Friday, 31 October 2014

Wrocław: The Wrong Way to Cross a Road

Street Art 'Przejscie' photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

The pedestrian underpass at the intersection of streets Pilsudskiego and Swidnicka in Wroclaw seems to have a fatal flaw: they forgot to build an entrance!

This arresting piece of street art shows life-size figures of people descending into the pavement on one side of the road, and emerging out of the pavement on the other side. What's that all about then?

The collection of sculptures is called Przejscie, which translates variously as 'transition', 'passageway', 'crossing', 'ordeal' and 'experience'. It was created by Polish artist Jerzy Kalina and was installed on the 24th anniversary of the introduction of martial law in Poland on 13th December 1981.

The descending figures represent 'The Dissapeared'; the ordinary citizens who went missing at the time as if they were swallowed up by the Earth. The figures on the other side of the road represent the return and rise of the ordinary citizen when martial law was relinquished in 1983. The sculptures are also supposed to represent the anonymity of the ordinary people you pass in the street un-noticed, who might be dissidents risking their life and health for the good of the country, disappearing into the underground.

Previously, in 1977, the installation was at the intersection of Swietokrzyskiej and Mazowieckiej in Warsaw.

Whatever you think of its meaning, this piece of art is quite extraordinary, and seems to fit in perfectly with the streets of Wroclaw.

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour

Street Art Przejscie photographed in Wroclaw by Andie Gilmour


Wrocław: Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) by night

The Ostrów Tumski and its huddle of churches, the cathedral, convent and archbishop's palace is a serene place to walk around by day. And at night, after the traditional gas-lamp lighter has done his rounds, the place takes on a whole new dimension of mystery and awe.

Here are a few photos of the island (if I had a tripod, there would be more!)

photo TAKEN ON Ostrów Tumski, WroclaW, at night  by Andie Gilmour

photo TAKEN ON Ostrów Tumski, WroclaW, at night  by Andie Gilmour

photo TAKEN ON Ostrów Tumski, WroclaW, at night  by Andie Gilmour

photo TAKEN ON Ostrów Tumski, WroclaW, at night  by Andie Gilmour

photo TAKEN ON Ostrów Tumski, WroclaW, at night  by Andie Gilmour

photo TAKEN ON Ostrów Tumski, WroclaW, at night  by Andie Gilmour

photo TAKEN ON Ostrów Tumski, WroclaW, at night  by Andie Gilmour

die Schrammsteine: climbing in the Sächsische Schweiz

The Schrammsteine are a jagged ridge of peaks in das Elbsandsteingebirge (Elbe Sandstone Mountains)  of the Sächsisch-Böhmische Schweiz (Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland). We set out one misty Autumn morning from the town of Bad Schandau to climb up to their peaks and get a top-of-the-world view of this area in South-East Germany close up to the Czech border.

Bad Schandau is a quaint town with a long history of tourism catering for visitors to its healing spa resorts or as a base for a bit of hiking in the rugged landscape around. I felt it reminded me of Keswick in the English Lake District, except Bad Schandau doesn't have a pencil museum. Thankfully. It does have shops that sell hiking gear though, so we got some new thermal socks, hooray!

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

We gained some height from Bad Schandau by taking a rather unique elevator, built in 1905 and part of the fantasy that is the film The Grand Budapest Hotel (see my blog about the elevator here). From the spa village of Ostrau at the top of the elevator we headed NE towards the Schrammsteine ridge in the misty distance.

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

As you get into the Elbsandsteingebirge the way up (and up, and up) is through dense forets, following a steep trail of steps.

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

The walls of stone start closing in on you, and the way is between dark clefts in the rock, carved out by streams flowing off of the rocky plateaus above. It all starts feeling a bit like you are heading towards the Misty Mountains of Middle-Earth, and you should be worrying about orc attacks!

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

Occasionally we get glimpses through the trees of the peaks we are heading for, and as we get closer they seem to get bigger and bigger.

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

After more and more climbing through the forest we begin to get to the feet of the peaks:

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

And we begin to see the strange stacks of sandstone peculiar to these highlands, that point like fingers up to the sky:

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

Soon the earthen steps are replaced with actual ladders ...

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

... and the cliffs are now high and sheer but still colonised by trees.

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

Eventually we reached the top, and the views from up there were worth the climb. Oh yes! Even worth the feeling I was about to have a heart-attack, or fall off through vertigo!

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

Once we had gained the first peak, it was merely a matter of following the ridge eastwards. Not that the climbing was done with, as remember these peaks are like fingers and it is all up and down, though aided by metal stairs and ladders, and even hand-rails (so German! You don't get this in the Cuillin mountains, that's for sure!).

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

It is all worth it for the views, like here over to the Czech Republic:

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

Eventually we had to start descending again, and like the way up, it was through a long, long path down through the woods. Some guys chose to take the quicker way down:

photo taken in the Sächsische Schweiz by Andie Gilmour

Back at the Elbe, we found ourselves in the small village of Schmilka, which is right on the Czech border. You can still see the old border control barriers and buildings on the road South-East.

We got a ferry across the Elbe to Schmilka Bahnhof, then grabbed the next train back to Dresden where our apartment was for the weekend.



A wonderful day tramping around the Sächsische Schweiz and along the Schrammsteine! (and I always want to say after Schrammsteine 'die Sonne scheint' - Herzeleid fans reading this will know why!)


The Gnomes of Wrocław

The Polish town of Wrocław (pronounced Vrrrots-waff - formerly called Breslau when it was part of German Prussia) is surprisingly cheap to get to from Berlin, provided you like bus-travel and are prepared to invest the travel time (about four to five hours). Deutsch-Bahn have a Eurocity Bus that leaves twice a day (at 09:41 and 12:44) from outside the Hauptbahnhof for example, and that is one that we took for a three-day overstay in this ancient and fascinating town.

What is there to see in Wrocław to make your visit worthwhile? Apart from the magnificent market square and town hall, the rows of brightly-decorated houses in various architectural styles, the awesome cathedrals and churches, and the great restaurants and night-life, Wrocław has something that no other city has - gnomes! Over three hundred of them, spread all over the city centre. Find all about them here, or here for a guide to where they all are, or just wander around and see how many you can spot. It is actually quite difficult, as they are very small (of course!) and not always at street level. When you spot them though, you wonder how you ever missed them.

Going gnome-hunting is a great way to explore a city; you concentrate more on really looking at the streets and buildings around you, rather than rushing off to the next touristy must-see spot. I hope that they decide to emigrate some day, and colonise other cities, as they are great fun and really cute!

Here are some that I 'captured':