And so we turned our backs on the Anonymous Pedestrians and made our way back towards the centre, crossed the old city moat and turned left towards the Historical Museum of Wroclaw.
Our plans so far had worked out just perfectly, yesterday when the sun had shined we had stayed outside for our sightseeing and today which was overcast and chilly we were going to spend inside and undercover.
We only had time for one museum today and I knew that Kim certainly wouldn’t have the patience for two so we choose the Historical Museum rather than the National Museum and the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice for two good reasons. Firstly neither of us really gets a big thrill from looking at paintings and sculptures and secondly because today on a Sunday the Historical Museum had free admission and the National Museum did not. No need for a debate, No contest!
The Museum is housed in a former Palace of the Hohenzollern Prussian Royal Family and has been restored to something of its former grandeur since being mostly destroyed in the fighting of 1945. The Prussian Kings and the German Emperors rather liked Breslau (Wroclaw), spent some considerable time there and had monuments of themselves erected in prominent places to record the fact like these two of Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II:
By the time the monarchy was abolished in 1918, including this one, the German Kaiser had quite a few royal palaces to choose from. In Berlin he had the City Palace which was badly damaged by Allied bombing and despite the protests of West Germany demolished by the German Democratic Republic in 1950. In the city of Posen (now Polish Poznań) he had the Imperial Castle, which during World-War-Two became Hitler’s residence in Poland and in Potsdam he had the New Palace which was looted and badly damaged by Russian troops in the Red Army invasion.
Germany and Russia were always pinching each others treasure and all this thieving was a two way thing and among the Red Army troops who entered Berlin in 1945 were experts sent to establish “trophy commissions.” Their official mission was to look for Russian cultural property stolen by the Nazis when they had invaded the Soviet Union a few years earlier but Red Army officers started removing the large art collections and treasures that had been stored in bunkers and railway depots during the war and transported them home presumably in retaliation for the looting places like the Grand Palace at Peterhof in St. Petersburg by the Nazis a few years earlier.
In 1992, after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the German and Russian governments made an agreement of cultural cooperation and both countries are bogged down in the process of returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners but inevitably a lot of these items have found there way into private collections and are difficult to track down.
In addition to the stately palaces in Berlin, Breslau (Wroclaw), Posen (Poznań) and Potsdam the Kaiser also had a nice summer holiday palace called the Achilleion on the Greek island of Corfu which I visited a few years ago and is now an up-market casino that was used as a location for the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’ in 1981. Four Palaces and a summer home might sound extravagant but compare that to the present King of Spain, Juan Carlos, who has seven palaces in mainland Spain and a summer home on the island of Majorca.
There were no temporary exhibitions today to slow us down so we went straight ahead into the permanent museum display ‘1000 years of Wroclaw’ which starts on the ground floor at around the year 1000 and ascends through three floors and two extensive wings right up to the present day.
We quickly passed through the first two hundred years or so because much to Kim’s relief I am not especially interested in that period of history but I slowed the pace down through the medieval armoury section because I do admit fascination with those early weapons of mass destruction and through into the seventeenth century.
Then we crawled through one of my favourite periods of European history, the eighteenth century, and took our time too through the nineteenth and the period of German unification and Prussian expansion and here in the Yellow Living Room I unearthed my favourite fact about the Palace for it was here in 1813 that King Frederic William III made the Proclamation of the Iron Cross as a war medal.
We spent most time however on the top floor in the twentieth century with exhibits and photographs from the two world wars, the siege of Breslau, the expulsion of the German population, the communist era and then modern day Wroclaw.
It took about an hour and a half to walk through all the rooms which is about the upper limit of Kim’s museum patience and then before leaving and taking a short stroll in the Imperial gardens we stopped for a coffee in the massive basement café where we were the only customers this lunch time.
It was still cold and grey outside and the air smelt ominously of winter so we pulled our jackets tight and tightened our scarves and returned to the streets for the remainder of the afternoon.
A rather striking sculpture on the wall of the Hansel (Hansel and Gretal) house and the guide book says this about it:
“Hansel (house) features several bas-reliefs by local artist Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz, including a self-portrait. Get-Stankiewicz is a bit of a local legend and commonly regarded as one of the key movers in 1960s Polish counter-culture. Since 1995 the Hansel house has also doubled as his studio, which he rents from the city for a token one groszy coin per month.”