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Poland – Part 7: An Official Tour of Wroclaw

June 20th – 10:45AM

After waking, cleaning up, and eating breakfast, the whole bunch of us left the hostel to meet a guide for a tour of Wroclaw that Tamara had arranged for us.  As usual, our feet guided us to the market square, and that’s where we met Ella, our tour guide.

One of the first interesting things Ella taught us about Wroclaw was about the market square.  Apparently, a lot of the “ancient” looking buildings around us were actually only a few decades old.  They’d been designed and constructed to look old from the outside and to fit in with the historical look, but the insides were supposedly super-modern.  Part of me found that fascinating, another part was a little disappointed.  Tricked by architecture.

Ever heard of Max Berg?  I hadn’t.  Max Berg was a German architect who was appointed as the senior building official for Wroclaw in 1909.  According to Ella, Berg got caught up in Post WWI “skyscraper fever”, and wanted to  modernize the market square of Wroclaw with epic skyscrapers like the ones in New York.

Anyhow, it didn’t go over very well.  He got one up, and I saw it, and it just didn’t work.  The building itself was alright, but it just didn’t fit in with the surroundings.  This is probably why the buildings around it have been constructed to fit into that ancient style – anything else just looks ridiculous.

Oh, and some irony – the address for that New York style skyscraper?  #9/11.  Go figure.

Here’s a a link to an article about Max Berg, and his attempt at modernizing Wroclaw, if you’re interested.


See this monument?  I’ve been trying to find out more about it.  According to what I heard from Ella (which was kind of garbled, since I was hanging out at the back of the group at this point), the monument marks a horrific event that happened sometime in the 17th Century.  Apparently, an influential Italian priest told the residents of Wroclaw to put to the fire all of their earthly possessions.  So, they built a big fire, and started tossing things in.  And then things got out of control, and 41 Jews were apparently burned there as well.

You’d think I could find some information about this monument somewhere on the Web, but no luck so far.  The closest I could get was St. John Capistrano, who may have been the alleged priest – though Capistrano lived during the 1400s, which doesn’t fit in at all with the 17th Century time frame.  Anyhow, if anyone has some information on this monument, I’d be glad to hear it.

Moving on, we started walking towards the Old Town Hall of Wroclaw.  Nearby were some discolored stones on the road which marked a square:


According to Ella, that square marked where the “mad house cage” was originally located.  People who didn’t behave according to the social standards of the time (drunkards, trouble-makers during mass, women who wore trousers, etc) were put into that cage for the whole market square to see.  Yeesh.

Then we walked into the Old Town Hall.  It has been converted into a type of museum, with roped off areas, info placards, etc.  According to my journal, the insides smelled “like a fishing tackle box”.  Here are a few shots from the inside:


Yev remarked that this next room was creepy because this is where people were sentenced to be hanged:


We walked back outside.

The Old Town Hall is more or less in the centre of the market square.  Attached to it is a restaurant.  According to Ella, this restaurant is currently the oldest restaurant in Europe! Wow!  And guess what – this was the restaurant we ate at while discussing CLEANSED the other night.  And we had no idea that it was so ancient.  Go figure.


We also saw the “flogging pole” outside of the Old Town Hall.  As you can guess, petty criminals used to be roped to this thing, and flogged for the public to see.


After seeing this, we started to leave the market square.  We stopped at a little booth and had some barbequed goat cheese (salty and smoky…not bad).  We also saw another gnome – this one atop a giant finger:



Ella led us towards a tram stop, where we were soon picked up.  It was a really old looking tram – unpadded wooden seats, a wooden floor, and a guy who went up and down the aisles collecting our 3z tickets.


I was lucky – landed one of the few seats!  So did Tara, who sat next to me.  Here she is, after telling me that the parents in front of us should be slaughtered for the haircuts they gave their children:


So, riding the tram, we exited the downtown core of Wroclaw.


I think I’ve remarked about this several times already (if not on this blog, then to others in person), but Poland is interesting because parts of it look like they’re centuries old;  ancient, majestic architecture that just screams history.

And parts of Poland look just like Hamiltion:


Our tram eventually led us to the Centenary Hall.


Centenary Hall serves the same function as the Air Canada Center in Toronto – it hosts sporting events, talks (like from the Dalai Lama), or anything that involves large numbers of people.

Apparently, this building, also designed by Max Berg, got the same welcome that the new ROM got when it was completed in Toronto.  The public absolutely hated it, calling it ugly.  Despite that judgement, here’s a beautiful shot of the Centenary Hall:


We couldn’t actually go inside the Hall, so the visit was really just an opportunity to see the grounds.  Here are a few shots of what we saw:


From what I remember, these fountains were shooting up into the air in various patterns.


As we left the grounds, I could hear Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries start to play in the distance.  Perhaps we had just left before some kind of water show.  We’d never know.

We boarded the tram again, and started heading back down town.

During the ride back, I talked to Linn about web development (she’s a fellow web architect) and also established “Mike’s Nose-picking While Driving Law”, which states:

The likelihood of seeing a solo driver pick his or her nose while idling at an intersection increases with every second of observation.

We also spotted a woman walking a galloping wiener dog, but I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to capture the moment.

Eventually, Ella led us back to the Wroclaw University that we had briefly visited a few days before.  A few of our group decided to take a break from the tour, but a couple of us decided to walk around the University to see the sights.

First of all, the University of Wroclaw sports some pretty impressive alumni:


Traveling upstairs required a ticket (I think they were only 6z though).  The first thing we saw when we went up the stairs was the University of Wroclaw’s equivalent to UofT’s Convocation Hall.  It was quite a bit smaller, but what it lacked in size, in more than made up for in ornate-ness:


According to Ella, this room was designed with a “counter-reformation” attitude in mind by some Jesuits.  So, instead of being reserved, they went all out with gold and sculpture.  Nice.


We continued up the stairs to see more exhibits:


We saw the 17th Meridian, marked out along the floor as it passed through the University:


We also saw this sign:


According to Ella, the sign said that the University of Wroclaw houses an extensive set of climate data, going back about 300 years.  If any Polish readers out there want to send me an actual translation, I’ll gladly post it.

(Updated:  May 15th, 2010)

Piotr Waszkielewicz from Wrocław wrote in with the following translation:

“At this place
behind northern windows
of astronomical observatory
in February 1791
has been started systematic

Collected data makes
one of the longest
climatological series in Europe
and is a precious informacion source
for climate change research

Thanks Piotr!

Continuing up the stairs eventually led us onto the roof.  Once again, a spectacular view from the rooftop of a tower in Wroclaw.  This one had statues on each of its corners – with each one representing a particular discipline:









I could only take photos of their backs though, since they were facing outwards towards the city.

After breathing in the fresh air, we went back down and met up with the rest of our group.  We finished the tour by going to a “milk bar”, which is basically a no-frills cafeteria that serves standard meat & potatoes meals.  I instantly fell in love with it.  I had a plate of pierogies, and some mineral water, and topped it off with some amazing Wroclaw ice cream.

Once we were done eating, Tamara told us that we were free to explore the city until the shows that night.  We split up into several groups.  I chose to travel with Sonia and Ryan.

We walked back through the market square, and paused to see a busker send some massive bubbles into the sky:


Eventually, the three of us wandered over to St. Elizabeth’s Church.  A wedding was going on inside, and we didn’t want to intrude, but we did find an entrance way to get up to the top of the tower.


A 5z ticket later, we started our climb.

And what a climb.  Something like 300 steps in a dark, spiraling, claustrophobic space.  It didn’t help that there were people coming down as we were going up.  There was barely enough room for one person to go up, let alone two passing one another.


With aching thighs, we managed to reach the top.  And again, what a sight…here are some of the photos I took up there:


Remember those statues at the University?  Here they are, seen from the church tower:


Here’s what it must look like during a fall from the church tower:


And remember the Witches Bridge from this blog post?  Here it is from the outside:


And to top it off, a few photos of me up there:


The walk down the steps was better on our legs, but they were still wobbly once we reached bottom.  We stopped at a restaurant, got something to drink, and then headed back to the hostel.

We hung around the hostel for a bit.  Ryan introduced me to a YouTube phenomenon called David’s Farm. Basically, it’s this guy named David, who does some pretty crazy stuff up at his farm.

Crazy stuff like this:

Want to see a really bad idea?  Fast-forward to about 2:52 into this video.  Yikes.

Anyhow, it was almost time to see that evening’s shows.  That evening was different, because we had some choice in what we were seeing – there were several different “streams” that we got to choose from.  Most of us saw the same stream (as most of the other streams had been sold out), which had us seeing two shows that night.

The first show I saw was called MARLENE DIETRICH. ABOUT BROKEN NAILS, starring Anna Skubik.  It turned out to be a one-woman puppet show, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Skubik had beautiful puppetry technique, and I totally bought that there were two characters on stage.  It was playful.  I really enjoyed it.  It made me happy.

The second show was called SMYCZ.  How do I descibe that show?  It was, to me, variations on a theme, where the theme was “leash” (which is “smycz” in Polish).  It was absolutely mesmerizing.  Total rollercoaster.  The performer, Bartosz Porcyzk, was absolutely incredible – I’d never seen anything like him.  Everything he did absolutely held my full attention, even though I didn’t understand a word, and had to read the subtitles (which didn’t help when he’d go off script and improvise).  He could sing, he could dance, his acting was phenomenal.  His movement was flawless.  His voice, suberp.  The music behind the show was incredible.  The show completely won me over, and most of the rest of us too.  I’d definitely see the show again if I could.

Besides the show website, the best I can do to convey what we saw is show you this “trailer” that I found.  It’s just some of the songs with some still photos, but it’s better than nothing:

Here are a few shot of us after having our minds blown by SMYCZ:


Nothing revs up drama kids like seeing an amazing show.

After the show, a few of us went to Wizard Hat to talk about it.  When we got there though, we ended up spending our time talking about how our presence (as loud, North American drama students) was being perceived in Wroclaw.   Ryan (I think?) noticed that another table had been staring at us, and that one guy looked like he wanted to punch all of us.  That table eventually left.  Maybe we were being too loud and obnoxious.  Poland has certainly been smacked around a lot – maybe they don’t look kindly upon loud North Americans coming in and being obnoxious?

Then we got into a big discussion about European and North American stereotypes.

Jiv said that his darker skin colour had drawn a lot of looks his way.  Tara said something similar.  I said I hadn’t noticed anything for me, and Jiv said that it’s probably because I’m “ethnically ambiguous”, which helps me blend in.  Nice.

I was getting tired.  After an incredibly satisfying day, I left Wizard Hat, walked back to the hostel, and fell asleep.

Click here to go to Part 8:  A Boat Ride, Eating, Videos, AJAX, and More Eating

Click here to go back to Part 6:  A Taste of Total Freedom