Thursday, January 12, 2012

Culture Corner: Wroclaw

A couple of years ago I promised you a culture corner from Poland.  That ship never sailed, and probably so did your confidence in me.  Well, better late than never, I come limping into the harbor, hopefully with goods intact.  
The following is a photo introduction to the city I’ve lived in for more than two years now, Wroclaw.  Pronounced like ‘vrots-luv’, it’s located at the geographical center of Europe and home to nearly 750,000.  Though probably never to be known amongst the other giants of culture in Europe, Paris, Rome, London, and the like, Wroclaw nevertheless has its own charm and is certainly cosmopolitan.  There are regular theater and opera events, several museums and galleries, a historical city center to wander, and a host of cafes, bars, and restaurants to while away the hours.  German or Prussian for almost the entirety of the past millennium, the city and entire Lower Silesian region were part of Poland’s post WWII reparations.  As such, you’ll see a lot of German influence in the architecture and cityscape in the following photos.  Neither too big or too small, Wroclaw is a city I enjoy living in and hope the photos indicate as much.
  First the overview , literally.  This is Wroclaw’s city center.  In the foreground is the river Odra, along its banks are the city’s main university (on the right) and the city market (on the left), and in the background are numerous spires, red clay tile roofs, and towers representing the remaining influence of the Catholic church.  In fact, taking this photo I’m standing in the towers of the city’s cathedral.
Strangely enough, one of the things I like most about Wroclaw are its dwarves.  Each uniquely prepared by an artisan, these small cast iron fellows (no ladies, yet) appear in the oddest of places around the city.  Walking past a spot as you’ve done a hundred times, suddenly out pops a dwarf you’d simple never noticed.  Each performing some activity – usually associated with the building they are located near - they add character to a city that, in the wake of communism, needs a little color.  Each dwarf has its own name (these two are Grajek - like “Player” - and Spiewek -“Singer”) and if you want, you can buy a children’s map that will take you on a tour of the city’s famous places, dwarf by dwarf.
Part of the main city square, this is Plac Solny (Salt Plaza).  All of the building facades in this areas have one vibrant color or another, lime greens, sky blues, creamy yellows, and as you see, sometimes in cadmium pink.
This is the exact heart of Wroclaw, it’s old City Hall.  Gothic to the max, laws have been enacted, proclamations decreed, and people defenestrated from this building over the centuries of its existence.  Just slightly to the right of this photo is the old stone whipping post where criminals were once publicly punished.
In the hands of many over the years, the Jesuits to the Prussians, this is currently the University of Wroclaw, a place I attended for two years.  
 A street scene from the old city center, the Wroclaw Opera House on the right, the moon on the left.
There are things for the young to do as well, such as attending “black music” parties (despite that Poland is 97% Polish, the remaining three percent occupied by Gypsies and Ukrainians).  I guess that’s what allows them to be so vague in their advertising.  Oh, and in case you were unaware, the Europeans adore Michael Jackson.   …and Bon Jovi.

Sitting in the window of what was formerly the city jail, this is a sad dwarf, now watching as people enter the premises to enjoy the galleries, museum pieces, and café.  
Wroclaw has a botanical garden as well, this particular section being the backside of the Japanese Garden in early, early spring.
This is the interior of the market you saw in the first photo.  It has the freshest fruits and vegetables, flowers, candies, cold cuts, fish, and just about anything else you can think of can be found here, one of my favorite places in Wroclaw.
Not only on the ground or tucked in windows, dwarves are sometimes flying overhead attached to lampposts!
And lastly is Wroclaw’s cathedral, St. John’s.  Named after the city’s patron saint (his severed head part of the city’s sigil), the Gothic church is a relaxing sight in the evening when walking the quiet cobblestone streets of its island home.
That’s all I have from Poland for now.  Will post more in the near future.


  1. Jesse
    Great pictures and commentary. I like the dwarfs
    playing and singing and the one with the ball and chain.
    Uncle Dale

  2. Awesome photos. Hope I have an opportunity to check out the city someday.