Wrocław has many worthy sites but hunting for krasnale (dwarves or gnomes) may be the most entertaining.
Voted the European Capital of Culture in 2016, this city in Poland is magical! It lies on the banks of the Oder River with picturesque bridges crisscrossing everywhere and has understandably been called one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
One of Wrocławs more memorable attractions are searching for the unique bronze krasnal statues located all around the city. In 2005, the city commissioned artist Tomasz Moczek to create five krasnale that would reflect this historical and cultural city and that would have wide appeal. Unbeknownst to both the city and the artist, those 5 original krasnale would snowball into the hundreds of krasnale residing throughout the city today.
These small figurines are typically between 8-12 inches tall (20-30cm) and can be difficult to spot. While most are at street level near doorways, entrances and corners, we have seen some perched on ledges, window sills, street signs, fences and even climbing street light poles, so we had to remember to look in all directions. As to how many there are; they continue to multiple. We were told 300, 400 and one employee in a tourist information center said there are more than 600, but no one really knows how many krasnale have taken up residence. New ones are constantly appearing but sadly, many are also stolen or destroyed.
Special brochures with maps showing each gnome location are available at tourist offices or can be purchased in almost any shop in the Old Town. We met a family that were letting their elementary age children read the map and lead the family to each dwarf, allowing the parents to enjoy the sites of the city. We tried downloading the app but frankly it is not rated very high and it did not work overly well. The designer seems to have abandoned it as there is outdated and misleading information in the app – hopefully that will be remedied.
The Solidarity Movement was the well known anti-communist movement in Poland that is considered to have contributed to the fall of communism. The much lesser known Orange Movement in Wrocław had the same agenda and were known to use images of krasnale as peaceful rebellious symbols especially on public communist propaganda signs. Urban legend connects the gnomes to the Polish anti-Communist Orange Movement from the 1980’s. However only Papa Krasnal, who is much larger at about 30 inches and completely different in style with a rounder figure and a pointy head, was created to commemorate the anniversary of the Orange Movement.
In an interview with local news, the artist, Moczek said his gnomes were not, nor ever meant to be, political and the Warsaw journalist that wrote the incorrect article has admitted to and apologied for his error.
There is a 3-day annual Dwarf Festival held in early September that is geared toward children and perhaps the child in all of us. The celebration includes a march or parade to the Great Dwarf Village, shows, juggling contests, stories at the Dwarf Literary Breakfast and opportunities for children to create a krasnal. Stone carvers will also be on site demonstrating how the Wrocław krasnale are made.
In a way, searching for krasnale is brilliant tourist idea. Many European cities are complaining of over tourism in their downtown and old town centers. Tourism is definitely on the rise in Polish cities as well but searching for krasnale provides tourists an opportunity to explore more of the beautiful streets and corners of the city and encourages visitors to move away from and see more than just the Old Town crowded squares. We felt like kids when we went ‘hunting for krasnale’ and each time we found one, we would crouch down to closely examine them, take a photo and invariably smile at the details of the charming figures. We found a total of 250 krasnale!
Szczytnicki Park and the Japanese Garden
Szczytnicki (pronounced shtut-neet-ski) Park is the largest park in Wrocław at nearly 250 acres or 100 hectares. It was the first English-style park on the European continent, initially designed in 1783 and created in 1875 with trees and beautiful parkland. We thoroughly enjoyed our ramble through the park one morning.
Within the park, the key attraction of the park has to be the Japanese Gardens. More than 100 years old, these harmonious gardens are filled with beautiful rhododendrons and roses, picturesque foot paths and bridges, an arboretum and ponds and streams teeming with life. A wonderful place to relax and just breathe.
The Wrocław Zoo
The Wrocław Zoo, opened in 1865, is the oldest zoo in Poland.
It covers 82 acres (33 hectares) in downtown Wrocław and is home to ~10,500 animals and 1,132 species. In terms of the number of animal species it is the third largest zoo in the world.
So often animals are off snoozing out-of-site during zoo visits, but our timing was good here and we were able to see many animals. It was awesome to see species we had not seen before. We saw a handful of Wisent or European / forest bison, the national animal of Poland. Successful zoo breeding programs have recently reintroduced this endangered animal back into Poland’s forests. We saw intriguing Barbary sheep, a couple of long horned Ankole-Watusi bulls, a Sitatunga Antelope with a brand new calf, the colorful Okapi, (San Diego Zoo has these beauties as well) 2 types of large flightless birds – Rheas and Emus, a handsome black rhinoceros, a Bengal tiger snoozing under the trees, grazing capybaras, a pygmy hippopotamus and the usual entertaining elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions and apes. We noticed there seemed to be a number of ‘ZooBorns’ throughout, so clearly they have some great programs in place. We didn’t see many of these but these are recent zoo announcements. Zooborns include a Takin calf, a Tapir, a Gibbon baby, a L’Hoest Monkey, a marsupial called a Sulawesi Bear Cuscus, an aardvark, a Manatee calf, a dik-dik fawn and a litter of fennec foxes.
We hadn’t planned to visit the zoo, but are very pleased we did. The animals seems content and healthy and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. There is something about animals that soothes the soul.
The Museum of Architecture, founded in 1965, is the only architecture museum anywhere in Poland.
This museum showcases a large collection of stained glass, a collection of Medieval architectural relics, historical tiles and coats of arms. We also surprisingly found a couple of rooms full of art. Our favorite pieces however were the creative collection of stoves.
There is a striking art installation of 14 lifelike bronze people sinking into the ground on one side of Swidnicka Street and reemerging on the other side. Before we learned its meaning we recognized its haunting affect. Local artist Jerzy Kalina created the monument in 1977 in memory of the chilling time of martial law in communist Poland in the 1980’s and named it “Monument of an Anonymous Passer-by” or simply “Transit”.
Wrocław Water Tower
Modelled on a medieval castle, this architectural gem was built in 1903-1904 and equipped with a lift to take visitors to the top for panoramic views of the city.
This fairytale looking tower was used as a military observation point and command center during the Battle of Breslau in 1945 and in spite of heavy shelling in the area, it survived with minimal damage.
The years following the war saw the tower neglected and deteriorating even though up until the mid eighties the tower continued to serve as a reservoir. Purchased in 1995, the new owner renovated and cleaned up the exterior and opened a restaurant inside. Unfortunately the restaurant is currently closed.
The Lamplighter on Ostrów Tumski
Ostrów Tumski, also known as the Cathedral Island was among our favorite destinations in the city. Although technically no longer an island due to the cities expansion and the changing flow of the Oder River, it is still referred to as an island or Ostrów. There are a number of gorgeous churches located on the island including the Wrocław Cathedral. This small, yet charming district is a perfect place for a stroll and has photo ops everywhere you look.
One evening, just before dusk we caught a tram to Ostrów Tumski so we could witness the city Lamplighter lighting the historic gas lamps. We felt we had stepped back in time as we followed along watching him light the lights one by one. It was about 8:45pm when the lamplighter started his rounds. There were maybe a couple of dozen people that tagged along after him and although we didn’t speak the same language, we all kept chuckling, feeling like we were following the pied piper. It was surreal to see this task still being done in the 21st century and we feel lucky to have had the opportunity.
Foods in Wrocław
Lody, our new favorite word, means ice cream in Polish, and like so many Europeans, the residents seem to be addicted to Lody. One small scoop is a guilt-free pleasure everyone regularly enjoys.
Generally, in Poland, dinner begins with soup. Zurek Soup is a traditional soup and every region in Poland has a different version of it. The soup is made with pork, Polish sausage or bacon, along with potatoes, vegetables, a boiled egg, delicious herbs and sometimes served in a bread bowl.
Potato Pancakes are very popular so we wanted to try them. They are usually topped with meat sauce, a thick goulash, sour cream or a mushroom sauce. We tried a goulash topped pancake and one topped with creamed spinach. The savory ½ thick pancakes were neither heavy nor fluffy, somewhere in between. It was a hearty meal but we were mildly disappointed that we could not taste any potato in the potato pancakes.
Typical Polish cuisine includes potatoes, sauerkraut, cabbage, beets, cucumbers (gherkins), sour cream, kohlrabi, mushrooms, sausages and smoked sausage. The herbs and flavorings we can regularly identify are marjoram, dill, caraway seeds, parsley, pepper and celery seed. The combination of these flavors reminds us of a mild pickle flavor. Tasty and distinct.
Sernik or cheesecake made with a sweet pastry crust and a filling made with quark or farmer’s cheese, a dry-curd cheese known as twaróg is the most common and traditional Polish dessert. The flavor is mild and not quite as sweet or creamy as North American cheesecake, but delicious with a similar variety of topping choices.
Books, books, books
Should you wish to learn more about this interesting area, there is a book called Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City by Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse that has been recommended as a great read.
The physicist Max Born was born in Breslau, (the former name of the city of Wrocław) and was awarded a Nobel prize in 1954 for quantum physics. He also has a famous and talented granddaughter, Olivia Newton-John.
In 1766, the infamous Giacomo Casanova lived at the house of Father Bastiani on Ostrów Tumski.
We also heard that Nicolaus Copernicus, the famous astronomer, was a resident in the ‘double church’ in the early 1500’s.
We are filled with so many wonderful memories of this city it is now time to say goodbye. Crossing the beautiful Oder River on the quaint bridges, wandering around the large Market Square with it’s eclectic and historic Old Town Hall framed by vibrant townhomes with amazing architecture, visiting the fantastic Panorama depicting the Battle of Racławice, Wrocław’s wonderful zoo, Japanese Gardens, multimedia fountains with their kaleidoscope of colors, the variety of fascinating museums and churches, delicious pierogis and the dozens upon dozens of charming krasnale.
We can relate to this little guy. He looks like the two of us, as we work and record our travels. Beloved by locals and tourists alike, the krasnale have become cheerful emblems of this pleasant piece of Poland.
Na zdrowie (Naz-droh-vee-ay) from these Wrocławianie /Vratislavians
Ted and Julia