Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Wrocław: Poland’s Hidden Gem

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Wrocław (pronounced Vrots-waf), located in the Silesia region of southwestern Poland, near the borders with Germany and Czech Republic. Initially my enthusiasm levels waned as it was not a city I had ever heard much of prior to this work trip, especially in comparison to Poland’s better known attraction, Krakow. This is why I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival when I found an elegant and charming town that has yet to be engulfed by the map of European mass tourism.
With almost 30 colleges, including Wrocław University, 20 percent of the city’s population is comprised students, and this is reflected in the young and academic vibe of the Old Town where hip bars, book shops, and quirky cafes abound. Unlike a lot of European Old Towns, Wrocław’s Rynek (Main Square) benefits from lacking an overly touristy element and instead exudes a more local authenticity, as well as shockingly low local prices.

Additionally, and probably as a result of the massive amount of high-skilled workers originating from these universities, the city is quickly becoming one of the preeminent targets for international business in Eastern Europe. Google, Microsoft, LG, Volvo, Siemens, Nokia and Hewlett Packard maintain significant operations in Wrocław and the European Commission continues to invest millions on infrastructure and regeneration projects in and around the surrounding areas.

The city’s history is long and complex, reflecting the historical narrative of Poland itself, having transferred to and from Germany (still referred to as Breslau in German) several times, and almost entirely destroyed in intense bombing during World War II. While the city’s outlying areas are full of concrete block high-rise flats reminiscent of its communist past, the city’s centre has been almost entirely reconstructed to its former splendor.
 


Most of the city centre is easily covered on foot and the main sights include the City Hall, the Rynek, and the numerous churches, foot bridges, canals, parks, and university buildings scattered around the Old Town. Also make it a point to spot as many of the little gnome sculptures placed randomly around town as possible. These gnomes serve as a memorial to a local artist movement which was prominent during the Cold War that protested communist rule through the use of symbolic art.

My personal experience with the locals was that they exude a warmth and hospitality more customary of a small village, while the city itself conveys a humble, yet optimistic confidence about its future and important economic contribution in the European Union (Poland was one of few countries in the European Union which escaped recession in 2009). As one of the host cities for the 2012 Euro Cup and a candidate city for the 2016 European Capital of Culture, the city resonates with a pride and enthusiasm that is often times not immediately associated with Eastern European cities.
If people say that Krakow is the new Prague, then Wrocław is most certainly the new Krakow and worthy of being placed on the map of up and coming Eastern European destinations.
 

5 comments:

  1. Brilliant article about Breslau, thanx! Gonna go there this spring.

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  2. Thanks! Enjoy your trip to Wroclaw!

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  3. I agree with you final words wroclaw as the new cracow. Cracow is way overrun with tourists and it feels more like a western city! Wroclaw has a much more polish character.

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  4. Great summary of this very special city. Me as well was positively surprised on a foto trip there this february. We created some quite unique panorama shots there: http://panoramastreetline.com/category/streetlines/europe/poland/wroclaw

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  5. @Panorama - thanks and lovely photos!

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