I explored the centre of Wroclaw today.The city has preserved an efficient tram system,and there is a stop right outside the Olympic stadium campsite,making it just 10 minutes to the city centre.Although the trams make life easy for pedestrians,driving through the city is a bit daunting ,as I discovered yesterday,with two lanes of traffic going each way on the main routes,over cobbles which have no lane markings, with the trams sometimes in the traffic queues but sometimes cutting across to routes of their own.
Wroclaw was severely damaged in WW2,with 70% of its buildings destroyed.As it was a German city (Breslau) and had been since the Prussians acquired it in 1740,the Soviets had no reason to hold back at all. In fact, as capital of Silesia,it has been through the hands of the Bohemians, the Austrians, the Hungarians and the Russians as well.The historic centre has been well restored,but it has not quite the same photogenic quality as Krakow.As such,tourists seem in much lower profile and it has a feel of a very genuine city.There is a big university right in the centre of the city and it has a buzzing nightlife and lots of trendy cafes and eateries.I read that it is going to be European city of culture next year(2016)
Reading up about how the borders of Poland have changed over the years,I am amazed by just how many times Poland has shrunk ,grown again,changed shape,disappeared completely, and then reappeared.Certainly it seems that the carve up of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviets in 1940 during the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact was not without precedent. During the “Deluge” in the 17th century Poland disappeared, having been carved up between Sweden and Russia.In the 18th century,having briefly resurfaced,it was carved up between Russia,Prussia and Austria.Again in the 19th century,Russia occupied most of it after the defeat of Napoleon.
Have a look at Wikipedia on the subject:
In Wroclaw there is a huge 360 degree panoramic painting of the battle of Raclawice ("Panorama Racławicka") which is 15 metres high and 115 metres in circumference.This battle in 1794 was a victory by a Polish patriots' insurgent army against the Russian army which was at that time occupying the country.Ultimately the campaign failed to free Poland but it has gone down in Polish popular culture as the prime example of a patriotic nation seeking to preserve its independence.It was painted in 1894,and was in originally exhibited in Lvov, which was at that time within Poland.After WW2,the USSR took over the eastern third of Poland,and Lvov is now in Ukraine,but the painting was allowed to be transferred to Wroclaw.However,due to political sensitivities during the Communist era regarding displaying a legendary victory over the Russians ,it was not put on display here until 1985.There is a show with an interesting 30 minute talk through of the battle ,the painting,and its place in Polish folklore. Judging by the guest list,visiting dignitaries are ushered in to see it regularly.
here is the website :- http://www.panoramaraclawicka.pl/?lang=en
Wroclaw is on the river Odra (we know it usually by its German name of the Oder) and there are several big islands in the river, linked by footbridges, and some of them are home to a series of huge churches and cathedrals. Back in the centre , adjacent to the main square is the huge church of St Mary Magdalen whose twin towers are linked at the top by a dizzying walkway called the Penitents' Bridge, which I climbed up to and walked over.
I have discovered that in Poland that there are quite a lot of self-service cafeteria type dining halls ,which seem very popular. Food is paid for by weight ,i.e. when at the till you place your loaded plate on a scales.These are really good places to sample traditional Polish food, as not only can you see what you are getting without having to translate a menu, but also you can also try a bit of everything. A big plateful and a drink(a favourite is a glass of cherry juice) sets you back typically about £4.In Wroclaw centre I spotted one which was packed with locals ,with a queue out of the door.That looked the best place to be but the queue did put me off, and I went and found a rather less popular,but still good one just down the street, where I ate lunch.