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2013 Autumn in Poland and The Czech Republic

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Today we had a thirteen-hour day being transported by train from Prague in the Czech Republic to Strasbourg in France with a one-hour lay-over in Munich. The scenery on our journey was beautiful to behold with trees dressed in red, gold, orange, and yellow, with streams and little waterfalls babbling beside us, while flanked by forests, harvested grain, and soil tilled for winter plantings. We have been so blessed in our travels this season to enjoy two months of dazzling autumn colors. God’s creation is spectacular. Little towns nestled in valleys with their stately churches towering above the city skyline is both picturesque and comforting. Sitting on a spacious train for twelve hours is considerably more comfortable and appealing than flying on a cramped airplane with no scenery but clouds while being belted in to a tight (middle!) seat.

Tomorrow we will wake up in Strasbourg to be joined by Ken and Paula Hancock. Our Best Western Hotel is located within walking distance of both the train station and La Petite France, which is reportedly one of Strasbourg’s prettiest and most enchanting neighborhoods. With its timbered buildings bursting with blooming plants, La Petite France earned this city the prestigious four-flower ranking. I look forward to seeing more of this beautiful city tomorrow in the daylight. KG

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On our last day in beautiful Prague, we set out on foot past Petřín Hill near our lodging to walk where we had not walked before. Instead of crossing the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square, we viewed the picturesque Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle with the St. Vitus Cathedral from the Nusle Bridge south of Charles Bridge. The Prague Castle is the biggest ancient castle in the world, according to Guinness World Records. Busy, historic Wenceslas Square, a rectangular commercial square in New Town (Nové město), soon came into view with its Baroque Saint Nicholas Church that features an enormous chandelier. New Town was established as an extension of Old Town in the 14th century, though much of the area has now been reconstructed. At the top of the square is the National Museum. We meandered amid the booths of fruit, vegetables, and souvenirs within the square where another political rally had congregated. We spent time educating ourselves about Bohemian glass and browsing through the stores. Then, on we walked to the Old Town (Staré Město) Square where we viewed in the daylight the Astronomical Clock on Old Town City Hall, the Jan Hus monument, and the impressive buildings of Old Town Square with their Gothic and Baroque architectural styles, including the mural-covered Storch building. We visited the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn from the 14th century its high towers. We were able to view Vlado Milunic’s and Frank Gehry’s Dancing House (Fred and Ginger Building), known for its art nouveau construction, that is for sale and is one of the most fascinating architectural expressions of Prague.

Prague is a “walkable” city, we found. It was easy to walk from Wenceslas Square to the Old Town Square and to Charles Bridge. However, almost all of the streets are cobbled and uneven, which sometimes poses a challenge. In fact, we never had to use public transport.

The Czech Koruna is the currency of Czech Republic. The currency code for Koruny is CZK, and the currency symbol is Kč. We had to draw out Czech currency from an ATM. To estimate cost in U.S. dollars, we dropped the zero and divided by 2.

The most internationally recognized beers are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj) and Budweiser Budvar (Budějovický Budvar). A beer brewed in Prague is Staropramen. Amazingly, we found that the sparkling water that Wayne and I often prefer can cost more than a comparable size of beer.

Czech is the official language of Prague and the Czech Republic. We found English to be the common language that united the various nationalities in the city. Many restaurants have English menus. The people at counters in train and metro stations and police officers rarely speak English. Russian is widely understood by people who were attending school before the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Some people, though, dislike using Russian even if they know it because of the Soviet occupation of the Czechoslovakia in 1968. Many Czechs also have some knowledge of German. People studying after 1989 and even some older people can speak English.

It has been a wonderful visit in the Czech Republic. Tomorrow we leave for Strasbourg, France, where we will be joined by Ken and Paula (Whitaker) Hancock for the remainder of our first year of our encore life.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 – Wayne’s 65th Birthday

For the first time that I can ever remember, Wayne and I made special plans to celebrate his birthday together, and what a special holiday was planned: a trip to Cesky Krumlov, a beautiful Bohemian town in the Czech Republic on the UNESCO World Heritage site! We travelled by private coach from Prague through the autumn-adorned south Bohemian countryside passing picturesque villages, ponds, and farmlands until we reached Cesky Krumlov, a small town situated in a valley surrounded by the Blansko Forest and the foothills of Sumava. The town’s fairytale red-roofed castle is surrounded by landscaped gardens and grand courtyards. The castle’s development over the 14th to 19th centuries has been well preserved, both in layout and architectural detail. A guide took us through the castle, telling us fascinating stories about the life and times of the residents of the castle through the centuries. We viewed the interior castle chapel and walked through rooms staged through the centuries. The castle complex stands on a rock promontory sculpted by the Vltava River dominating the 300 attractive historic medieval homes below. Together with the magnificent Church of St. Vitus, the castle is a unique feature of the entire region.

We enjoyed conversation with other travelers from Australia, Pennsylvania, and Seoul. We lunched with our guide who had lived under communism and now in a Czech Republic. He spoke of the concerns regarding this weekend’s elections in the Czech Republic with the Communist Party attempting to regain control. He provided his observations about the contrast between communism and democracy.

After returning to Prague after dark, we strolled through Old Town, stopped for a bowl of goulash soup, crossed Charles Bridge, and returned to our hotel, surprised to find birthday wishes from the hotel management waiting for us in the room. It was a great day as Wayne turned 65. KG

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Shop in Cesky Krumlov that sells gingerbread

Shop in Cesky Krumlov that sells gingerbread

Monday, August 21, 2013 – Wayne’s last day to be 64 years old

I asked Wayne this morning what he wanted to do today. He said, ” Dance! 🙂 ” Instead, however, we purchased tickets to tonight’s concert at the Mirror Chapel with organ and chamber ensemble playing Mozart, Bach, Handel, Pachelbel, Schubert, Dvorak, and Vivaldi.

We also made reservations to visit CeskyKrumlov tomorrow in celebration of Wayne’s 65th birthday on October 22. The entire town of Cesky Krumlov is on the UNESCO World Heritage list! Known as ‘the Pearl of the Renaissance’, the State Castle of Cesky Krumlov is one of the most important historic sites in Central Europe, and the Church of St. Vitus is a unique feature of the city.

We walked to a sports store in the mall where we purchased a knee brace for Wayne who has been struggling considerably with mobility. While the leg brace does not solve the problem it, nevertheless, provides a degree of comfort enabling a modicum of ease in ambulating.

We made plans to take the tram to the Charles Bridge this afternoon to visit a few sites in Prague before the evening concert. Prague, the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic, is the fourteenth largest city in the European Union. Located on the Vltava River, it is also the historical capital of Bohemia proper, the name previously given to the Czech Republic. Prague has been a political, cultural, and economic center of central Europe during its 1,100-year existence. Founded during the Romanesque period and flourishing by the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was not only the capital of the Czech state, but also the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and thus also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It was an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Empire and, after World War I, became the capital of Czechoslovakia. The city played major roles in the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, and in 20th-century history, during both World Wars and the post-war Communist era.

Prague is home to a number of famous cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe. Main attractions include the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the Jewish Quarter, and Petřín Hill. Prague Castle is dominated by the cathedral, which was founded in 1344, but completed in the 20th century. The Prague Astronomical Clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. Since 1992, the extensive historic center of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. A modern public transportation system connects the city. Prague is often compared to Berlin, Rome, and Houston. This magical city of bridges, cathedrals, gold-tipped towers and church domes, has been mirrored in the surface of the swan-filled Vltava River for more than ten centuries. Prague’s medieval center remains a wonderful mixture of cobbled lanes, walled courtyards, cathedrals and countless church spires all in the shadow of her majestic 9th century castle that looks eastward as the sun sets behind her. Prague is also a modern and vibrant city full of energy, music, cultural art, fine dining and special events catering to the independent traveller’s thirst for adventure. Regarded by many as one of Europe’s most charming and beautiful cities, Prague has become the most popular travel destination in Central Europe along with Bratislava and Krakow. Millions of tourists visit the city every year.

Prague flourished during the 14th-century reign (1346–1378) of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and the king of Bohemia of the new Luxembourg dynasty. As King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, he transformed Prague into an imperial capital, and it was at that time the third largest city in Europe after Rome and Constantinople. He began construction of the Gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral within the largest of the Prague Castle courtyards. Prague was then elevated to an archbishopric in 1344, the year the cathedral was begun. He ordered the building of the New Town (Nové Město) adjacent to the Old Town and laid out the design himself. In 1347, Charles IV founded Charles University, which remains the oldest university in Central Europe. The Charles Bridge was erected during his reign on July 9,1357, at 5:31 A.M. We know this, because the palindromic number 135797531 was carved into the Old Town bridge tower at the start of the bridge construction. The Hunger Wall, a substantial fortification wall, was ordered by Charles IV to be built during a famine in the 1360s as a means of providing employment and food to the workers and their families.

Charles IV died in 1378. During the reign of his son, King Wenceslaus IV (1378–1419), a time of terrible turmoil followed after members of the Prague clergy announced that Jews had desecrated the Eucharistic wafer during Easter 1389. The clergy then encouraged mobs to pillage, ransack, and burn the Jewish quarter. Nearly the entire Jewish population of Prague (3,000 people) perished.

Jan Hus, a theologian and rector at the Charles University, inspired by John Wycliffe, began preaching in 1402 on what were seen as radical reforms of a corrupt Church. Seen as a threat to the political and religious establishment, Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance, put on trial for heresy, and burned at the stake in 1415.

Four years later the people rebelled under the command of the Prague priest. Hus’s death, combined with Czech nationalism and Protestantism, spurred the Hussite Wars. Peasant rebels, along with Hussite troops from Prague, defeated Emperor Sigismund, in the Battle of Vítkov Hill in 1420.

In 1526, the Bohemian estates elected Ferdinand I of the House of Habsburg. The fervent Catholicism of its members was to bring them into conflict in Bohemia, and then in Prague, where Protestant ideas were gaining popularity. These problems were not pre-eminent under Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, elected King of Bohemia in 1576, who chose Prague as his home. He lived in the Prague Castle, where his court welcomed not only astrologers and magicians but also scientists, musicians, and artists. Rudolf was an art lover too, and Prague became the capital of European culture. This was a prosperous period for the city.

During the 18th century, Prague’s population consisted of rich merchants and nobles who enriched the city with a host of palaces, churches and gardens full of art and music, creating a Baroque style renowned throughout the world. The Industrial Revolution had a strong effect in Prague, as factories could take advantage of the coal mines and ironworks of the nearby region.

Prague had a German-speaking majority in 1848. In the 1900s, there was an influx of Czechs from the rest of Bohemia and Moravia. The social status of the Czech language rose, and ethnic mixing and assimilation occurred.

World War I ended with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of Czechoslovakia. Prague was chosen as its capital and Prague Castle as the seat of the president. At this time, Prague was a true European capital with highly developed industry.

On March 15, 1939, Hitler ordered the German Army to enter Prague, proclaiming Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate. For most of its history Prague had been a multi-ethnic city with important Czech, German, and Jewish populations. From 1939, when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, and during World War II, most Jews were deported and killed by the Germans. Prague suffered several bombing raids. By the end of World War II, over 1,000 people had been injured, 701 people killed, and hundreds of buildings, factories, and historical landmarks destroyed, even though the damage was small compared to the total destruction of many other cities. An uprising against Germany and the German people who lived in Prague occurred. The majority of the German population either fled or were expelled after the war. Prague became a city under the political control of the Soviet Union. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two countries, and Prague became capital city of the new Czech Republic. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and an important cultural center of Europe. It is the sixth-most-visited European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin. It contains one of the world’s most pristine and varied collections of architecture, from Romanesque, to Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau, Cubist, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern.

Because we will return late in the evening, and the hotel’s Internet is ill-equipped to handle all the users, I will record my entry for today at this time. KG

Evening in Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Evening in Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Evening in Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Evening in Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Sunday, October 20, 2013

On this Lord’s Day, we left Krakow and the myriad of students who had come to Krakow from Israel to connect with their Jewish history. The receptionist at the Best Western told us that they frequently host tour groups from Israel.

We had reservations on an 8 AM train from Krakow to Kawtorice where we transferred to a train that would take us to Praha (Prague). We had great conversations on our journey that did not arrive in Prague until 5 PM. We met young American college students who were studying in London and were traveling on their fall break. We visited at length with an international finance professor from the Czech Republic who had earned his doctorate in Illinois. We learned from him traditional foods of the Czech Republic which we hope to try:
Svickova na smetane-pork cream
Hovezi gulas-beef goulash
Vepro knedlo zelo-pork with kraut
Pecena kachna-duck
Utopenci, tlacenka s octem a cibuli-snack
Tvaruzky-snack
Smazeny syr-roasted cheese
Vetrnik-sweets.
The journey was pleasant.

Having updated ourselves this time on what to anticipate in our travels in Prague, we learned to be prepared for taxi cab drivers who would overcharge tourists. This time I went to the tourist spot in the train station, learned where our Best Western lodging was, and let the tourist agent call for a cab. I already had a list of approved cab companies and learned that our driver came from an approved company. We did get some crowns, the currency of the Czech Republic, although Euros are generally accepted. We arranged in advance to pay our cab driver in Euros at a set price plus tip.

We arrived at our Best Western lodging. After staying in a spacious room in Krakow, this tiny studio room was disappointing, especially since we have achieved Platinum status with Best Western and are eligible for free room upgrades. There was not even room for two suitcases to be opened at the same time, the tiny bathroom could barely hold one person, and Internet access was paltry. But there is always something good: the water was potable, the window could be opened allowing cool fresh air to enter the room, we were close to the elevator, and the hotel had a lift. We ate a delicious dinner at the hotel, traditional food of the Czech Republic. We looked forward to what the next few days might bring in this the largest city of the Czech Republic. KG

Saturday, October 19, 2013

After walking relatively well yesterday, for which we are so grateful to God, Wayne’s leg muscles and knees refused to cooperate with his desires to sightsee on this pleasant, sunshiny day in Krakow. Wayne’s perseverance insisted on victory over his body’s lack of cooperation. Consequently, we took a cab to the Old Town main market square, named Rynek, with plans to see the sites in one of the oldest cities in Poland dating back to the 4th century. Alas, Wayne’s body stubbornly rebelled. He was in pain and could barely place one foot in front of the other without holding on to me. Nevertheless, Wayne doggedly made his way to St. Mary’s Basilica on the main square. The Gothic interior is beyond breath-taking with its magnificent wooden altarpiece, stained glass windows in the nave, paintings, and blue star-studded ceiling. The northern tower of the church, one of two towers, was raised to become a watchtower for the city. While a bugler warned the city dwellers of a threat from Mongol invaders, he was shot in the neck as he played his bugle from the watchtower. Since then, the city’s famous bugle call, played every hour on the hour from the tower, stops in mid-melody in honor of the bugler who lost his life while protecting his people from harm.

We sat in an outdoor restaurant in the Rynek, soaking up the warm sunshine, watching the impressive antique horse-drawn carriages and the bustling Saturday activity in the square. Krakow’s Old Town remains in its original form, thankfully unharmed physically by World War II and the 45 years of communist supervision after the war. I knew that Wayne preferred to be where the action was rather than confined to a couch in the Best Western to rest his knees and leg muscles and yet, he longed to touch history and walk in its path. He accepted my suggestion to go on an English-speaking city tour in a golf cart that took in the sites of Old Town, the Wawel Hill Castle, Kazimierz (the former Jewish Quarter), and Schindler’s Factory. We were the only ones in the golf cart, Wayne remained comfortable enough, the driver was pleasant, we received a thorough history lesson, and we saw more than we would have if we had done this on our own. It was a great, worthwhile experience.

Everywhere we have been in our travels in Germany and Eastern Europe, the ravages of war have been inescapable, and yet, people have persevered and overcome. We cannot leave Krakow without being emotionally affected once again. KG

View of the ceiling of St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow's Old Town main market square

View of the ceiling of St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow’s Old Town main market square


Antique horse-drawn carriage in Krakow's Old Town main market square, the Rynek

Antique horse-drawn carriage in Krakow’s Old Town main market square, the Rynek

Krakow's Planty  (green space) was once a series of medieval fortifications

Krakow’s Planty (green space) was once a series of medieval fortifications

Krakow's Corpus Christi Church

Krakow’s Corpus Christi Church

Monument in Krakow's Jewish Ghetto to the 65,000 Jews representing 20% of Krakow's population who lost their lives in the Holocaust

Monument in Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto to the 65,000 Jews representing 20% of Krakow’s population who lost their lives in the Holocaust

Friday, October 18, 2018

It was a great day in Krakow, Poland, as we took Bus 304 to Wieliczka, Poland, a small town about ten miles out of Krakow where the Wieliczka Salt Mine is located. Wieliczka is a World Heritage Site and is included along with Krakow’s Old Town on UNESCO’s first ever World Heritage List in 1978.

Rock salt was discovered in the area in the 1200s. This brought great wealth to Poland for the next 500 years. For a while, revenue from the salt mine accounted for one third of the country’s treasury. Salt was a sign of wealth, and someone who performed their duties well was said to be “worth their salt.” The word, salary, comes from the Latin word “salarium” used to describe wages.

In 1996, mining the salt deposit ceased, but the salt mine is still used for historical and medicinal purposes along with accommodating over a million tourists annually. It was interesting to learn that because of the unique saline microclimate people with upper respiratory ailments have been found to benefit from time in the salt mine. They even have an “Underground Health Resort” to promote good health and relaxation. Wayne and I made sure to breathe in deeply during our three hours in the salt mine! 🙂

We walked down 380 wooden stairs into the salt mine and made our way through numerous tunnels and chambers, including a huge chapel in which almost everything is made from rock salt, including the tiled floors, chandeliers, sculptures, and wall carvings done by miners depicting scenes from the life of Christ–Jesus’s baptism, the Last Supper, Jesus’s Resurrection, and others. Because salt is a preservative, people book weddings in the chapel with the desire to preserve their marriage. It was truly a worthwhile experience.

We took Bus 304 back to Krakow’s Old Town where we ate at an authentic Polish restaurant. While in Poland, we have really enjoyed sour rye soup, various kinds of pierogi, and cooked cabbage with meat, mushrooms, and onions. I also had beet soup which was excellent. We are enjoying Poland. KG

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is included in UNESCO's first ever World Heritage Site List in 1978.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is included in UNESCO’s first ever World Heritage Site List in 1978.

Descending into the St. Kinga's Chapel, dating from the 1600s, in the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Descending into the St. Kinga’s Chapel, dating from the 1600s, in the Wieliczka Salt Mine


Traditional Polish restaurant in Krakow where we ate pierogi and sour rye soup.

Traditional Polish restaurant in Krakow where we ate pierogi and sour rye soup.

Nighttime full moon in Krakow's Old Town, October 18, 2013

Nighttime full moon in Krakow’s Old Town, October 18, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The weather was pleasant for a train ride from Wroclaw, Poland, to Krakow, Poland, a 5 1/2 hour journey through the autumn glory of nature. The people we have met in Poland have been cheery and conversant. We have been surprised at the number of people who will speak with us in English. The train on which we spent our day was an older train; nevertheless, we made ourselves comfortable enough.

Wayne’s discomfort with walking since the toe “incident” necessitated use of a cab instead of taking local transportation to our lodging a distance away from the train station. Unfortunately, I had booked a Best Western that was not in the Old Town, which was a disappointment, especially to Wayne. To further add to the discomfort, the taxi cab driver charged us an exorbitant 85 PLN for the cab ride. Without questioning the cost, we dutifully paid what was asked. Upon checking in to the hotel, however, the receptionist was aghast when we told her the cost of the cab. She said it should never cost more than 28 PLN! Uh-oh, that was the second cab driver who had overcharged us heavily. Our arrival into Krakow was not going well. We entered the elevator wondering what our room would look like, especially since I had booked a €60 per night special. Much to our surprise (and my relief!), we had been upgraded to a more than adequate suite with a separate living room fitted with a comfortable couch, chair, and desk, a separate bedroom, and large bathroom with both a tub and shower. Perhaps we could find a rainbow through the clouds and maybe tomorrow, without luggage, we could navigate the public transportation system. KG

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

This morning we walked…very slowly and carefully…to the breath-takingly beautiful Jesuit church, the Baroque Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in Wroclaw. It is truly a blessing that the interior of the church escaped destruction during World War II. The frescoes that adorn the walls, the richly ornamented pulpit, the detailed scenes on the vaulting in the nave, and the spectacular high altar with the painting of The Presentation of the Baby Jesus at the Temple captivate the eye and heart.

We then walked…very slowly and carefully…to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, an historic church constructed in the 14th century that suffered 55% loss to its structure as a result of the World War II bombing of Breslau, the German name of the city before the Communists gained control after the 1945 Potsdam agreement.

Like all of Poland, Wrocław’s population is predominantly Roman Catholic; the city is the seat of an Archdiocese. Wrocław is unique for its “Borough of Four Temples”— a part of Old Town where a synagogue, a Lutheran Church, a Roman Catholic church, and an Eastern Orthodox church stand near each other. We walked to all of the churches.

By then, it was well past lunch. We returned to the cute little restaurant where we had eaten last evening, the Pierogarnia (www.pierogarnia.com). We ordered lepiochy, which are traditional Polish dumplings with potato, cottage cheese, & onion, known also as Polish pierogi. Polish pierogi are half circular dumplings of unleavened dough, stuffed (singularly or in various combinations) with mashed potatoes, cheese, farmer’s cheese, cabbage, sauerkraut, meat, mushrooms, spinach, or other savory ingredients. We also shared a Polish salad. And I ordered hot chocolate. To my sheer delight, it was hot chocolate much like that we enjoyed in Spain–thick, like warm chocolate pudding, and eaten with a spoon. We loved it.

Baroque Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, Wroclaw, Poland - Miraculously, its interior escaped destruction during World War II.

Baroque Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, Wroclaw, Poland
– Miraculously, its interior escaped destruction during World War II.

One of Wroclaw's churches

One of Wroclaw’s churches

A church in Wroclaw, Poland

A church in Wroclaw, Poland

One of the little brass gnomes found throughout the city of Wroclaw, Poland

One of the little brass gnomes found throughout the city of Wroclaw, Poland

October 15, 2013

Today, we left beautiful Dresden and the city’s beloved Frauenkirche, whose story has captured my heart. After an almost four hour train ride during which time we were captivated by the autumn scenery, we arrived in Wroclaw/Breslau, Poland.

Wroclaw is the Polish name given to the once-German city of Breslau by the Communists after they took control of the city following World War II. It was the 1945 Potsdam agreement that led to one of the world’s most radical transfer of peoples. In August 1945, the city had a German population of 189,500, and a Polish population of 17,000; that was soon to change. Almost all of the German inhabitants fled or were forcibly expelled between 1945 and 1949 and were settled in Allied Occupation Zones in Germany. A small German minority remains in the city, although the city’s last German school was closed in 1963. The Polish population was dramatically increased by the resettlement of Poles during postwar population transfers (75%) as well as during the forced deportations from Polish lands annexed by the Soviet Union in the east region, many of whom came from Lviv (Lwów). The population did a topsy-turvy, German to Polish, almost overnight. New Polish immigrants, mostly pioneers from central Poland and refugees from further east, were catapulted into the city. Unlike those in Warsaw or Kraków, the new Wroclaw inhabitants were rootless. But they shared a pioneering drive to work hard and make a new beginning.

The Communists worked to “de-Germanize” the city to eradicate war traumas – and hide the fact the new Wroclawians were living in homes that fleeing Germans had abandoned. They renamed the streets, flattened German cemeteries, let old Baroque monuments deteriorate, propagating the myth of an ancient Polish city that the Communists said they had saved from the Nazis. Anything having to do with the German past was taboo.

When the Iron Curtain collapsed in 1989, it paved the way for city leaders to acknowledge Wroclaw’s various heritages. Today, after decades, the city is embracing its German roots. Wroclaw developed an identity and matured into a regional force that has been driving Poland’s growth. Poland is a peaceful democracy in the European Union. It is economically and socially sound, and it is addressing its past. Wroclaw is today transforming from a peripheral city in southwest Poland into an assertive Central European cosmopolis.

With its twelve islands and 120 bridges, the city of Wroclaw on the river Odra is often called the “Venice of Poland.” Minutes from the Gothic town hall dominating its medieval Market Square stands the 695-foot Sky Tower, Poland’s tallest skyscraper in a city that is a young, dynamic, high-tech hub. Wroclaw’s universities, which graduate 25,000 students annually, helped Wroclaw manage the transition from communism.

When the Communists controlled the city, the idea of entrepreneurship did not exist. However, two milestones helped pave the way for a better future for Wroclaw: Siemens, the first Western firm to invest in Wroclaw, opened an engineering center in Wroclaw, and, secondly, Poland joined the European Union. When Germany opened its labor market to Eastern Europe in 2011, there was fear that Poles would “steal” jobs from Germans, but Wroclaw engineers tended to stay in Wroclaw.

Poland was the only European Union country whose economy did not shrink when the financial crisis hit in 2009. Poland has been growing steadily, benefiting from EU funds perhaps more than any other country, experts say. Wroclaw, Poland’s fourth largest city, is number two after Warsaw in terms of growth and foreign investment. Global firms like Pittsburgh Glass Works and Credit Suisse have made it a major base of operations.

Euro 2012, the world’s second largest soccer tournament which Poland hosted, acted as a catalyst to speed the rebuilding of roads, trams, and an airport in Wroclaw, one of the tournament’s host cities – thereby mending an infrastructure still badly wounded by decades of neglect under the Communists. The competition helped change how Europeans see Poland and strengthened its position in Europe.

Today’s economic success is linked to accommodating Wroclaw’s German past. It was a long, painful process. For instance, after an acrimonious debate in 1990 the city restored its historic coat of arms of 1530, a symbolic acceptance by today’s Wroclawians of their city’s history, including its German past. In 2000, Wroclaw put on a celebration of its millennial, highlighting the city’s Austrian and Prussian past. People realized that the debates lead to a healthier society with a more stable identity. The city found its identity in the recognition that it has many identities. This new identity is behind Wroclaw’s nomination as European Capital of Culture for 2016. Wroclaw can be used as a model for all those cities dealing with unresolved, suppressed conflicts of the past.

Wrocław is now a unique European city of mixed heritage, with architecture influenced by Bohemian, Austrian and Prussian traditions, such as Silesian Gothic and its Baroque style of court builders of Habsburg Austria. Wrocław has a number of notable buildings by German modernist architects including the famous Centennial Hall (Hala Stulecia or Jahrhunderthalle).

Wayne has been in significant pain. The broken toe has caused a host of related ailments. Walking irregularly to protect the toe, his knees now bother him as well as leg muscles. As a result, we took a cab to the Best Western upon arrival in Wroclaw instead of walking. We learned–the hard way–that, even though Poland is in the European Union, it still does not use the Euro. Our exorbitantly-priced taxi ride caught our attention quickly and left us a little poorer but wiser.

After checking in, we laboriously walked to a pharmacy where we purchased some Ibuprofen, Polish style, for pain, and then ate dinner in a local restaurant that specializes in traditional Polish foods. After our return to the Best Western, we observed that Wayne’s knee was badly swollen. I put ice on it to reduce the swelling. If we were home, I would take Wayne to the doctor. Unfortunately, that is not an option. I pray for healing and comfort for Wayne. KG


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