Wroclaw’s (Breslau, Germany, before 1945) stunning medieval Market Square dates from the 13th century and is one of the largest in Europe. The commanding Gothic City Hall, which took over 200 years to build, is surrounded by exquisite period houses. By the end of World War II half the city was in ruins. Major reconstruction brought much of Old Town back to its glory days. I always made sure a daily stroll through the lively plaza was on my agenda.
Recent history of the Polish people in Wroclaw began in 1945. As a result of the *Potsdam Conference, under pressure from Russia, it was agreed that the southern Polish-German boundary be moved west, putting Breslau within the borders of Poland instead of Germany. The German population was subsequently evacuated. Hundreds of thousands of Poles were evacuated from western Ukraine at the same time due to a similar border change. A large portion settled in Wroclaw. This forced migration of both Germans and Poles happened during a brutal winter, resulting in misery and death to tens of thousands.
One afternoon my **Servas Host Joanna invited me to lunch at the home of her Mother Bogusia. With Joanna acting as interpreter, Bogusia related the heartbreaking story of her family being evacuated in a cattle car from the old Capital city of Lviv, Ukraine, following the war. New Polish arrivals in Warsaw occupied deserted flats furnished with items left behind by evacuated Germans. Her family was one of them.
The Legacy of the Communist Era
The legacy of the communist-era government is apparent around Wroclaw in different forms – especially in the form of bronze statues and architecture.
A Polish anti-communist group in the 80’s started what has become a trendy placement of bronze dwarfs around town. I often passed delighted children posing beside them while families took photos.
The rather austere New Market Square encircled with communist era block buildings at first appeared to me like an empty shell waiting to be filled in. I came to realize the current state of New Market Square was an excellent example of communist era architecture. One of my **Servas Host Tomasz told me the government is talking about making the square a historical site, to protect it as such. Near the end of World War II the square was a scene of heavy Russian bombardment because the Nazi’s had ammunition there which they used against the Russians. As a result the historic plaza and surrounding period buildings were totally destroyed.
The Monument Passage, an eye-catching piece of street art in Wroclaw, commemorates the 25th anniversary of the declaration of martial law during the Soviet era. Seven bronze life-size pedestrians appear to be swallowed into the pavement only to reemerge on the other side of the street. The artist’s work left me spellbound momentarily, as I felt the resilience and determination of the people who lived through this time.
It’s Market Time!
A popular Sunday flea market in Wroclaw surrounded the old train station among rusty hulks of derelict trains and along what appear to be unused train tracks. The second-hand items for sale in this setting created an atmosphere of old world, former East Bloc, activity.
In contrast, the lively indoor old Market Hall (Hala Targowa) which I visited regularly, seldom failed to entice me to buy something. While there I ate traditional food at a milk bar, bought fresh fruit, and sampled fresh baked goods at a bakery.
Whenever I wandered through an outdoor flea market, or through a colorful indoor market hall, I always found it to be an adventure and entertaining at the same time.
*Potsdam Conference – Stalin, Churchill and Truman gathered in Potsdam, occupied Germany, in 1945, with the main goal of how to administer the defeated Nazi Germany .(as per Wikipedia)
**Servas is an International non-profit peace organization of hosts and travelers www.USServas.org
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