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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wroclaw-a tale of two cultures

Its taken me a while, but here are the first of a number of photos I took last week in Wroclaw. Poland has intrigued me since my university days, when I studied the politics and the geography of the Eastern Bloc. I remember reading a lot about people such as Adam Michnik, the Solidarity movement, civil society and the role of the Catholic church as a vehicle of silent protest during communism. I was intrigued to see if I would recognise the Poland I had studied in my actual experience.
The first encounter we had was neither civil, nor religious and gave me the impression of a place where casual violence is rife. My brother stepped out of his taxi and was almost immediately the near victim of an assault by an alcohol and anger filled local. Our first walk into the main square bore witness to a full on brawl of around 20 locals. There was not a law officer in sight and the fight was pretty brutal. Welcome to Wroclaw!
As our apprehension abated, it became clear that this is a place with two cultural imprints shaping its identity. In the central area, the city is as visually engaging and inspiring as any in central Europe. Grand facades and open spaces for people only were surrounded by ornate churches with Mosaic roofs, grand public buildings and pretty river views. It retained its old world charm with horse and carts, flower markets and the overarching presence of the Catholic Church. There were nuns everywhere and the cathedral quarter had a strange, but wonderful ambience. I felt like I had stepped back in time, to an extent.
To provide a perfect contrast, the bell tower of the most central church gave us the vistas that couldn't hide the impact of nearly 60 years of Communist planning. Uniform high density housing, a monstrous power station probably no more than a couple of miles from the city centre and the real Wroclaw that most of its 600,000 or so residents live in. A really powerful reminder that we are never too far away from history (even if its the geography that teases it out).

Posted via email from Mr O'D's class posterous


At 1:02 pm, Anonymous eilidh dunn said...

Mr odonnell! its eilidh, I wanted to go into school and see you but I have been told that you have moved school! Cant believe I passed with my disgrace of a study, I know I deserve a big 'I told you so' but I really do wish I made more effort with it. Your photos from Wroclaw look amazing. I went there two years ago and loved it. Hope you had a great time. Anyway thanks for last year and I will bring a bottle of wine and a card into the geography department on the off-chance that you might come to St ninians for something? Eilidh

At 2:44 pm, Blogger Kenny O'Donnell said...

Hi Eilidh, great to hear from you. No point in saying I told you so, what's done is done, and I am fully aware of some of the distractions that sixth year brings, just delighted that you all passed regardless of the result. It is strange being out of St Ninians after seven years, but there are worse places to work than Troon and I'm enjoying my new school and department. Please don't feel obliged to bring a gift, I was just doing my job :)
I hope you are all set for university (law still?) and wish you well in your course. Poland was fantastic (although the food took a little getting used to) and I'm already looking forward to going back in the future

Take care

Mr O'D


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