Wroclaw, Poland: Exploring this Diverse City

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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2 thoughts on “Wroclaw, Poland: Exploring this Diverse City

  1. Your journey is fascinating — so many historic places that speak to the resilience, bravery, and fortitude of the Polish people! I can imagine that this trip has made you increasingly grateful that WWII never reached US shores, other than Hawaii. Thank you so much for sharing your comments and photos, thereby letting us vicariously travel along with you! Happy continued travels.

  2. Another fascinating insight into Poland’s people and history Merrilee, thank you so much. And thank you for sharing those photos, which bring everything to life.

    The sight of the laid table and the delicious, steaming, traditional home-made red (tomato?) soups certainly opened my appetite!

    Your Servas hosts look like very warm and fascinating folk.

    I was very interested to read about the forced mass expulsions of millions of German civilians from countries such as Poland after World War II.

    My old professor, Seton-Watson, who was always very pro-Slav, nevertheless told us that in his opinion, one of the unrecorded crimes of the last war was the brutal expulsion of millions of innocent German civilians from the countries of central and eastern Europe, where they had lived for thousands of years.

    As you yourself mention Merrilee, many of these ethnic German women and children died during the forced evacuation by the Red Army.

    Of course, placed in the context of the mass suffering of the victims of the Nazis in the war, it is perhaps understandable that most people don’t know about the suffering of these ethnic German civilians in Czechoslovakia, Poland and the former Soviet Union.

    Love the photos of the indoor market (it must still be freezing over there as the market folk are well wrapped up!) and very interesting to hear about the anti-communist bronze dwarves! Never knew that!

    Thank you once more for sharing those experiences Merrilee. I think if I had to choose between a beach holiday or walking around historically fascinating Poland, I would choose to follow in your footsteps every time!

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