Saints and Heroes in Wrocław

lights and Christmas decoration in a dimly lit room, in Our Lady on the sand, Wroclaw

Not all of the sidewalks have yet been cleared of snow. The grainy white piles look like soft sand on a beach. Some doorsteps consist of 20 cm of crystal clear ice. Poles are used to grim winters, however, and the squares in the city centre of Wrocław at least are free from snow. On a sunny day like this they are full of flaneurs. We join the flow and stroll to the Sand Island with its many churches.

Wroclaw Cathedral island with frozen river

In the empty aisle of the Church of Maria on the Sands, three pushchairs are parked. Curious, we follow a man with a toddler through a side door into a small chapel. It takes us a while to get used to the dimly lit room. On all four walls, tables are placed with illuminated Christmas trees and chains of lights. Hundreds of toys have been set up in mechanical installations, swirling and moving around. Stunned children are watching the toys, and now and again one of them puts a coin into a metal slit to set another mechanism in motion. The caretaker, a tiny old man at the back wall, is handing out business-card sized pictures of guardian angels that are meant to protect young and old throughout the next year.

A war panorama

„Silence please,“ the neon-signs on the ceiling proclaim when we mingle with a dozen Polish tourists to follow the attendant. Solemnly she leads us up a spiral staircase into the main showroom of the Racławice Panorama. The huge 360-degree battle painting is presented in a purpose-built round hall. Originally painted in Lviv in 1894 – when mega-paintings of this kind were en vogue in Europe – the Racławice Panorama had to be packed and stored during World War II and ended up in Wrocław. The theme of the painting was not popular with the new communist rulers of Poland, however: In the 1794 battle of Racławice, Polish nationalists gained a rare and heroic victory over the Russians. It took decades for the 1800 square meter painting to be shown again. Today it is again one of the main attractions of Wrocław. „General Kószcinsko in a white coat, behind him the heroic Polish peasants,“ a reverential voice explains from the speakers. „The Russian canoneers are fleeing.“ Polish couples point out details of the scene to each other. „…easy targets for the Polish snipers…,“ they observe.

The Centennial Hall, an architectural highlight of Wrocław

Wroclaw Centennial hall in the snow

„You would go to the Centennial Hall for Sunday afternoon tea or for concerts.“ Isa’s grandmother had lived in Wrocław in her youth, when it was still called Breslau. Back then, it was a modern cosmopolitan city where she would sneak into the movies with her older sisters.

At that time the Centennial Hall was the new architectonic pride of Breslau: Built in 1913 by the local architect Max Berg using new ferroconcrete technologies, it boasted the world’s largest cupola (with a diameter of 67 m). A seated audience of 10.000 could comfortably follow cultural events. Exhibitions and trade shows were held here. In the 1920s, modern designers built model living quarters next to the hall. It was here, during the 1948 World Peace Congress, that Picasso drew his famous Dove of Peace on a napkin during dinner.

These days the hall is used for sports events, and when we visit, some workers are just preparing the stage for a bridal-wear show.

A few days later we are back in Berlin, where it is just as cold as in Poland. None of the sidewalks and very few roads are free from snow.

NB: Our trip to Poland was not sponsored in any way. We paid all the expenses ourselves.

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