A Travellerspoint blog

March 2017

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)

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 some days later, 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.

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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)

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