From the Ashes of War: More About Wroclaw

Dwarfs may be the best thing about Wroclaw, but they are not the only attraction!

The city has a unique history, to say the least. Until World War II, Wroclaw was known as Breslau and was clearly German, having first been part of Bohemia, then the Prussian kingdom, then the German empire.

It was also a Nazi stronghold from early on. By 1933, citizens of Polish and Jewish extraction were being made unwelcome and had started to leave the city. The situation predictably deteriorated from there. Eventually, Breslau became one of the last Nazi holdouts, finally falling to the Russians after 170,000 civilians died in the tragic Siege of Breslau in May, 1945, just two days before the official end of the war in Europe.

After the war, the city lay in ruins, with an estimated 70 percent of the city’s buildings destroyed. As Poland was essentially picked up and moved 100 miles westward, Breslau, now Wroclaw, became the largest city in newly Polish Silesia. The remaining Germans were deported to Germany, and a new population of ethnic Poles, mostly from what is now Ukraine, arrived to resettle the area. Got all that?

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Photos of postwar Wroclaw are posted throughout the city. This one shows the market square at the center of Old Town.

(Note: it is a mystery to me as an American how all these totally white people managed to tell each other apart. What is an “ethnic Pole” anyway? All central/northern Europeans look pretty much alike to me. You would likely see more diversity in one DC-area strip mall than you would in all of Poland. Nevertheless, Europeans have been fighting over these “ethnic” differences for centuries. Go figure.)

The market square today.
The market square today.

The Polish Ukrainians (or Ukrainian Poles?) realized that they had been sold a bill of goods when they saw the condition of the city. To add insult to injury, tons and tons of building materials were trucked out of the rubble to help reconstruct Old Town in Warsaw. But, they set to work anyway, and within twenty years or so, a semblance of the former Old Town of Wroclaw had been created.

A nice fountain in the square.
A nice fountain in the square. The bank at the end of the block is more typical of architecture in the rest of the city.

I say a “semblance” because it is not as accurate or complete as Old Town in Warsaw, and certainly can’t compare to all the original architecture in Krakow. Many of the buildings are your basic socialist concrete boxes with pretty facades tacked on. And the Soviets/Poles made a concerted effort to eliminate anything they considered to be “German” when they rebuilt, skipping the entire nineteenth century, for example. But it looks nice, and considering the ugly concrete buildings that dominate the rest of the city, it could certainly have been worse. The overall effect is very pleasant.

Two reconstructed medieval houses at the corner of the market square are called Hansel and Gretel.
Two reconstructed medieval houses at the corner of the market square are called Hansel and Gretel.
The Ratusz (or Rathaus) was miraculously spared from the siege, for the most part, so it's the real deal.
The 16th century Ratusz (or Rathaus) was miraculously spared in the siege, so it’s mostly the real deal.
Detail of the Ratusz.
Detail of the Ratusz.
Inside the Ratusz.
Inside the Ratusz.

Wroclaw is now a thriving city, and ironically, a favorite destination of German tourists. So, the German that the Poles and Soviets once worked so hard to eradicate from the city has now sneaked back in! While in Warsaw, most tourist information is presented in Polish and English, in Wroclaw, it is in Polish, English, and German.

A few minutes of sunshine on a fall day.
A lucky few minutes of sunshine made an outdoor lunch possible on a fall day.
Nowy Targ--Polish beach!
Nowy Targ–Polish beach!
Typical apartment building with one dedicated gardener.
Typical apartment building–with one very dedicated container gardener.
From the top of one of three church steeples we climbed because my husband is insane.
From the top of one of three church steeples we climbed because my husband is insane. Gothic church and huge power plant, that’s Silesia for ya’ right there.

The many enormous reconstructed churches are relatively bare as compared to other churches of the period. But in this case, it’s a good thing. Before the 1945 siege, the German inhabitants of Breslau stripped the churches of all their treasures and hid them in various crypts and cellars all over town.

Inside the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Inside the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

I was so glad that we visited the National Museum in Wroclaw and saw dozens of beautiful items that had been saved from the destruction, along with a lot of charred bits and pieces of exterior statuary that gave an idea of how wealthy and beautiful the city once was. I highly recommend this jewel of a museum!

Very German-style carved wooden Madonna.
Very German-style carved wooden Madonna.
Beautiful altarpiece.
Beautiful altarpiece.

We ate well in Wroclaw, oh yes indeed. Lunch on departure day took place in this piwnica located in the basement of the Ratusz. (Along with lots of Germans, who know a good bierkeller when they see one.)

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One simply does not walk past this on a cold rainy day.
Zurek (sour rye soup) in a bread bowl. Definitely my favorite Polish dish so far.
Zurek (sour rye soup) in a bread bowl. Definitely my favorite Polish dish so far.
And of course, more pierogies.
And of course, more pierogies. With bacon on top. Because bacon.
One more pic in the Ratusz just because it's so purty.
One more pic from inside the Ratusz just because it’s so purty.
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3 comments

  1. I had to look up pierogies to check out what they were and now I want them. Your review of the town was really cool – but I read this hungry and right at dinnertime; hence the focus on the food. I think Poland will be a full three years of wonderful and interesting discovery. I’m looking forward to reading more of your adventures there!

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    • Pierogies can be really good, like these were, but not always. Sometimes, a dumpling is a just a dumpling. Good carbs on a cold day, though. Thanks for reading!

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  2. Thank you for a great tour Kelly. I feel like I really got a sense of a place that I know nothing about. I always enjoy your mix of pictures, the beautiful and the everyday.

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