speaking city. After the war many inscriptions in German language were erased. The new regime wanted to extinct the German past. Using the German name „Breslau“ was forbidden in the socialist era.
Nowadays, however, my German-speaking Polish friends happily use the name Breslau when they talk about their city in German. I was informed that the name of the city is and has always been „Breslau“ in German and „Wrocław“ in Polish through all eras, while the original name was „Wratislawia“ which is actually Czech. There has not been a renaming after World War II, but the different names are simply translations. Modern Poles find it silly if modern Germans say „Wrocław“ instead of „Breslau“ – even worse if said Germans are not even able to pronounce it correctly. Okay, since then I have not been hesitating any more to use the German names when I’m discussing places in my language.

Traces of German Breslau can be found all over the city. There are of course the big sights like the churches with their many grave monuments, epitaphs and inscriptions, there are the historical objects on display in the museums, there is the old Jewish cemetery. Then there are the hidden, forgotten or reappearing little items with inscriptions in German language. Wrocław belongs to Poland and is a Polish city now, but history cannot simply be erased.

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Manhole cover from the pre-war era on a shaft for district heating. As far as I know, this is the only preserved one that still says „Breslau“. The location is plac Legionów close to the corner with ul. Kościuszki.

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Erased German inscriptions on tombstones at St Barbara church

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Inscription and portrait busts on a neoclassical house in ul. św. Mikolaja, commemorating the founders of the pharmacy at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit

Acknowledgement: I owe the major part of this wisdom to Stefan - thank you for the special tour!!!
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Traces of World War II

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Scars on a factory building in ul. Sienkiewicza

I do not count myself among the so-called „history buffs“ who believe in „military glory“ and regard World War II sites like a theme park or the setting of some movie plot. We are discussing reality here!

It is hard to imagine from a modern point of view what went on in Breslau during those last weeks of the war when the city was declared a Fortress and systematically destroyed, and when, a bit later, the remaining German population was expelled and forced to leave the city within a few hours.

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Unexploded shell stuck in the wall
of the cathedral's southern spire

The attack of the Sowiet army came from the south and west, not from the eastern side as expected. The southern and western quarters of the city are destroyed almost completely. In the north and east you will find older qaurters with a notable amount of pre-war architecture, often in bad shape but still there.
Wrocław is full of remains from the war. Traces can be found all over the city if you know where to look and what to look for. 70 years later there are still occasional ruins. Air shelters are said to be underneath many squares and buildings - in some places their ventilation shafts remain visible. The most spectacular „souvenir“ is probably the unexploded bomb which is stuck in the spire of the cathedral.
Noticing these remainders, and realizing how many there are, is quite scary...

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Air shaft of a bomb shelter in a backyard behind plac Kościuszko
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Bomb shelter in the basement of a building on Ostrów Tumski, original grid with German inscription „Luftschutz“

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The proud Palais Hatzfeld - or what is left of it

Soviet Military Cemetery

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The Soviet military cemetery on the southern edge of the city is a remain of the fights around „Fortress Breslau“ in spring 1945, at the very end of World War II.
650 soldiers of the Red Army are buried here, among them five „heroes of the Soviet Union“. Young men who had had dreams and plans for their lives and lost it all in a bloody war for the sake of some ideology. When will mankind ever learn?
The graveyard is well taken care of, according to what my guide told me it must have recently been refurbished and the tombstones renewed.
Location: in the angle between Aleja Karkonoska and Ulica Wyscigowa
Access: is free and open, at least during the daytime

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Dolnośląski Urząd Wojewódzki: A Nazi Building

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One piece of Nazi architecture is preserved in Wrocław’s cityscape, and in a rather prominent position. The large building on the Oder bank next to Most Grunwaldzki is one of the rare relics of the Nazi era.
The sheer size and the porticus in the middle of the facade with its simple shape and square pillars are typical elements of NS architecture, which often has a touch of monstrosity. The slight curve of the concave facade, which follows the bend of the river bank behind the building, is the one extra feature that makes the architectural design interesting.
The building is now the seat of Dolnośląski Urząd Wojewódzki, the administration of the district of Lower Silesia, of which Wrocław is the capital.

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Fountain of Memories: Monument to the Expellees

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The fountain is meant as a monument to the expellees and refugees at the end of World War II - the German population of Wrocław and Silesia who were forced to leave their homes and the country within a few days or even hours. Slowly slowly in Poland there is more open-mindedness and understanding to the fact that this chapter of history involved injustice, violence and suffering, too. The monument is nevertheless rather hidden, not clearly labelled, and probably hardly ever noticed by passers-by.

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It consists of a small basins with four little fountains that are turned on and off automatically every 30 seconds or so. In the water there are two oversized key rings with thrown away keys. The bundle reminds of the few personal items that the expelled were able and allowed to take with them. I am not exactly sure what to think of the inscription, „Panta rhei“, all is in flow.
Location: off ul. Czysta (not in plac Czysty as stated in some guidebooks but round the corner) in front of a small office building.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 01:36 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw breslau Comments (1)

The Jewish Cemetery

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This graveyard is a magical, mystic place. This is the world of the defunct and we, the living visitors, are intruders. That’s how it feels, almost unreal.

This is perhaps the place in Wrocław that most impressed me.

The Jewish cemetery is a relic of the German era of the city when the Jewish community was large and influential and counted many wealthy businesspeople and renowned scientists among their members. Most inscriptions are in German and of course Hebrew, very few in Polish language. It got through the Nazi era and the war remarkably little harmed. The Nazis half-heartedly smashed some tombstones but the majority remained intact.

Wealthy families had burial vaults and mausoleums in long rows along walls, some shaped like neoclassical temples, others in „oriental“ or even Egyptian style. Everything is overgrown by ivy and other plants, and shaded by trees. The stones are crumbling. Some paths lead through but everything in between is a jungle and unpassable.

Nature is free to do as it likes, since the Jewish culture knows no 'gardening' on graves as the Christians of Central Europe do. The Dead, once buried, are left in peace.

The tombs of a few prominent people like the politician Ferdinand Lassalle or the parents of Edith Stein are signposted, otherwise it is up to you to find your way and discover.

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A knowledgeable local friend had originally offered to take me there, but we abandoned the plan because of rainy weather. So in the end I went by myself, and to be honest, I was glad that I did. The cemetery is best experienced alone and in silence. Discussions and explanations would have interfered with atmosphere and sentiments.

The Jewish cemetery is administered by the city museum nowadays, surrounded by walls and fences, and well kept. That means it is not only protected from vandalism, but also perfectly safe to roam all by yourself.

The graveyard will be even more impressive in autumn when the leaves are falling and timid sunrays search their way through the last bits of morning fog ­- but even on a sunny summer’s day it had an amazing flair and atmosphere.

Let the photos speak for themselves.

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Practical hints:

Getting there: Don’t try to walk from the city centre, it is quite far. Take tram 9 or 15 to „Uniwersytet Economyczny“, from there it is a walk of merely two minutes in southward direction on the right side of the main street.

Entrance fee: 10 PLN for adults. I do not remember how about concessions, but there certainly are some.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 07:48 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (2)

Skytower: On Top of the World

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The most recent addition to Wrocław's skyline is impossible to overlook. Total height is 212 metres. It was actually supposed to be even taller, more than 250 metres, but the economical crisis in 2008 caused a slight reduction of plans.

The Skytower was completed in 2012 and is the tallest building not only in Wrocław but in the whole of Poland, at least concerning the height up to the roof (the Culture Palace in Warsaw is taller, but only because of the antenna on top - this is important to Wroclawians).

I hear from local friends that among Wrocławians the tower has a nickname which should not be said aloud; use your imagination...

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The investor behind it is one of the richest people in the country, Leszek Czarnecki. This for the lovers of superlatives! Some apartments are still available, so if you are looking for a home with a view and have money to blow…

The Skytower is a city of its own for about 4.000 people - one could spend a whole life in there without ever leaving it.

The tower contains luxury apartments. The „sail“ serves as office buildings. The lower parts contain a shopping mall, doctors studios, fitness club and just about everything. There is even a jogging trail on the roof for daily exercise.

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Note the sculpture outside the main entrance, entitled „Profile of Time“. The sign says Dalí; and it is a genuine Dalí indeed.

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The 49th floor at the top of Skytower is a public viewpoint which offers a fantastic view of the city. The fast lift takes you to the top in about 50 seconds, something like one second per floor. I have only been up at midday - it must also be impressive at sunset and at night. The view covers not the full round, because the observation deck is located in the „cut off“ top part, but about 270° in total. It is all indoors behind solid glass. The windowpanes go down to the floor, so people with a fear of heights may need a bit of courage.

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On a clear day, and since I stayed fo four weeks I was able to pick a day with fine weather, the view is fabulous. It feels like standing on top of the world, with the whole city and surrounding landscape spread out at your feet. The air was clear enough to take zoom photos of individual buildings in the old town and by the river, a couple of kilometres away.

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Practical Hints:

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Opening hours: Time slots are given from 9.00 (Sunday: 10.00) to 21.30, every 30 minutes.
Entrance fee (as in 2017):
on weekdays: adults 12 PLN, kids and concessions 8 PLN
on weekends: adults 16 PLN, kids and concessions 10 PLN
Time slots: Tickets are sold for time slots every 30 minutes. You then have half an hour in total to enjoy the view including the lift ride up and down. They are strict, there is no staying behind on the observation deck to extend your stay.

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There are 50 tickets available for every time slot. So you may not necessarily be able to go up immediately. Plan enough time. You can go shopping in the mall and have a coffee and snack (only American style coffee bars, unfortunately), or buy a ticket for a later time in the day and come back.
Punctuality: Be at the lift a few minutes before your time slot. Late comers will not be taken up any more. Reservations are possible for groups only (see website), not for individuals!
Getting there: Tram 2, 6, 7, 14, 17, 20, 24 to „Wielka“ - no need to look for stop names, though, as this tram stop is next to the tower and you have to try really hard to miss this building.
Websites: http://www.skytower.pl
http://galeria.skytower.pl/punkt-widokowy.html

Some zoom views taken from the observation deck

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7170230-Zoom_Views_from_Skytower_Wroclaw.jpg View towards Ostrów Tumski

7170233-Zoom_Views_from_Skytower_Wroclaw.jpg Churches, churches, churches

7170236-Zoom_Views_from_Skytower_Wroclaw.jpg Most Grunwaldzki

7170237-Zoom_Views_from_Skytower_Wroclaw.jpg Millennium Bridge

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Posted by Kathrin_E 03:15 Archived in Poland Tagged wroclaw Comments (0)

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