Panoramic view from Baszta Zamkowa
Church of Grace
Jelenia Góra is a small town in the far Southwest of Lower Silesia - in fact not so small, as it has grown to a population of 80,000 including the suburbs. Its name is Hirschberg in German, Jelenia Góra in Polish – an exact translation of the same name, which means “stag mountain”. Hence the stag in the town’s coat of arms.
It is the gateway to the famous Karkonosze (Riesengebirge) mountains. Its surroundings include the Valley of Palaces, where noble and rich people built their summer palaces in the 19th century.
Glass stag in Rynek
All this must be beautiful to visit. However, I only had a few hours and no car, so I focused on the town itself.
To me, the main attraction was the Church of Grace, one of the seven churches that the Habsburg rulers permitted to be built in Silesia after 1709. It is a fantastic example what Lutheran church architects can do. The interior is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
This church will be granted a separate blog entry to do it justice.
I am squeezing my report into this blog although I did not visit from Wrocław. In fact I came over for the day from the German side for the day, from Görlitz, where I was staying for a couple of days.
In recent years a direct train connection has been re-established, so it is easy to hop over for the day. Direct trains run only every 3-4 hours, though, and connections to Zgorzelec on the Polish side are not too frequent either, so this needs some preplanning.
Euro Nisa (Euro-Neiße) ticket is a day pass for all local transport in the triangle where Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic are bordering. It comes in a single and in a small group version.
Map and more details: http://www.zvon.de/en/EURO-NEISSE-tickets/
Prices differ from country to country, which I consider unfair. While in Poland it costs 25 PLN, in Germany it’s 13 €, twice as much. When boarding the train in Görlitz, however, there is no ticket machine in the entire station. Tickets must be bought from the conductor on board the train – and so I was charged the Polish price.
To look up connections, the German website www.bahn.com can be used. For connections in Poland, however, I’d rather use the Polish railways’ route planner in http://www.rozklad-pkp.pl/. (I am sure that there is a Czech one, too.)
Panorama of Jelenia Góra from the train
I caught the first direct train at seven something in the morning – luckily I was staying very close to the railway station in Görlitz – and arrived, after happily trying my Polish on the conductor (successfully) and a fellow passenger (with mixed success), in Jelenia Góra already at a quarter past nine. It was a cloudy day and the famous Karkonosze mountains remained invisible, only on the return journey I caught a glimpse of their silhouette in the distance. But it stayed dry for most of the day. The forecast had been much worse than the actual weather. Hence I still consider myself lucky.
The Lutheran Church of Grace is located halfway into town by the main street, so this was my first port of call. The church was to open at 10. There is loads to see around it, though, not only the sculptures and epitaphs on its walls but most of all the former cemetery. Burial chapels of the town’s leading families are lined up along its wall. The time until the church opened was thus well filled.
After seeing the church, I continued walking into the centre. Jelenia Góra is one of those typical small towns in Silesia. The old town has a more or less oval outline. Its centre is the rectangular main square (Rynek) with the town hall and a block of houses in the middle. The main parish church is not in Rynek but in its own square off its corner. Walls and ramparts surrounded the town, of which some leftovers are preserved.
The walk from the train station into town is really easy, all you have to do is follow ul. 1 Maja (First of May Street) straight into the centre. It leads past the Church of Grace, then transforms into a pedestrian zone with many shops.
Through Wojanowska gate it enters the old town. The medieval town gate has been substituted by a baroque one in the 18th century. The round tower next to it is a remain of the medieval fortification, as well as the church of Saint Anna next to it.
The little church has a baroque interior – as people were gathering to pray the rosary, I could not take photos inside, though.
Church of St Anna, Tower and gate - and a visitor with Australian origins
One block before reaching Rynek I came across an interesting bit of modern architecture: a rhythmic row of post-war townhouses, inserted into the grid of the medieval ground plan and adapted to its structure. They’re not one big block but rather small cubic entities that match the size of the historical houses.
Rynek, the main square, is just a short walk ahead. The square is surrounded by the gables of the wealthy citizens’ townhouses. Facades date from the late 17th and 18th century – reconstructed after damage in World War II, though. They all have arcades along the ground floor, so there is a covered passage round the whole square (and plenty of photo options). Shops and restaurants are hidden underneath. Benches and flower beds give it an inviting look. A pleasant spot to hang out.
The middle of the square is occupied by the town hall, a baroque building from the 1740s. It substituted an older predecessor which had collapsed. Inscriptions in Latin refer to the legendary foundation of the town in the year 1108 by a certain duke named Bolesław, nicknamed Krzywousty (Wrymouth) – poor fellow. The adjacent so-called “Seven Houses” (they’re really seven) have been occupied by the municipal administration about 100 years ago.
An old tram in the square, now hosting a souvenir shop, is a reminder of those times when trams rattled through the narrow streets of the old town.
The tourist information office is located in the southwestern corner of the square. A map of the town and a leaflet with a self-guided walking tour and detailed explanations of the sights can be obtained there for free.
Jelenia Góra is prepared for tourists. There are restaurants with outdoor seating, souvenir shops, stalls selling pottery from Bolesławiec, boards with explanations of the sights in four languages. However, on this October day it was rather calm. Cafes and restaurants were almost empty. I heard a lot of German in the streets, though. The town gets is share of day visitors from across the borders. In summer as well as during winter ski season it will certainly be much busier.
Billy Joe the little wombat explores the town
The western end of the old town has two historical towers, once part of the 15th century town fortifications. While Baszta Grodzka has been turned into a residential house and can be seen from the outside only, Baszta Zamkowa, the “Castle Tower”, is open to visitors.
The tower is open from 10 a.m. to late afternoon, the hour of closure depends on the season. Entry is free. There are neither guards nor tickets, you simply walk in and climb the stairs. The stairs are newly built from very solid and trustworthy looking timber. I was hesitant at first because I suffer from fear of heights, but despite being semi-transparent due to lack of risers, they were easily doable for me. Inside the tower, each stair is just half a round to cover one storey, then there is a solid platform before the next stair begins. Thus no scary depths underneath.
View from the first platform
The tower has two viewing platforms, or rather galleries. The first one is no higher than the roofs of the surrounding houses and the view is limited. The upper gallery rises above the rooftops and offers a nice view over the old town and the suburbs, over the surrounding hills and, in theory also to the Karkonosze mountains, as I guess from the signs that explain the panorama. Low clouds deprived me of the mountain view, so I can only assume that they are there...
Where are the mountains? ... where??
Returning into town, I arrived just in time for a quick look into the main catholic church, the large Basilica of Saint Erasmus and Pankratius (Bazylika świętego Erazma i świętego Pankracego). They close at midday for one hour between 1 and 2 p.m. and I arrived just in time for a quick look inside.
A convent is attached to the church, and one of the nuns is there to keep guard and explain the church to visitors. There was too little time left, though. I had considered to return in the afternoon and test my language skills (ha, ha), but in the end I opted for the museum instead – more below.
The church is a gothic basilica from the 14th century with a tall steeple that dominates the town’s skyline together with the tower of the city hall. Its interior has been refurbished in the 18th century and equipped with new altarpieces, pulpit and organ. The Lutheran Church of Grace was already finished, and the Jesuits, who were in charge of the catholic parish church, clearly had some ambition to compete with them. The main altar in particular has been designed and ornated with all possible splendour. Some interesting epitaphs and tombstones are attached to the outside of the walls.
Since I was alone and all restaurants looked rather deserted, I did not go for lunch but had a break on a bench in Rynek, eating and drinking from the supplies in my rucksack.
In the meantime the clouds had lifted and a bit of sunshine appeared.
The wombats and I took some more photos in Rynek and enjoyed observing a gang of sparrows roaming the square.
Jeleniogórskie wróbly na Rynku - the sparrow gang
As the next train back to Görlitz was only due some three hours later, the afternoon had to be filled. Studying the map of the town and the distances, I chose Muzeum Karkonoskie, a museum about the history and culture of the town and surrounding area. It is outside the centre, about 15 or 20 minutes walk from Rynek.
Art nouveau theatre
The walk leads along the ring road that surrounds the old town first, then through residential streets. These parts of the town have come through the war remarkably well. The streets are lined with villas and townhouses from the late 19th and early 20th century.
There is a remarkable amount of art nouveau architecture in Jelenia Góra (the museum just had an exhibition on this, in fact), including the theatre.
Muzeum Karkonoskie is based on the collection of the pre-war Riesengebirgsverein, whose aims were promoting tourism as well as wildlife conservation and the protection of cultural heritage. One of their treasures is a large collection of decorative glass from ancient to contemporary. The ground floor shows local culture in former centuries. A wooden peasant cottage from the mountains has been transferred and set up in the foyer. The exhibition on the town’s history shows, which was of particular interest to me, the original model of the Church of Grace by the architect Martin Frantz from 1709.
Part of the exhibition presents the new, difficult beginning of Jelenia Góra as a Polish city after World War II, the origins of the Polish settlers who moved in, and the communist era. However, I could not help but notice that history is presented in a rather one-sided way. There is no mentioning that the Poles from the lost territory in the East did not move out of their own free will.
There is further no mentioning of the expulsion of the previous, German, population at the end of the war. The German Silesians are reduced to folklore and folk art, and a bit of industry. Then, in 1945, they suddenly and magically disappear into thin air – poof. Gone they are.
Injustice remains injustice, violence remains violence, no matter who does it to whom and under what kind of excuses. It should be named as what it is.
I’d appreciate a fairer, more open-minded and more balanced approach to the different sides of history – like, for example, in the City Museum in Wrocław which I cannot recommend too much.
There are some more “howevers” to this museum. The first storey has a glass floor across the entrance hall. Impossible to cross for people with fear of heights. I wonder who designed this.
And I am no fan of overzealous museum guards who run after you and talk your ears off, inviting you to go here and there and see this and that. At some point I decided to leave earlier than I had planned because this lady was too much for me to bear.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9.00 – 17.00
Entrance fee: adults 10 PLN, children 5 PLN
On Wednesdays it’s free (and lucky me happened to visit on a Wednesday)!!!
Exhibition of decorative glass