Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wrocław

We're not really city people… actually to be honest, as a rule we do not like cities at all. But, every rule has it's excep-tions and the old centre of Wrocław is such an exception. We were told that Wrocław has a beautiful old centre that's worth seeing, so we did. Getting there proved easier than we thought as well; riding in a city, any city, is not my favourite pastime so we took the… tram! 

The tram in Wrocław is an easy system. In quite a few cities worldwide the public transport system is incompre-hensible for a foreigner and it requires a bewildering array of so called smart-pay systems, which you can only get at certain points. Not in Wrocław. First there is an easy to understand and simple black and white scheme that gives clear and easy info on where the trams go, and payment works via an easy Visa swipe. It's cheap too.


The history of Wroclaw is a complex one as over the centuries it has been part of Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, Austria, Prussia and Germany. Probably for that reason alone the same city has been referred to as Wrotizlava, Wrezlaw, Prezla, Breslaw and Preßlau to name but a few. In Latin documents it's recorded as Wratizlava or Vratislava, following the Czech spelling.
After WW II it became part of Poland due to border changes. Before that Wrocław was known as Breslau and considered a model city for Hitler's Nazi movement. A staggering 200,000 people in Breslau voted for the Nazi's… As Breslau was also out of range for the Allied blanket bombing, it became a sort of safe haven at the end of the war. When the Russians eventually reached the fortified stronghold in the winter of 1944/45, it became one of the bloodiest sieges of WW2. An estimated 100,000 people simply froze to death and 70 Soviet tanks virtually completely destroyed the city in a bombardment that lasted almost two months.

After WW2 Breslau was re-badged Wrocław and any historic traces to it's German past removed. Even the Germans still living in Wrocław were deported and Wrocław became a Polish city, albeit under strong Soviet supervision. Traces to the WW2 period can still be found today, but you sort of have to know where to look as a lot of effort has been done to remove them.

When both the Odra and Olawa rivers overflowed in 1997, a third of Wrocław's centre flooded. It was the worst flooding in central Europe since WW2. The damage that flooding has done is in some parts still visible today, either as actual damage or markers of how high the water stood. Two years later Poland joined NATO and in 2004 it joined the EU although Poland kept it's currency, the Zloty.

The Wrocław we found is, luckily, very different from it's bloody and nasty past. Today it is a beautiful city with a very friendly atmosphere. Of course the summer-like weather we enjoyed while we were there helped, but it is more than that. The old historic and colourful buildings give it a special feel. To me the buildings give it a strong German feel. Not that there is anything wrong with that but eradicating all traces to it's German past has clearly failed.



Simply sitting on a bench and watch the many colourful people walk past is a sight to see. There are people selling all kinds of things on the street. From artists making wood carvings to youngsters in the most ridiculous outfits trying to lure you to a restaurant. We also witnessed a WW2 type of memorial and re-enactment. Although we're not much into war or re-enactments, this one was simple but tastefully done. 

The Tumski bridge is perhaps the clearest indication of Wrocław's distantiation of its bloody past. The Tumski bridge is also known as the lovers' bridge, where lovers 'seal' their bond by attaching a padlock to the bridge and then trowing the key into the Odra river. The bridge has thousands of padlocks attached to it, some colourfully painted, others decorated with a heart or other amorous symbols. I wonder how many keys are in the river… I also wonder how many relationships survive the padlocks… still, it's a nice symbol of affection.



We really enjoyed Wrocław. The Olympic stadium has a simple campground from which the above mentioned tram will take you to the city centre in about 20 minutes. At the end of the day two motorcyclists from Germany turned up on the campground. Looking for a suitable spot he hit a hidden tree stump with his bike… as if that wasn't bad enough, the tree stump was home to a huge wasp nest… Within seconds the motorcyclist was engulfed in wasps, angry wasps! He sped away but the wasps followed him just as quick. More wasps came from the disturbed nest, which assumed the second motorcyclists was the one that disturbed them, so she came under attack as well and sped after her husband. More wasps came up but the motorcyclists were gone by now, so they came for us! Jeanette was stung on her head and we fled into the tents.



'I feels like someone hit my head with a hammer' she said. Such a small little wasp can sting pretty nasty as we found out the next days. More on which in the next post.


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