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