Wroclaw: Gnome is Where the Heart Is

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A sort of strange confluence of events/interests (explanation below) brought us to Wroclaw and I’m so glad they did. It is an adorable, quirky, friendly, fun city and we had a fantastic week. Here are some of my favorite things about Wroclaw:

The Gnomes!

Chad takes a picture of a gnome taking a picture of a gnome

Or are they dwarves? What is the difference between gnomes and dwarves anyway? In Wroclaw there is none. While the little brass statue creatures that populate Wroclaw seem to be more often referred to as “dwarves” in the tourists shops, we saw just as many things referring to them as “gnomes” and since the word gnome lends itself more to punnery, I’m picking it as the superior, and therefore preferred, term (and it makes possible my favorite pun title from the web: Gnomenclature. That link is a quality explanation of what is up with all those gnomes in Wroclaw).

Protesting gnome holding up a copy of the constitution.

What is up with all those gnomes you wonder (and for some reason don’t feel like clicking the link to the gnomenclature explanation)? Basically, gnomes have long been meaningful in Polish culture and were used as a symbol of peaceful protest against communism. The first statue appeared in 2001 and in 2005 the municipality commissioned five more. Now there are literally hundreds around Wroclaw, creating a truly unique (and adorable) tourism feature. It makes me wonder if we could do something similar in Columbia with little tiger statuettes, or little columns or something. Worth considering, I think!

Adorable Town Square

I don’t know what to say about this other than to show these pictures of how charming it is. We decided to get an Airbnb directly on the square and it was fantastic. There were tons of restaurants, bars, street performers and vendors to make every evening feel like vacation. And the architecture! Wroclaw gets about 5 million tourists per year (though not many of them appear to be American) and it is easy to see why.

Also of architectural interest in Wroclaw, a bit farther afield, is Centennial Hall, a Max Berg-designed exhibition hall from 1913. It looks like it was built mid-century. Chad and I really enjoyed touring it and imagining what the people 100 years ago must have thought of the enormous concrete structure. It’s been called a marvel of engineering and there is a really nice little exhibit that explains its construction inside too, which is worth checking out.

Interesting History

Chad and Socrates

We learned that Wroclaw was part of Germany until after World War II, at which time Germany was forced to give it (and a bunch of other cities and land) to Poland. So the German citizens were forced to leave and Polish people moved in. We found this fascinating. In the U.S., we (or at least I) tend to think of European countries being much older and more established than our own. In reality, Europe is full of shifting borders. Poland itself only became a country again in 1918 after World War I, following over 100 years of control by others as it had been partitioned between the Russians, Germans and the Habsburgs (the History of Poland Wikipedia page is worth a read for more details). So while European cultures may go back way earlier than the United States, most of their nations are much younger. 

We also had opportunities to come face to face with Wroclaw history on our morning walks, which often involved following the river where there is still evidence of the old city walls and ramparts. We also visited the Racławice Panorama, which was created in 1893 to commemorate one of the only uprising battles won against the Russians. Definitely worth a visit.

Pierogies!

They are delicious. We could have eaten them every night. We refrained, but seriously, pierogies are so good. We got ours at Pierogarnia Stary Młyn our first night and they were fabulous (charming decor and good service too).

 

 

Culture

Since it is a smaller city, we didn’t feel any pressure to check out any museums, per se, but we still wanted to visit a few attractions. So we accessed our inner children and visited Kolejkowo, which is the largest model train in Poland, and the Museum of Games and Computers from the Past Era.

The model train seemed to mostly attract families with young kids, but we really enjoyed it. My favorite part was that our building that our Airbnb was in on the square was actually part of the model! It was also fascinating to take in all the detail. The Games Museum was really fun, with the opportunity to try out some really early computer games as well as revisit a few of our old favorites.

I would remiss if I didn’t mention further evidence of Wroclaw’s cultural good taste – a packed screening of The Pruitt-Igoe Myth put on by the Museum of Architecture, which is housed in a former Bernardine monastery built in the 15th century. We were impressed that so many people came to a screening of a 2011 documentary on a weeknight and there was a good Q&A after.

We had a fantastic week in Wroclaw and I would recommend it to anyone. And, if you’re visiting, we definitely recommend the Airbnb we stayed in. If it is your first stay, I’d love for you to use our referral code – you get money off your first stay over $75 and we get a little reward for referring you.

Note: For those wondering what events/interests brought us to Wroclaw, here’s a brief summary: We’d planned to spend the second half of June in Russia to go to the World Cup. But then the U.S. didn’t qualify (I don’t want to talk about it). So we decided it would be fun to spend that time in countries who did qualify (Germany and Poland). Wroclaw is geographically between Berlin and Budapest, and Chad knew of it from prior Polish screenings of The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, so it seemed worth considering. Then we looked it up online and saw the gnomes. 

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