Friday, 29 March 2013

Fernzug nach Poznań

On a wet April day we boarded the Berlin-Warsaw Express and trundled Eastwards over the German border into Poland on a day-trip to Poznań. The train journey takes about three hours, so my advice is to take a good book with you. I loaded up my e-reader with a Jack Reacher novel, so I was well prepared. Not that I had much time to read it at first, as the young Swiss guy and his Chinese wife in our compartment insisted on grilling us about the life and times of Margaret Thatcher (recently deceased), a person they seemed to think any Brit viewed with goddess-like status. Much as we enjoyed reviving memories of Thatcher's Britain, we soon reached 'thatcheration point' and tore ourselves away to another part of the train where we could sit with our American friend.

The Berlin-Warsaw (Berlin-Warszawa or Berlin-Warschau) Express does not really live up to its name 'express', and slowly made its stop-start way across Brandenburg, through the twin border towns of Frankfurt / Słubice, and across the river Oder into Poland. Its distinctive blue-and-white striped livery decorates a mismatch of compartmentalised and open-plan carriages that perhaps have seen better days. But it has a good restaurant car, and a refreshment trolley makes frequent journeys up and down the train. Plus, the view from the window is fascinating; the sense of traveling in a different country hits you as soon as you are over the border as you pass through Polish towns and villages. The landscape is suddenly populated with storks and cranes, and large red deer career out of the train's path into the forest. Jack Reacher was all but forgotten.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Uwaga! (Warning!)
This is not the Berlin-Warsaw Express of course,
but one of the trains at  Poznań station when we arrived.

On arrival in Poznań, first impressions are of the small, dark, four-platform station with an enormous, partly-constructed steel and glass construction growing over and around it. This is a premonition of what you will find in Poznań itself, at least away from the Altstadt; rather run-down, grey crumbling concrete Soviet-era buildings alongside a few shell-shocked pre-war survivors, towered over by recently erected modern-architecture consumer palaces and city-living apartments. Weaving amongst the streets, the trams are a mixture of quaint, narrow ones straight out of a transport museum, and large super-sleek green-and-yellow tinted-glass people-carriers.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Poznań Tram

It has been sixty-eight years since Hitler designated Posen (as then was) a 'Festung' (fortress) - a stronghold to be defended at all cost. The city was in the path of the Red Army's advance on Berlin and the securing of its supply route back to Warsaw. The Soviets arrived in late January 1945 and so began the massive month-long assault known as the Battle of  Poznań. By the time that the last stronghold in the Citadel was taken by the Soviets on 22nd February, 5,000 German soldiers had been killed (many by the guns of their own side if they tried to surrender) and 12,000 Soviets soldiers lay dead. Untold civilians were also killed or maimed, and if they weren't they had to survive in a demolished town. 90% of the city centre was reduced to rubble by shelling and infantry fire in the street battles.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Hot-Dogi

Poznań was slowly reconstructed during the Soviet era, leaving a 60's legacy of intensive housing development in the style of pre-fabricated concrete blocks of flats (Plattenbauen). After the overthrow of the communist system and resumption of democracy in 1989, the rebuilding and development programme has moved on apace, and looks like it is still in full (if slow) flow. Visiting from Berlin it is like moving from one building site to another.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Centrum Mody
Eery, sad-looking brides look down from a first-floor window

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
A Survivor

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
'Second Hand from London'
A store selling hand-me-downs from, well, London I guess

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
The larger-than-life cyclist on the left is street sculpture.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
As you near the Market Square, the street-scene gets more interesting

Poznań Old Town is a different story. The area around the Old Market Square (Stary Rynek) was of course heavily damaged during the Battle of Poznań, but was the first area to be re-built during the 1940's and 50's. The emotional importance to the survivors of Poznań in reconstructing the mediaeval core of their city led to painstaking effort in rebuilding it to old plans and drawings of the square. Hence it is the area where all the tourists come, though there weren't that many apart from us on a dull, rainy Friday in April. And worth coming to, it is too! Exploring any new city is in itself an enjoyable experience (even Sheffield, England), but it is the quintessential heart of a city that gives it its personality, and we found it around Stary Rynek.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Stary Rynek

Dominating the Market Square is a massive, polychromatic, crenelated, arched and towered fortress. It looks like a Moorish palace. But this is the town hall, and was built in (basically) this Renaissance Mannerist style between 1550 and 1560 (re-built 1945-54). Every day at noon, tourists gather to watch two mechanical goats butt heads below the town hall clock. We got there well after noon so missed this spectacle, having pigged out on large dishes of Polish specialties - including pierogis to die for - at Chatka Babuni restaurant. Well recommended, but not if you are in a hurry or don't have a large appetite. The legend behind the goats on the clock can be read here.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Decor inside Chatka Babuni
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Don't you just hate it when bloggers and tweeters post photos of what they are having for dinner?

Around the Market Square are many interesting and colourful buildings, some in Gothic style, some Renaissance. Some modern. They don't just edge the square, but also stand in it, making the market place seem more closed in and intimate. I believe that for a week in June each year the Stary Rynek is crammed with handicraft stalls and street performers - an event called Jarmark Świętojański, or St John's Fair. Could be worth visiting at that time, but for now the square looked picturesque enough, even if it was almost deserted in the rain.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
The Apollo Fountain
Poznań Old Market Square

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
A row of merchants' houses (domki budnicze), dating from the 16th century.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Stary Rynek
With at least one American tourist enjoying herself in the rain.
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Pubs and restaurants around Stary Rynek.
There are a lot of pubs around Stary Rynek.
Oh, and a pole-dancing club. That is not a pun.
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
One last view of the Market Square before I wipe the raindrops off of my lens.

Away from the Market Square down a cobbled street stands the magnificently Baroque Kolegiata Matki Boskiej Nieustającej Pomocy i św Marii Magdaleny w Poznaniu (Collegiate Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help / Succour and St. Mary Magdalene in Poznań), better known, for obvious reasons, as the Poznań Fara (a Fara is a parish church). Confusingly it also seems to be known as the Bazylika Mniejsza Matki Bożej Nieustającej Pomocy, Św. Marii Magdaleny i Św. Stanisława Biskupa (Lesser Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Mary Magdelene and St. Stanislaus). A plaque outside the church says that it was once a Jesuit church, built between 1651 and 1705.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Approaching the Poznań Fara
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
the Poznań Fara
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Sign over door: Koncerty
The Polish language is great for forming plurals - it seems you just add a 'y' or 'i' on the end.
Not like some convoluted languages I could name. *cough* German.

This pink piece of icing-piped confectionery deserves any multitude of fabulous titles when you take a look inside; it is as over-the-top ornate and in-your-face Roman Catholic symbolistic as you would hope and expect. Statues of saints, and candy-twist pillars, and white marble cherubs flying up to vaulted ceilings painted with visions of heaven and dripping with gold. But it was also very cold, and even though it was a wet April day, going back outside the warmth of the air actually hit you like getting off the plane at Nairobi airport.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Inside the Poznań Fara
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
More baroqueness inside the Poznań Fara
Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Back out in the rain

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
And more rainy cobbled streets

There is more than one impressive church in Poznań, and for the other we went for a walk and over the bridge across one arm of the river (the river Warta - not hard to forget) to 'Cathedral Island' (Ostrów Tumski) looking for the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
On Cathedral Island

Cathedral Island is the oldest part of Poznań. Here sometime in the 8th or 9th century a gród (fortified settlement) was established, which in the 10th century became one of the main political centres for the House of Piast, who were themselves the first ruling dynasty of Poland. Mieszko the First of Poland (930 - 992) was of that dynasty. In the same way as British kings of the time did, Mieszko regularly moved between ducal palaces in his domain, taking his court with him. One of his most important palaces was here on Cathedral Island in Poznań, and archaeologists believe that there was a chapel attached, perhaps used by Mieszko's wife Dobrawa and her Bohemian attendants. If so, then this was the first Christian temple in Poland, and it occupied the spot where the Church of the Virgin Mary stands now on Cathedral Island (it is the building on the left in the above photo.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul

In 966, Mieszko the First was himself baptised, possibly at the palace chapel in Poznań, possibly after a long talk with his wife or her Bohemian attendants about The Good News. Certainly, about this time the first church proper was built next to the chapel, which took on cathedral status in 968 after Bishop Jordan was sent to Poland by the Pope. It was dedicated to St Peter, after the Basilica in The Vatican. This first church lasted some seventy years before being destroyed by Bretislaus I, Duke of Bohemia who captured Poznań in 1039. What is it with these Bohemians? One year they are converting the King of Poland to Christianity, a few decades later they are ransacking cathedrals. Tsk.Anyway, it was rebuilt, in the Romanesque style.

The cathedral of St Peter also took on the patronage of St Paul when Pope Pius VII elevated the status of the cathedral to that of an archcathedral in 1821 (no, I don't know what the difference between a cathedral and an archcathedral is either). After a long existence and one or two rebuilds after being razed by fire, it succumbed to its last conflagration on 15th February 1945 during the liberation of Poznań by the Red Army, and was rebuilt in the gothic style it had taken on in the fourteenth century. The cathedral was reopened on 29 June 1956.

In 1962, Pope John XXIII gave the church the title of minor basilica. In 1983 Pope John Paul II visited the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. Of this spot, Pope JP2 said 'Poland began here… Poland began in Poznań'.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Welcome to  Poznań! Statue of Pope John Paul II on Cathedral Island

Also beginning in Poznań were Polish demonstrations against the communist government. Workers at the Cegielski Factory demanding pay compensation for a raised work quota and better conditions protested in Poznań on June 28, 1956 at 6:00am. They took to the streets and were soon joined by workers at other plants and students. Between 9:00am and 11:00am a crowd of around 100,000 protestors assembled in the town centre on Adam Mickiewicz Square in front of the Imperial Castle and near the Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (UB: Department of Security = secret Police) building. They were met with 400 tanks and 10,000 soldiers. The demonstrations, which spread around the city, were bloodily suppressed by the squads of the People's Regular Army and the corps of Internal Security. During the subsequent clash, firing on the demonstrators broke out resulting in the deaths of between 57 and 100 people. One of  them was a 13-year-old boy, Romek Strzałkowski, who has become a symbol of the Poznan 1956 events. Subsequent protests led to the so-called October Revolution or Polish Thaw, when a less Soviet-controlled government was allowed (by the Soviets) to come to power in Poland.

Many historians consider the Poznań 1956 protests to be an important milestone in the modern history of Poland, and one of the events that precipitated the fall of communism in Poland.

On the 25th anniversary of the June uprising, a monument comprising of two 21-metre tall steel crosses, joined with a knot-tied arm and a sculpture of an eagle's head, was erected in Adam Mickiewicz Square. On the left-side cross there is the date of 1956, commemorating the protests, and on the right-side cross there are the dates of workers' later protests from other Polish cities: 1968, 1970, 1976, 1980 and 1981.

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Poznań Crosses

By the way, Adam Mickiewicz Square is named after the national poet of that name, who has been adopted as the patron of the University of Poznań. As well as being a leading Romantic poet, dramatist, and essayist he agitated for the independence of his home region (now a part of Belarus) from the Russian Empire. So, he was kind of like a cross between Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Anyway, his gigantic statue stands beside the Poznań Crosses monument, looking towards the University bearing his name.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Statue of Adam Mickiewicz, one of Poland's "Three Bards" ("Trzej Wieszcze")
 Lived 24 December 1798  -  26 November 1855

Whilst we are in the area, I noticed that in front of the Imperial Castle (this part now being the Mathematics Institute) is a monument to Marian Rejewski.


Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13

Rejewski was a Polish mathematician and cryptologist who in 1932 deduced the secret internal wiring of Germany's Enigma machine. Five weeks before the German invasion of Poland, Rejewski and his colleagues at the Polish Armed Forces' Biuro Szyfrów (Cipher Bureau) passed on their findings of Enigma decryption to French and British Intelligence representatives. Without their research and insight, the Wizards of Bletchley Park might never have broken the Enigma Code, and who knows how the war would have ended then.

Talking about the war ... we finished our day in Poznań by taking a walk up to Poznań Citadel. This was the site of the Prussian-built Fortress that Hitler had ordered his troops to defend to the last bullet, and is now a pleasant park. There is very little sign left of the polygonal Citadel; what bricks remained after the final stages of the Battle of Poznań in February 1945 were plundered to rebuild Poznań. But there is a military museum here in the remains of the fort, as well as cemeteries and memorials to the Polish, British, Soviet and Commonwealth soldiers who died fighting here. In fact, the remains of the POW's who are depicted in the film 'The Great Escape' are buried here in the Old Garrison Cemetery.

Citadel Park, with its elevated location and leafy walkways, would probably be a lovely place for a stroll, but time was catching up with us, and we needed to grab a bite to eat before catching the Berlin-Warsaw Express home. By now the light and the rain were too bad to take any photos (hence none whatsoever of the park), but here is a closing shot of a puppy and a sphinx, which depicts totally my overall impression of Poznań * :

Photo from Andie Gilmour's blog about Poznań 29.03.13
Puppy and Sphinx

* answers on an email, please.

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