My journal for this day starts with an entry at 10AM, recapping what happened the night before. The next entry is at 1:55PM. I’d have to conclude from this that it was a slow morning – probably just eating breakfast, checking email, and chatting with the others.
Apparently, tickets for the Guerilla Walk (an event that both Tamara and Peter praised endlessly last night) are sold out. We’ve been put on the standby list though, so we’ll see if we can get lucky there.
I’m feeling pretty tired and incoherent. Again, the bunks in this hostel aren’t very comfortable. Not sure what I want to do today…
I’m in the Poznan square with Linn, Yev and Alexi. We’re feeding pigeons.
My throat is still really sore, but Tara and Tom gave me some Robatussin, Alexi gave me some Polish cold medication, and Yev gave me some vitamin C. And I’m constantly munching on Halls.
Hopefully it’s not a lethal combination.
I’m with Yev and Alexi, and we just watched a film called “Attempt of a Portrait of Jerzy Grotowski”. Pretty interesting. Next is another (rare) film on Grotowski, which demonstrates some of his rehearsal techniques.
I found a YouTube clip of the video:
The actor demonstrating it is ripped, and moves his body really violently…he’s snapping his neck around all over the place (see 4:00 onward). It looks uncomfortable, but I guess he knows what he’s doing.
We’re going to watch a bit of it, and then leave to try to do the Guerilla Walk thing.
After watching a bit of the second Grotowski film, Yev, Alexi and I made a break for it and headed to the meeting place for the Guerilla Walk.
I wasn’t entirely sure what this Guerilla Walk thing was…Peter and Tamara had been (intentionally?) vague about it – saying that we just had to do it.
When we got there, we found out that some folks who had reserved tickets couldn’t make it – so we, the standbys, got the tickets. Thank you drama gods!
We got into a lineup, and noticed that a bunch of other folks from the UCDP had also made it in. We got closer and closer to the end of the line, and when we got there, a person asked for our passports. Apparently, we would be getting a headphone set for listening to our tour guides (like at Auschwitz), and they wanted our passports as deposits.
Hm. As a cautious traveler, this set off warning bells. I had been instructed from the get-go to not let my passport get out of sight, and that Canadian passports are particularly valuable on the black market. But, I watched my comrades fork over their Canadian passports for their headsets, and I eventually did the same.
So, I got my wireless headphones, and waited in the designated area for the “walk” to begin.
This might have been my favourite part about our trip to Poland. I’ll do my best to describe it.
The tour group was about…I’d guess, 50 people. All of us had wireless headphones on.
There were two tour guides. One was decked out with an impressive portable DJ-ing rig and broadcasting system (large antenna out of his backpack). The other guide had headphones similar to ours, but with a microphone to speak to us. There was also some support guys walking around with spare batteries for our headphones in case we started to run low. There was a camera guy filming us.
The banter between the two tour guides was absolutely hilarious. It was something like morning-radio-show banter, mixed with highly-skilled freestyle rap.
Our guides then took us on adventures in the city. We walked through a town hall (?…seemed like some sort of administrative building…) that Hitler had once visited, and listened to Chaplin imitating him from The Great Dictator. We were then led out of the “bowels” of the building on to the street.
And already, we were putty in their hands. The guides were very skilled at making us all feel like a mob that was cooler than anyone else around us who wasn’t wearing headphones. A strange feeling of invincibility seemed to sweep through us as we marched along, invading various parts of the city.
We would periodically stop to watch our tour guides complete some kind of “mission”. For example, they would do some “Guerilla planting”, and plant a flower at a city park. Other times, they’d climb up a portable ladder to second-story apartments and say hello to the people inside. If they found a lady, they’d ask for a lock of her hair.
They would chat with interesting people they found on the street, and give them a microphone so we could hear what they were saying.
And the entire time, there was a cool hip-hop back-beat, and periodic freestyle rapping from the DJ. The entire tour group would dance sporadically. I’m sure we looked silly or strange to people without headphones walking around us…but we just didn’t care.
Eventually, our guides led us inside of a building. We walked up a flight of steps, and through some dark passageways. There was a lot of us, and it was getting cramped. Our destination was a darkroom, and it was pitch black. All of us, all of the tour group, was in pitch black. And then suddenly, beer was being passed around, our tour-guide lit up his neon suit, and we were having an impromptu “darkroom disco”. Most of the music was Michael Jackson. And it was awesome. We danced, blindly. We held hands with silent strangers that we couldn’t see. Whooping and hollering in the dark. Very cool experience.
We eventually left the darkroom disco. The beer had really loosened up the tour group, and we were all getting pretty silly and dancy. We waited for a streetcar, and danced until it finally showed up.
There were a few other missions after the darkroom disco…we put up some QR Codes around the city, saying things like “Something from nothing”, or “I love you”.
We gathered at a public, indoor swimming pool, stood around it, and sang a song about amoebas.
But why just tell you about it, when I can show you? They filmed the whole thing. I pop up a few times in the video, along with my comrades. This will give you a good idea of what we were doing.
After the tour, and after we’d calmed down a bit (the whole experience had really pumped us up), Jiv and I had an interesting conversation about the meaning of the piece.
While it could simply be viewed as a fun tour, Jiv noted certain patterns in its design and content. Patterns like the amoeba song, the Hitler speech, the blind darkroom dance. He said that it was an interesting study in mob mentality – and that it really only takes a charismatic, likable leader (our tour guides), and direct 1-way communication (the headsets) to create a mob. We had become a benign, dancing, adventuring mob. But violent, dangerous mobs could be created in the same way. I think Jiv is right.
After the Guerilla Walk, we grabbed some food (we were starving), and then went to go see Caligula.
Caligula was being performed outdoors. It was becoming a chilly night – I hoped the actors would be warm enough.
As an interesting aside: outside of the theatre space, there was a monument to the Polish men and women who had worked on cracking the Enigma cipher:
Monument for Enigma cypher codebreakers27-Jun-2009 16:46, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.81, 5.8mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
I studied that for a bit, and then we went inside to see the show.
CALIGULA by Tomaž Pandur
Here’s the description of the show from the Malta! Festival website (though it looks like they just pumped the Polish version through Google Translate):
Caligula is a spectacle based on the Albert Camus’ drama but that spectacle suggests a different look at a history of Rome third emperor. It’s the story about the clash great ideas with the narrow-mindedness of the world and about the price that has to be paid by those who strive for perfection. This is the story about little people distroying, with the stubborness, everything that made them aware of their triviality – Caligula was brutally murdered and – what’s worst – he was slandered for ages. Pandula teared the shroud of the lies weaved by the Swetonius, duplicated later by historians and writers, and tells his own version of life and tragical Caligula’s end – the great visioner.
With his theatrical manifesto Caligula proclaims: ” Exciting illusion of the truth, the most beautiful spectacle in the world, the perfect place for the acts of God in the Earth, wonderful and attraction uncompared with anything, the thunder and lightning, destiny in the triumphal march… it’s the art of drama… people make mistakes because they do not believe enought in theatre.” This way the Caligula life became a living theatre, the journey without limits to the galaxy of everything what is invisible and unaware. The crowned poet with the divine clairvoyance of a hermit.
Hm. Not the clearest description I’ve ever heard. I’ll do my best to tell you what I saw.
Remember how I hoped that the actors would be warm?
Well, guess what? The actors performed the entire time wearing next to nothing. In water. It wasn’t just a wet stage…it was…like, half a foot of water that the actors were standing and performing in. I was freezing just watching them.
So, this was another take on the story of Caligula, the third Roman emperor.
And it was visually stunning. I already told you about the flooded outdoor stage, but the rest of the set was this series of gray towers that looked like stone. The towers would silently rearrange themselves in order to change the scenery. The precision and expertise in the transitions was absolutely fantastic. A marvel. It was magic.
Once again, I think a lot of the story was lost in translation for me. Plus, it was outdoors, and the actors weren’t mic’d (mic’ing would have been a nightmare in all of that water). So hearing was a bit difficult.
There were certain points in the show that really caught my attention, visually. The reflection of the water was used liberally to create some neat rippling effects on the set pieces. Some additional “magic” was done with the set pieces – a stone tower would glide in front of an actor, and after it had passed, two more actors had joined the first. Neat things like that.
So, visually, this show was stunning. I also give full kudos to the actors for working in the freezing cold, naked, in water. I can’t say much for the story or plot. Still, an interesting show.
Here are some super blurry photos of the cast bowing:
Fuzzy shot of the CALIGULA cast27-Jun-2009 18:52, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.5 sec, ISO 156
After the show, we all went back to the hostel. As usual, reactions to Caligula were mixed. Eventually, I landed on my lumpy mattress to try sleeping again. We’d be heading back to Wroclaw the next morning.
It’s been about 5 – 6 months since my last Poland entry. There are a myriad of excuses for this: tough school year, busy Xmas holiday, relentless work load…
But I have to say I’ve kind of been avoiding writing this one on purpose. Why?
Well, for starters, I don’t have any photos. Long story short, before we got off the bus at Auschwitz, we were told there was no photography, so I left my camera on the bus. Then it turned out that there was no photography in the buildings, so I missed out on getting some snaps outside.
I’ve been able to get my hands on some photos. A big thanks to Alex Rubin and Anj Mulligan for letting me use theirs. I’m not entirely sure how using someone else’s photos will affect my narrative, but we’ll see.
The other reason I’ve been avoiding this one is because I wrote so damn much about it. 39 pages from my journal were devoted to this day.
Why so much? Well, to be honest, it was a pretty emotionally charged day. A lot of people were crying during the tour. My reaction was just to write down everything I could see and hear, as fast as I could. I hope I got everything right. Please correct me if I’ve gotten something wrong.
Anyhow, enough stalling. Here we go.
June 24, 7:45AM
It was an early morning. I showered, shaved, sent some email, and then hung out in the kitchen/common area with Yev, eating some cocoa-puffs while she boiled water for tea.
The breakfast lady was in a foul mood that morning. She stormed in to the kitchen and started rearranging things with a violent efficiency, clicking her heels. Yev and I were silent. Finally, I said “Dzien dobry” (good morning) to break the tension.
Wow. That was the last straw, I guess. The breakfast lady flew into a huge Polish rant as she stormed around us. We couldn’t understand a word, but she was clearly upset.
Yev said she reminded her of one of her Soviet schoolmasters.
I didn’t wait to see how the fury played out. I got out of there. Yev stayed behind.
Yev later told me that, after making a sandwich (which the breakfast lady saw her do), she made a super-quick pit-stop at the washroom, only to come back and find that her sandwich had been thrown in the garbage. Presumably by the breakfast lady.
We boarded the bus and were en route.
It was a tense morning. Tamara told us that the Auschwitz trip was optional, and so a few of us had stayed back. The bus ride was unusually quiet.
I think everybody was preparing themselves.
I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera (or so I thought), so I left it on the bus.
After getting off the bus, we read a multi-lingual sign that set the behavioural tone for the rest of the tour:
Througout the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. The German forces occupying Poland during the Second World War established a concentration camp, on the outskirts of the town of Oswiecim. In 1940, the Germans called the town Auschwitz and that is the name by which the camp was known. Over the next years it was expanded into three main camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz and more than forty subcamps.
The first people to be brought to Auschwitz as prisoners and murdered here were Poles. They were followed by Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies and deporters of many other nationalities. Beginning in 1942, however, Auschwitz became the settling for the most massive murder campaign in history, when the Nazis put into operation their plan to destroy the entire Jewish population of Europe. The great majority of Jews who were deported to Auschwitz – men, women, and children – were sent immediately upon arrival to death in the gas chambers of Birkenau.
When the SS realised that the end of war was near, they attempted to remove the evidence of the atrocities committed here. They dismantled the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings, burned documents, and evacuated all those prisoners who could walk to the interior of Germany. Those who were not evacuated were liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.
On July 2, 1947, the Polish Parliament established the State Museum of Oswiecim – Brzezinka on the sites of the former camps at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. In 1979, these camps were formally recognized by UNESCO by their inclusion on its World Heritage List.
PLEASE BEHAVE APPROPRIATELY RESPECTING THE MEMORY OF THOSE WHO SUFFERED AND DIED HERE.
Next to this was a map of the compound. Again, no photos, so something like this will have to do.
Looking at the map, my eyes were drawn to the familiar word “Canada”. It turns out that, when new arrivals came to the camps, their belongings were stripped from them and sent to a special area of the camp called Canada for sorting and searching. It was called Canada, because at the time, Canada was considered the land of plenty. Here’s Wikipedia’s take on it.
Near the signs were, of all things, gift and souvenir shops, called the “informatory”. Postcards, books, videos, photos… seemed a bit in bad taste. After seeing the gift shops, I noticed all of the smiling tourists around me, and I found that quite macabre.
It was particularly disturbing because of how quiet it was. There were also “keep silence” signs all over the place. So yeah, it was quiet. Really quiet.
As we approached the entrance, we heard birds chirping. It was overcast – the grass was still wet from the morning dew.
As we were reading the signs, Tamara had gone off to get the tour guide. On her way back, her face was covered in tears. She’d visited Auschwitz for a tour several times before, and firmly stated to us that she couldn’t bring herself to do it again. So she went off to go wait in the bus. It was an ominous moment.
All of the tour guides were dressed in black. Ours was no exception. After a brief, quiet hello, she gave us each a set of earphones and receiver. This is how she would communicate with us during the tour. This way, she wouldn’t have to yell for us all to hear her. Instead, the tour became very personal, and she was able to speak softly to each of us individually. I wrote in my journal that her voice was incredibly soft, caring, and soothing – and that she reminded me more of a nurse than a tour guide. I really think part of her job was to soothe, as well as to educate.
The buildings of Auschwitz I were military barracks, originally constructed by and for the Polish army. In the late 1930’s, Poland had been invaded, split up, and annexed to the Nazis and the Soviets. So technically, Poland ceased to exist. The Nazis saw the barracks in their new territory as “very convenient” for housing the growing number of Polish prisoners, especially considering the railroad junctions that led to it. The Nazis set up shop, and the land and buildings became Auschwitz I.
The camp orchestra, composed entirely of prisoners, would play lively German marches as the prisoners were led into the camp. It was humiliating and dehumanizing. This also made it easier for the guards to count and keep the prisoners in step.
The men and women were then separated, and sent to different barracks. There would be 800-1000 prisoners assigned per barrack, which only had 2 stories. The prisoners in Auschwitz I were cramped to the extreme.
The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.
Auschwitz was almost in the center of occupied Europe. With the already-established railroad system, the Nazis were able to send over 1,000,000 prisoners to Auschwitz. The majority of those prisoners were Jewish.
It didn’t start out that way, but at some point during 1942-1943, Auschwitz became an extermination camp.
A sign on the wall broke down the prisoners as follows:
1,300,000 sent to Auschwitz
140,000 – 150,000 Poles
23,000 – Roma / Gipsy’s
15,000 – Soviet Prisoners
25,000 – Other
A large, glass, transparent urn in the barracks held human ashes in rememberence.
During the original invasion of Poland, the Nazis focused on capturing/executing as many Polish monks, priests, lawyers, leaders, and educated people as possible. This was their method of “destroying” Poland’s culture and identity. After an uprising in Warsaw, 13,000 Poles were sent to Auschwitz I as punishment.
Many photos were taken at Auschwitz by the SS for their own use. Those black and white photos lined the walls of the museum. We weren’t allowed to take photographs, so I can’t show them to you, but I can describe some of them. Imagine black and white, blurry photos of extremely thin, extremely gaunt, bald people, wearing prisoner garb. Imagine seeing photos of them digging graves for themselves, or jumping to a particular height for a guard’s amusement, or running at top speed in a big circle “just because”, so the guards could watch.
SS “doctors” were always present at prisoner arrival to “conduct selections” on who could work and who could be executed immediately. There were photos on the wall of women, children, and old people, being sent to their death. They look calm, because they didn’t know.
The Jews who weren’t executed immediately were put to work. Some were sent to Auschwitz III, which was a work and manufacturing camp. Prisoners were forced to make things there for the Nazis.
Other prisoners became Sonderkommandos, which means they assisted in the execution of other prisoners. Sonderkommandos would work in the crematoriums and gas chambers, and were forced to witness and commit various horrible atrocities against other prisoners.
Gassing of prisoners took place underground. A single gas chamber would have 2000 prisoners crammed inside of it at one time. Prisoners who entered the gas chambers were told that they were taking showers. Fake faucets in the ceilings and walls helped sell the illusion.
After the doors were shut, crystals of Cyclone B were dropped in through openings in the ceiling. After 20 minutes, all were dead. Sonderkommandos would then go in and carry the bodies to the crematorium.
Before the bodies were cremated, Sonderkommandos had to cut off the hair from the women. The hair was packed into bags, and sent elsewhere to be turned into hair-cloth and other textiles. The ashes of the prisoners were used as fertilizer. Everything was reused.
At one point, we entered a room in the museum, where behind a large pane of glass, we saw mounds of human hair that had been found at the camp. Massive quantities of dead prisoners hair.
This was the point in the tour that most people started to lose it. Lots of tears. Lots of crying. I kept scribbling.
Any belongings or valuables brought by the prisoners into the camp were sent to the camps called Canada I and Canada II for processing. The plunder ended up being part of the evidence that was used to prove the atrocities that had happened at the camp. Like the piles of hair, we saw piles of glasses, piles of shoes, piles of Jewish prayer shawls, combs, brushes, suitcases, clothing, prosthetics, crutches, pottery, bowls, cutlery… everything was sorted. The quantity was simply horrifying.
In my journal, I noted that the lighting in the barracks was quite muted, but that the exhibits (the hair, combs, etc) were under bright flourescents. It was really macabre – like seeing a body at a morgue.
The next part of the exhibit was even more horrifying. It turns out that 20% of the victims of the camp had been children (90% Jewish). There was a room, absolutely packed to the brim, with children’s shoes. So many shoes.
And that’s the thing – I noted this in my journal: it’s not just the atrocity itself, but the sheer size of the atrocity that is so horrifying. The piles of shoes and the hair really gave us a sense of that size.
Of the prisoners that weren’t immediately executed, 50% were Jewish. Many were Polish. All were treated like property.
There were some prisoners who were given some of the responsibilities of the guards – for example, being in charge of work units. These prisoners were always German criminals.
The prisoners were deprived of all of their human characteristics. No names. Just numbers. Photos were originally used for identification, but this was eventually changed to tattoos because a prisoner’s appearence would change too much.
The Nazis were meticulous record-keepers. Prisoner IDs were linked to prisoner files that held details such as education, age, and history.
Hunger was rampant among the prisoners. There wasn’t nearly enough food for all of them.
One sign we saw gave us a breakdown of the daily life of a prisoner. I couldn’t get it all down, but the pattern was obvious: prisoners were slowly killed with work. They were punished and beaten. Most lasted less than a year.
All non-Jewish children became prisoners. These children were also often subject to horrific “scientific” experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele.
Among other things, Mengele apparently wanted to find ways of creating twins and triplets, so that German “Aryans” could reproduce quickly.
Other atrocities were performed by Dr. Carl Clauberg who tortured Jewish women, in an attempt at finding ways of sterilizing them.
Prisoners, often naked, were shot in the back of their heads. It is estimated that 10,000 prisoners were shot at this wall. There were also posts were prisoners could have their arms strung up behind them for hours, as torture, and as punishment.
There were also starvation cells. In one of those cells, Saint Maximilian Kolbe was starved to death with 9 other men.
Eventually, we entered a building where the first experimental mass killings took place. There were suffocation cells. There were cells where prisoners were forced to stand all night. Pretty horrific.
The “camp hospital” existed for propaganda, to keep the purpose of the extermination camp a secret. The hospital was really the “crematorium waiting room”, since selections would often happen there.
Roll call was also used as prisoner punishment. If a prisoner escaped, or it was suspected that a prisoner had escaped, the remaining prisoners would be punished. They’d be lined up and counted outside of their barracks, again and again. Sometimes they’d be out there for 20 hours straight.
Only 144 prisoners successfully escaped Auschwitz. Captured escapees were tortured for information on their escape, and then executed.
Crematorium I was originally an ammo bunker. The crematorium was dark…stone…dusty…gritty. It was all so much monstrous efficiency.
The first part of the tour was over. We handed back our headsets and took a 10 minute break.
I wrote that the sun was warm, and that some of us were hungry.
We just got a small snack. We’re all sitting outside. Everybody is quiet. Some of us are eating. Some of us are drinking coffee. Some of us are smoking. Some of us are crying. It’s pretty rough. It’s hard to be an optimist here – hard to feel good, anyhow. Just…devestated.
We’re late. Our 10 minute break went on too long, and we’re late getting back on the bus. We’re heading to the next camp.
The bus really has never been so quiet. But what do we say to one another? This is no place for joking around…no place for making quips. What’s the first thing you say?
There are storm clouds in the distance.
It’s a 3km drive to the next camp. Tamara says that there are no exhibits…just the barracks and other buildings, the railroad tracks, and the gas chambers.
We’re here. I recognize where I am – I think I had seen it in Schindler’s List.
The barracks reminded me of stables for horses. Wooden bunks, and a single stone oven for heating. At least 400 people per barrack. No toilets inside. No washrooms. Just buckets and ditches in the ground, and barrels of water outside.
There were “toilets” outside, which were really just holes in the ground with wood frames built over them.
Members of the prison resistance would meet by the ditches/toilets, since the guards would never go near them (due to the smell, and disease).
In November, 1944, Heinrich Himmler ordered the crematoria destroyed before the Red Army could reach the camp. Nazi soldiers began destroying the evidence of what had happened at the camp, starting with the gas chambers.
In January, 1945, with the Red Army getting closer, SS command ordered that all prisoners at Auschwitz be executed. This order was never carried out. Instead, the camp was evacuated, and the prisoners were sent on death marches to another camp in Wodzisław Śląski. Prisoners who were too sick or weak to march were left behind. Those 7,500 prisoners were still there when the Red Army came to liberate them.
According to Wikipedia:
Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.
Some of the buildings and ruins in Auschwitz II are sinking, and the museum is working hard to restore them.
Just past the last gas chamber is a large stone monument. Large, Easter Island-like heads and monoliths.
At the base of the monument are numerous plaques, all in different languages. Here’s the English one:
Just got off the phone with Em. Told her all about Auschwitz. Missing her a lot. I decided to try to make myself feel better by getting some lemon sorbet. It’s a pretty good deal at 4z. I found Alexi and Yev drinking coffee in the square, and joined them while I finished my cone.
I think Yev borrowed my camera and took these photos:
And I think I hear a dulcimer being played somewhere.
The street I strolled down is called Florianska. At some earlier point, I had gotten the urge to check out some of the local music scene, and the girl at the hostel told me to walk down this street. She said there was an indie rock bar around here called The Lizard, but I haven’t found it yet. And I’m slowly approaching the end of the street.
The square seems pretty busy for a Wednesday night. I imagine the place gets absolutely packed on weekends.
It’s a whole spectrum of age groups out this evening. I’m also hearing a variety of languages. Polish, English, and German for starters. Italian too. Mostly white people. One or two exceptions. Some rollerbladers.
An ambulance raced by, driving through the crowded square. As it passed, I heard a trumpet playing a tune from the top of the cathedral, and then abruptly stop.
The three men playing on the accordions are still there, and now that crowd is starting to move. I guess the cathedral was acting like some big meeting point for a tour group. The accordion players are doing the William Tell Overture again – they seem to have a repetoire of about 5 songs.
My notes for the day end there, but I imagine I eventually headed back to the hostel and went to sleep.
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.
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:
On our tour – found out that this black square was where the "crazies" cage was.20-Jun-2009 06:39, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 64
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:
Inside the old town hall20-Jun-2009 06:41, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 386
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.
Apparently, this is the oldest restaurant in Europe.20-Jun-2009 06:51, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 64
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:
Another gnome.20-Jun-2009 07:01, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 4.7, 17.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 64
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.
On one of the Wroclaw trams20-Jun-2009 07:20, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.81, 5.8mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 64
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:
Tara thinks that the people in front of us gave their children terrible haircuts20-Jun-2009 07:20, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.032 sec, ISO 64
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.
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:
Before you go ga-ga over my camera technique, I didn't take this shot. I found it through Google Image Search, and I can't find a photo credit.
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, 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
AIR TEMPERATURE MEASURMENT
Collected data makes
one of the longest
climatological series in Europe
and is a precious informacion source
for climate change research
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:
Massive bubble from a busker!20-Jun-2009 10:19, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 4.28, 13.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 64
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.
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.