Wrocław and Poznań

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May 27th 2018
Published: May 27th 2018
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Post POW trail bloggin' in Poland.

We’re strangely demob happy, but adrift, after completing the main purpose of our trip (See previous blogs).

But on to Wrocław, pronounced bvroaswov as I’ve earnestly tried to utter over the last few days. Wrocław is a big city to the west of Kraków. Its city centre / old town is a mixture of ancient buildings, 1900’s Art Nouveau and Soviet Apartment blocks all sharing their 21st moment.

Our first stop, of course, is the Botanical Garden. Indeed we have chosen our smart, brand new apartment, not for it's evident shine and gloss, but because it’s just as very the road from the BG.

And BG is to be recommended. Lots of signage so that you can check out the stuff you don’t know, ponds, bridges, trees, ice cream, sculpture, landscaping and more.

The next day we found our feet on a circular trip around the Targ (market)’ Stary Rynek (Old Square), White Crane Synagogue (which was closed), Restaurant by the Synagogue (yum) canal garden walks, Cathedral and home.

We then met up with Penny Grennam from Hexham (TSF pal) in the Old Square to watch a rock concert to commemorate the opening of the Hard Rock Café in Wrocław. The band was ‘Conga Line Candy Shop’. A large Candy line-up: 3 guitars, bass guitar, keyboard, kit, three piece horn section, two female backing singers and lead singer. It was a Polish fusion of Madmess, Bad Manners and the Specials all performed in Louis XIV costume with big lollipops. Good fun, very tight, but after 1020 minutes you wish that ska had other places to go…..

We went for a beer and then met up with a Polish actress pal, Mariae, who had just finished teaching at 8.15pm, and was in the process of packing to leave her flat at the end of the week….. full points for turning up…..

Lovely time with acquaintances now friends thrown together by a shared exceptional experience.

The next day we spent time with Polish 19C and 29C paintings in the Wrocław National Museum. What a whopper of a place. Endless pictures, confirming that plenty of good stuff went on outside France at the turn of the century 19C to 20C.

Then around a similarly comprehensive collection of European Art from the same era. Few big names, but a satisfying spectrum of stuff.

Mariae and Penny joined us for lunch in a restaurant garden on Woldoninsky by the canal. Then to the Synagogue, open today. A beautifully restored building, recently finished. It was spare on Krystal Nacho in 1939 because it adjoins lots of other properties.

It’s now a cultural centre next to the function ‘Small Synagogue’ now used for festival times, concerts and conferences.

The exhibition on 1st and 2nd floors avoided the exhibition of treasures, rather telling the story of Wrocławian Jews, the place of women in Jewish church, politics and family, and exhibitions about other marginalised groups, e.g. The Rwandan Homicide.

The back to the apartment passing numerous bronze garden dwarves in brass who appear all over the shop acting out site specific roles (e.g banker outside a bank).

One on a motorbike sat outside a church with a penitence bridge, way up high, between its two tall spires.

Marion spent a second spell in the Botanico whilst I joined Mariae's

Choir of a dozen or so, singing with gusto. Georgian, Polish and other gutsy stuff and full throated top volume. An exhilarating end to a long day. I dashed home on the tram and munched a Spanish Omelette en famille.

Then off to Poznan in our little Suzuki car. The best motorway we’ve been in until a third of the way through the trip it petered out leaving the last 100 Km to lorry filly two way traffic.

But within three hours we were tangling with car parking in the Red Metered Zone’ of Poznan and munching on slices of delicious pizza in a small establishment by our new apartment.


Poznan has a different feel to Wrocław. It’s hilly. It's traffic is less frantic. There’s lots of renovation work going on: relaying pavements, building and new housing developments.

There’s a large stock of Art Nouveau era architecture in the west and south of the city. 1900 -1910. There are flourishes of Jugendstil decoration but it’s understated here, it’s the overall form and structure that points clearly to this movement, but less asymmetry than in Helsinki’s town houses, e.g.

The Rynek, the square follows the pattern of Polish cities with a town hall plonked in the centre of a large square bordered by smart buildings. In this case the fascias are highly decorated each building with its own colour scheme and story to tell.

Before noon the Rynek filled with school trips who sat at the foot of the Town Hall tower and clocks, which face south. And after the customary Polish four bells for the quarters of the hour two animatronic goats appeared from opening doors. Initially parallel they then turn and confront one another. Where upon the children count the twelve butts as the goats clash and the bells chime. Icing on the cake is a trumpeter who plays at each of the corners of the tower to herald the noon.

I don’t think that children are marched down to square every day for this ritual, but there was a couple of a hundred there today.

Out west is the Zamek Cultural Centre. Built in 1905 for the last German Emperor Wilhelmina ll in granite and sandstone, it's built in a baronial Arts and Crafts style intent upon portraying power as if in a folk story. After WWl it became a presidential residence.

During WWll the castle was converted by the Nazis to become Adolf Hitler’s residence, but he never actually got to see the interior conversion. The University and municipality have used it in Soviet times and 1960 it started to house studios, clubs and performances.

This tradition continues with numerous galleries and spaces in the huge and impressive building, which we were allowed to wander around without any apart the security and no entrance fee.

Our favourite room exhibited the work of Małgorzata Myślińska working with the publishing collective Ostrøv, as part of the project “Photo Parlour”, completed as part of the art residency programme at ZAMEK Culture Centre in Poznań (February-April). The project consisted in making an inventory of equipment at photo parlours and examine the collective imagination which they yielded.

She had visited many Polish photographic studios where back drops which tell a story are still in use. Pastoral and rural scenes, it seems are the most popular fantasy, mostly, perhaps because city folk use the ‘photo parlours’ and express a desire to be out of the city. A trend adopted in the 90’s when freedom of expression became tangible, many people wished to portray themselves as bourgeois, with Roman columns, fine furniture and other props painted as backgrounds for clients wishing portraits.

In the New Castle there’s a cinema and a puppet/animation theatre.

Internally it is grand in scope, knowingly tasteful as it reveals the money that had been spent on it at different times.

After salad lunches we took the tram to Citadel Hill to the North of the city where the final moves of the Battle of Posnań took place.

The city (called Posen in German) lay in the western part of Poland which had been annexed by Nazi Germany following their invasion of Poland in 1939, and was the chief city of Reichsgau Wartheland.

By 1945, the Red Army advances on the Eastern Front had driven the Germans out of eastern Poland as far as the Vistula River. The Red Army launched the Vistula-Oder Offensive on 12 January 1945, inflicted a huge defeat on the defending German forces, and advanced rapidly into western Poland and eastern Germany.

Certain cities which lay on the path of the Soviet advance were declared by Hitler to be Festungen (strongholds), where the garrisons were ordered to mount last-ditch stands. Hitler hoped the Festung cities could hold out behind Soviet lines and interfere with the movement of supplies and lines of communication.Poznań was declared a Festung in January 1945. The city was defended by 40,000 German troops from a great variety of units including Volkssturm, Luftwaffe ground forces, police, and highly motivated officer candidates.

The defenders made use of some of the surviving fortifications that had been built during Prussian rule in the 19th century. The Fort Winiary citadel is now a park with many different leisure areas, café and a military museum complete with old Polish tanks, vehicles and aircraft.

But there is still a lot of brickwork to be seen built to last in bastions around the hill. Also star-shaped moat and rampart systems that we’ve seen throughout Europe’ particularly on the west coast of France.

But the Russian army was victorious in Poznań before too long.

The town was entered on the 12th January and a month later there was only the Citadel left to take. And by 22nd February it was in the bag.

Our favourite part of the Citadel was an installation of cast iron headless figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz her largest outdoor work, called “The Unrecognized Ones”. Something about the juxtaposition of figures in a open space evokes all sorts of emotions. Particular individuals get left behind or look on, knowingly. It reminded me of the weebles on the southern bank of the mouth of the Tyne: ‘Conversation Piece’ by the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz in 1999. But ‘The UO’s’ has more to say about power, and may be chaos, because it’s on a grander scale.

We abandoned a potential visit to the Cathedral on the walk back, through lack of stamina and flopped into chairs back in the apartment after another 10 Km plus walking day.

Evening meal in the splendid Manekin restaurant which shares our apartment building. Wholemeal and Green Pancakes with substantial fillings, sauces and accompanying salads. Washed down with a carafe of red wine. Yum.


Today we watched Thumbelina staged in the animation theatre space in the Zamek complex, Teatr Animacji.

It was as lesson for any performer to use more than just language to tell a story. It’s important to express the emotions and themes of a story in varied and physical ways.

The company’s production values were high, great costumes, beautiful sets and employing eight actors (!) Who performed to about 180 kids.

But with scarce understanding Polish I got little from the piece, the story telling was all dialogue based. It also has to be said the plot is a bit flakey as a choice for a group of 7-9 year olds. It’s something like this:

Thumbelina is tiny and a bit lonely.

Lots of animals: A toad tries to kidnap her to marry her son. A fish and a stag beetle help her escape. A fieldmouse looks after as the winter takes its grip. But the mouse is over keen to match-make between Thumbelina and her pal the Mole.

A swallow is at death’s door but Thumbelina revives the bird, and they fly together to a meadow where fairies propose to her a liaison with a reluctant fairy prince…… who is won round.

Anyway, this is all gained from a read of Wikipedia.

The show certainly featured a woman with a tiny version of herself, another woman (a friend? Her mother?), two frogs, a mouse and a blind mole. There was a fancy bit with a man in a top hat with horns.

A bird turned up and some folks with wings introduced a hero type who didn’t fancy Thumbelina, but then seemed to click after a bit…..

The music helped a bit to entertain, but the basic sense of story was lost on me.

Whereas in Kiev we saw an actors-and-puppets ensemble carefully crafting a tale about geese who kidnap a girl, and her brother’s quest to find her and bring her back. It was physical, it used scale, a variety of puppets and a windmill device which featured when geese were flying, relationships built between the characters with emotion expressed and were certainly more than wordy arguments and whimsy.

Anyway, the Poznań children at the show seemed sit without much protest with occasional engagement when the Mole was about. At the very end during the applause, with music playing, lights danced around the audience and there was a ripple of excitement from the children that I wish the narrative had evoked.

We went on an Art Nouveau hunt after lunch and found a bit of razzle and dazzle in the decoration of some of the exteriors in the Jeżyce district to the west of the city. If WWWl hadn’t got in the way, I wonder where the Style would have developed to become

Then to the Botanical Garden (ovgorod) on a tram.

It was well presented with labelling in certain areas. But compared to Wrocław’s joyful display it was a bit lack lustre. Growth seemed two or three weeks behind Wrocław, needed a good watering.

In the evening we ate pasta in a small restaurant next door to the apartment, then walked to ‘The Blue Note’, Poznań’s Jazz Club.

We had misread the poster and the expected accordion, bass, guitar and percussion quartet turned out to be a Led Zepelin clone.

The music was well played but didn't cut mustard with me. My ears have heard plenty enough minor blues scale riffs already, in life. We watched the first half and headed home.


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