Friday, 20 January 2012

De ja vous Poland - Back in Wroclaw 1

(Yes. I am convinced that ice cream is a good thing at -5C. And for those with rudimentary Polish, Lody does have two meanings in that language.)

I have just returned from an excellent trip to Wroclaw. I was there last weekend, and despite the cold weather, it was good to be back in one of my favourite places in all of Poland. Home to cute bronze gnomes, cute trams and cute hotel receptionists, this is far more than just a cute little city. It is to be the European Capital of Culture in 2016, and it has a long history of over one thousand years. Oh, you want me to tell it...okay.

Founded by the Czechs (1000 AD is the founding of the diocese), before being taken over by the Germanic Luxembourg Dynasty in 1335. Wroclaw kept on growing under the rule of the (Austrian) Habsburg's in 1526. Unfortunately this was at a time when the whole Reformation shindigs was happening and it was not until Frederick V of Rhine decided to challenge this. However, the leader of the Rhine was defeated by the Austrians, the city lay in a kind of limbo. Ruled by Catholics, but strongly Protestant, the Dresden Accord was signed which spared Wroclaw and Silesia from the worse of the Christian turmoil spreading through Europe during the 17th Century.

But the invasions were not to end there. The genius King of Prussia, Frederick II (or The Great)decided that he wanted a piece of Silesia and Wroclaw was the prize he scalped from the Austrians. Until Napoleon, the city was rather pleasant and thrived. And then the French arrived before going back to Prussia.

Then you had the last one hundred years. During World War I, Wroclaw, or Breslau as it was known was a patriotic German city. And after Germany's defeat, it recovered well. And then World War II arrived. To be blunt, this was a nasty time in the city's history. The first concentration camps were built here, and the city's population of Jews and Polish (around 7% at the start of the 20th Century) was decimated. It also was one of the fiercest theaters of the Eastern Front that left the city in ruins.

After WWII it became a part of Poland, and what was left of the indigenous population was shipped off to what was fast becoming East and West Germany. In their place, many Polish refugees from what is today Belarus and Ukraine arrived and made the city their home.

Count the number of times the city changed hands. Nine times (not including the Russian invasion at the end of WWII). There is probably no other city, nay region in the whole of Europe that has been so hotly contested in the past 1000 years. As a result, the city was a melting pot or trade and people until the brutality of the Second World War put a stop to that. Today it is a thriving Polish City and thanks to the EU it is fast becoming a bit of a hot spot for visitors from around the continent with a steady supply of tourists flying in on budget airlines for weekends or more of fun. And those cheap flights to Stansted and Luton. Yeah, that's why I was there...again...

(The Rynek or Market Place of Wroclaw. Yes, it is cute! And for some reason, the Polish Christmas lasts until the end of January...makes the British penchant for shopping look tame...)

I must admit after the rush at Christmas, it was fantastic to be on the road again, even if it was for a few days. After all the hustle, hassle and bustle of the past year, it felt good to take some time out, to be happy, not have to please anyone. Just me enjoying myself in one of Poland's most picturesque towns...

(Rebuilding work around Wroclaw's main railway station. Not so picturesque. Yet.)

Well, Euro 2012 is coming, and this is going to be one of those destination points as the Group stages will be played here. If you care about football. I do not.

In reality, I just love the city. So much so, that I will be here month...what is it about Poland that keeps dragging me back here? Maybe I should broaden my horizons. Ahem...


magiceye said...

that is amazing history!

Nadeem | Azam Marketing said...

Great write-up CMD.

Wroclaw is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, certainly the central area - the outskirts is full of grey communist tower blocks.

I have been fortunate enough to visit it several times, including staying in a flat in the central square for a few weeks, and it is somewhere that everyone should visit one day.

el director! said...

@magiceye - Anepic history

@nadeem - The outskirts are sheer communist brutality. But surprisingly, the centre of town was beautifully restored by the Soviets. Agreed, it is a must-see European destination...