It takes less than two hours to reach Poland from Berlin by car or by train, but I haven't used that often this opportunity to visit too often this country. Since now, I have been only to Szczecin - twice - and to Wroclaw - also twice. I have a long list of places I would love to visit, among which Gdansk, Sopot, Warsaw and Krakow, but as the country is as huge as Germany, I might need some extra available time to make it really happen. Getting the taste of a future Polish travel adventure, I decided to visit a destination that can be covered - although aproximatively - in just one day: Poznan/Posen.
We arrived three hours after we started the journey from Berlin in some old and moderately clean Polish train. The train station is under construction therefore it was a mess to go out of it, especially if you are there for the first time, and another batch of mess to find the right direction to the central area, as there are not easily identifiable direction signs. Maybe I got too much used to travel only within my comfort zone. Once I have my eyes on an Art Nouveau post office - Poszta - building I know that there are hidden gem waiting to be seen and discovered and I am ready to discover the city with an open heart.
It is Sunday morning, and contrary to the situation in Germany, the shops - including huge shopping malls built in the country after the fall of communism, as everywhere in this part of Europe - are open and buzzing with customers. As for now, I prefer to have a look at the interesting architectural shapes which made me forget the unpleasant struggle of getting out of the train station.
In Poland, the more or less recent history is generously represented through public monuments and many inscriptions - unfortunatelly only in the local language - reminding events and offering the contemporary interpretation of them. At Polwiecja, for instance, we stop in the front of a monument dedicated to the WWI.
We pass by buildings that used to be pretty many decades ago probably, if not historical events and financial restrictions brought them to an early retirement from the architectural beauty contest.
Somehow, as in the case of any real beauty, even the times were hard, at least they offer you a guess about how shining they used to be when they were princesses.
Once we are closer to the central area, the paints are fresh and everything looks like inaugurated yesterday. As in the case of many communist cities, it seems that most of the financial and branding efforts were focused on historical centers, where tourists are mostly concentrated.
On Wroclawska street, for instance, the more appealing architectural views do make justice to the architectural treasure.
Poland was one of the fiercest anti-communist countries from the block, but for the generation born during those times, the references are different, therefore, probably faced with the ups and downs of the local capitalism and democracy, nostalgia caught the soul of some. However, every time when I see comrade Lenin raising his brows to the people, I am not sure if I have to smile or be worried.
But there is more to life than worrying and once we are in the Old Market Square - Stary Rynek -, the main square, buzzing with people making their way through the food stalls of the open market, all I see are colourful houses.
The town hall - Ratusz - which looks in between a cathedral and an Italian palace - the architect was Italian actually -, is surrended by masses like no other public institution I've seen before, not only for admiring the details of the historical scenes which deserve probably history books to go through all of them, but for the famous fighting goats. Every day, at noon, two mechanical goats do play for the public a butt heads game, an appearance considered one of the main town's attractions. If you missed the moment, there is still a chance to meet some goats, in natural size and smell, as two such animals rest on the pavement in the front of the entrance, ready to be petted and tipped too.
The untold histories of the houses in the main square are more interesting for me though and most of them are worth the effort of practically swimming through the masses of people chilling with a beer or some local food to see them from close. For the literary buffs there is also a museum available in the area, dedicated to the celebrated Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, recipient of the Nobel prize for literature in 1905.
As for me, I wish there is a book simple enough to explain me every single building in the area, as the visual show is not only visually challenging, but very intriguing, with influences from all over the architectural style ranges.
With only a couple of hours in my travel pocket, it is time to move on faster. A couple of minutes ago I am in Wilhelmiego, centuries later, in the time of the Romans. The well maintained wall remains are surrounded by green patches and some very modern buildings, a good example of historical coexistence. Buildings can do it perfectly.
Poznan is branded in many ways, among which as being one of the oldest and the largest cities in Poland, but my favorite one refers to it as the third largest university city, with over 125,000 students enrolled here. I love university cities because they always bring some fresh and optimistic mood into local life and buildings like that one, hosting the Art University.
As many big Polish cities, Poznan also used to have a considerable Jewish heritage - rabbi Akiva Eger, a personality of the 19th century Europe is burried in the cemetery here, where he spent the last years of life. This lost heritage is celebrated with a Golem sculpture, on Marcinkowskiego, by the controversial Czech artist David Černý.
Nearby, the National Museum - Museum Narodowe - is an invitation to discover the local culture and histories. Architecture-wise, I loved the golden mosaique inserts in the frontal part, which confers an unique note of elegance and distinction to the black stone.
On the opposite side of the street, a spectacular geometric construction covered by water offers a welcomed contrast to the quiet Art Nouveau buildings, mostly former and current bank institutions.
Intellectual life was always appreciated in this part of Europe and during the 18th and 19th century, times coinciding with the national revival, cultural institutions were built regardless the expenses. The former municipal theatre, for instance, was the place where Paganini and Listz used to play, and later on, the first local Polish radio station was established.
As much as I would love to sip a cocktail too, I am, as usual, out of time, therefore, I can only offer myself the pleasure of some local pierogi, a national version of dumpling, at Pierozak, on Wroclawska. The pierogi are both savory and sweet, with less than one euro the piece, and although the waiting time is considerable - 30 minutes at least during which you can spy some preparation methods, but also chat with the locals - the outcome is unforgettable and a bit addicting. No wonder that the next day I was checking where I can find homemade pierogi in Berlin...
The more I stay around, I am revealing little local secrets. For instance, the quiet island of Cafe Misja, where minutes away from the busy central square one can sit and read while having a refreshing lemonade.
You know you are in Poland when instead of street-art - there is a quarter dedicated to this modern form of art, but unfortunately, it was out-of-sight for my one-day trip - you can read poetry written on the walls in the parking spaces. In such moments, whish I know Polish to understand it what it is talking about.
The next leg of the trip is a bit far away from the central area, and I am passing near industrial areas converted into start-up places or at least getting some hipster blue doors when entering red-bricked Prussian looking buildings.
My next stop is Park Citadel, recommended by the tourist guides for Poznan, which I personally found at least grotesque. I know, my sense of humour is sometimes dry, but I've seen too much to be impressed by a brave Soviet soldier surrounded by delicate flowers.
As for the forest of half-bodies, maybe I better keep the impressions to myself. At least the walk through Poznan's biggest park was refreshing and brought me closer to the local people, which was an interesting experience, as always in such cases.
When on the way back I could spot some elegant pink classical building, I become more tolerant towards post-communist art.
When they are not going to the Park Citadel, locals also prefer to sit near Warta river, which looks more quiet and inviting, also for foreigners in a big rush.
Street art is not so visible in the parts of the city I visited, but I am rewarded only with a small black-and-white sample, on Miedzymoscie.
But art is on the streets, and more often, you only need to be careful to not stumble upon some real-size guy with a bike which is actually made of metal, not flesh.
Long life to the consummerist culture allowing me on a Sunday morning to enter shopping centers which might be more than what they advertise. The old brewery of Stary Browar, inaugurated in 2003 as a cultural and shopping avenue, offers some monumental examples of local art installations which make you think beyond the purchases-list. A visit at the bookstore there, showed how important recent history remains for the local mentality, with the books of the respected scholar Anne Appelbaum on Soviet era - strongly recommended to anyone looking for reliable historical sources for this time - displayed gloriously among the few English books on the shelves.
On the way to catch the train back home, I stop for another historical memento, just in the front of the door separating the train station from Avenida shopping mall: a note and a special sculpture in the memory of the Polish workers who raise their voices on behalf of their brethern from Hungary who dreamt to topple the communist regime in 1956. As usual, a journey to the Eastern parts of the European continent is more than a simple leisure trip and I might like such intellectuals adventures, once in a while at least.
For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board
For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board