Poznan (Posen), Poland
Posted on July 4, 2015
Due east of Berlin about 170 miles lies Poznan, city of many charms. Geographically, from a Polish frame of mind, close proximity to Berlin might seem to offer more downside than upside. There’s nothing pretty about Polish history, fraught with loss of territory time and again to Russia, Austria and Prussia. There were periods of glory and maybe today is the beginning of the best of times, with seemingly solid boundaries well recognized.
Poznan, German since 1793 but returned to Poland in 1918, was cleansed of Poles and Jews by Nazi Germany during WWII and got run over at the end of the war by the Red Army of Russia. Not a whole lot was left standing when the military action subsided. In the meanwhile Poznan has done an amazing job of rebuilding. Just as with the vision of Gdansk and Torun, likewise left devastated by war, a vision of rebuilding the core city in the style of former glory days was established and mostly executed. The finishing touches are proceding. Decades of Soviet control and harsh economic times did not deter the city fathers from their goal.
Let’s look around the main plaza on a warm Sunday afternoon with some special something going on, a two week event with many craft and food booths set up to entice the visitors.
We weren’t too excited by all the booths and hoopla going on, at least until we passed a bread vendor, our special weakness.
We couldn’t always figure out the signs, in fact it was a constant challenge for us.
On the west side of the square was a particularly nice building with a white swan on its gable.
Inside, there was a kiosk but no one was in sight. We went up an elegant stairway to the second floor and tried an unmarked door. A lady was inside, apparently a curator of whatever was there. There were no books in sight so the library must be on the third floor. She explained that we were in the former Dzialynski Palace and that it was presently used for formal city functions. Here are a couple of views of the main chamber overlooking the town square.
We’re a little late here in our narrative to describe our abode for two nights. Our car navigator had advised us that there were restrictions along the way to our destination. Indeed, we came upon a solid barrier in the middle of the cobblestone street that prevented us from driving within several blocks of our hostel, which was located in the very center of the old town. We found restricted parking good until 8:00 the next morning and pulled our luggage to our hostel along cobblestone streets like the tourists we were.
A couple of doors down we found this patient musician.
Let’s go out and see the town. A couple of blocks away we find a city park. It capitalizes on Chopin, who may have played here once.
Not far away is the River Warta. We walked half way across the bridge and noticed how the river split. We had no inkling that we were looking at an island on which the city was probably originally founded, similar to Ile-de-France in Paris. The great cathedral is on the island. We missed seeing it.
A great ecclesiastical complex met our eye. We ventured inside the church.
As we grew weary of walking we spied a resting spot, a small bar with beer for $1.25 a half liter.
Back on the square next day, we passed by city hall just at noon when the mechanical rams would do their butting act. School children line up to see the action.
‘Twas now time for lunch. The folks who own our hostel also run a vegetarian restaurant nearby. We saved 20% by going there. Delicious Arabic fare, with space shared by a well behaved camel.
We were now energized to see the upper reaches of the city. School groups were already exploring.
From the old town we head gently to the upper slopes. We had heard there was a castle up there and we wanted to check it out. We got an unexpected history lesson. We found no castle in the usual sense, but rather some amazing sandstone buildings of great grandeur and cleanliness. They date from the late 1800s after Germany was founded in 1871 as a unified country for the first time. The new Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to have a royal residence in Poznan. Accordingly he built a bunch of buildings that today serve the city very well. Around these building on the commanding heights overlooking the Polish old town, German settlements were established. The German folk in more ways than one looked down on the Poles. Today this whole area looks decidedly German in character, an amazing contrast to the rest of the city. The buildings in use today are home to many of the cultural activities of Poznan – symphony hall, the cultural center, the theater, the university, post office, railway station. They are so well maintained and clean that I wonder whether German interests have paid for their upkeep in one way or another.
In front of the cultural center is a memorial to three Polish cryptologists from the early war years who leaked to French and British intelligence the underpinnings of the top secret Enigma coding machine used to encipher Nazi military correspondence.
After a day of walking round we were ready for another rest. Eva found just the spot.
The shopping mall wasn’t just any old place. It was a wonderful experience for us to wander through it. The richest man in Poland funded the renovation of this vast brewery for modern purposes – shopping.
By the time we got back to the old town it was nearing 10:00 and we were ready for dinner. We came across this charming pizza place and ducked in to check it out. We stayed.
Now, after ten days, it was time to leave Poland on the the excellent new toll road back to Germany for some new adventures.