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?
(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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)