One of the things that is pretty mind-boggling in Wroclaw (and many, many other cities in Europe as well) is just how destroyed it was (and they were) after World War II. Poland was occupied by Germany, so it felt the full force and wrath of the Allied forces who did a damn fine job of spreading death and destruction in the region and thereby stopping the Nazis. But, like a great dinner party with a lot of people that goes long into the night, the clean-up was a b*tch. And so it was with Wroclaw. The locals help us visitors get an idea of the devastation with “before and after” photos all over town that show what you are looking at THEN and NOW. (I know Vienna does this as well.) So here’s a THEN and NOW photo of the University, the next stop on our walking tour:
Now remember, class, from yesterday’s lesson that it was the folks who had been living in Breslauu/Wroclaw who were expelled and the folks who had been living in Lemberg/Lvov/Lviv who came to replace them. So it was the job of those new residents, those displaced and dislocated refugees battered by years of conflict, who ended up rebuilding their new city, brick by brick, building by building….the place that hadn’t even been theirs. It truly speaks to the commitment and determination of the Polish people.
Matt drilled into us that this university “has the longest Baroque facade in Europe – 174 meters.” That’s nearly 600 feet, folks, and that’s a lot of stucco, as you can see from the above shot. But it’s the inside of the university, also lovingly rebuilt and restored over the past 50 years, that’s a real jaw-dropper. Here’s just the entrance staircase..it’s a wonder there aren’t more twisted ankles:
At the top of those stairs, turn right, and you will find yourself in the interior of the Leopoldinum Auditorium, where convocations and other important functions have been taking place since 1702. The robes used by the faculty here are simply breathtaking – different colors for different disciplines, ermine (yes, ermine) collars, heavy sterling badges, scepters, the whole Harry Potter thing on steroids. Imagine a whole university of them marching somberly into this room:
By this time, Matt knew that all the beauty, to say nothing of all the facts, had made us peckish. He thoughtfully gave us 15 minutes to recover at a local open market, the only one left in the city. I love these places and try to find them in every city I go. You can get produce, meats, cheeses, breads, and other comestibles as well as prepared foods (the cheapest pierogi in town, apparently), a well-brewed cappuccino, then change some money, go to the loo, buy a phone card, the whole meal deal.
After that brief refresher, it was back to the culture trail. Our next top was Ostrow Tumski, Cathedral Island, which had been under the sole control of the bishop, his own little paradise free from kingly oversight, for a long time. Before:
Okay, so enough with the buildings for a while. I really enjoyed the history and the churches and the palaces, but I also wanted to get away from all the pretty stuff and see a bit more of what the locals live with. And it’s a curious mix, to be sure. I always pause when taking pictures of things that aren’t really very picturesque, because everybody KNOWS they’re not very picturesque and they probably wander what the heck I’m doing taking pictures of them. So I’m very careful. But here’s a piece of street art on a non-beautiful, non-restored building that gives you a very different sense of Wroclaw and Poland in general:
Nearby, a shot that gives me a sense of the layers of the culture, the clash of old and new:
So here you have, if you can see it, a cozy little traditional restaurant, Kuchinia, under the brick arch, and then, towering over it (“No limits!”) the young, hip, techno-enticing fantasy of the new age, a cinemaplex, reaching high above the street below, luring potential clients with its Alpine allure. (I’m just not sure the two above are buying any of it.)
And finally, just when you think you’ve finally escaped the clutches of your old life, you go into what used to be the city’s finest department store (and which has sadly become a slick Euro-trash boutique mall) and what do you see? Just look…
Sigh. There’s no escaping the dominance of American capitalism. And on that note, I climbed on my next Polskibus and headed to…Krakow. Stay tuned.