Spring always seems to be a good time to go away if you ask me and this year I found some cheap Ryanair flights at only £50 return to Wroclaw, the fourth largest city in Poland and as we had thoroughly enjoyed a January weekend there two years previously the decision was quickly made to make a return visit the historic capital of Lower Silesia.
So why go to Wroclaw in the first place you might ask (and some people did) and having been once why go for a second time? Well, quite simply because it is a fine European city and has a great deal to offer…
… It is classified as a global city with a ranking of high sufficiency and living standards and in 2015 was among two hundred and thirty cities ranked as “Best Cities to Live“. In 2016, the city was a European Capital of Culture and the World Book Capital. Also in a busy year Wrocław hosted the Theatre Olympics, the World Bridge Games and the European Film Awards. In 2017, the city is the host of the The International Federation of Library Associations’ Annual Conference and The World Games which is an international multi-sport event, meant for sports that are not contested in the Olympic Games
Before leaving my friend Dai Woosnam provided me with some lessons on pronunciation because although Wroclaw looks easy enough on paper it can prove quite tricky to get absolutely right and is correctly pronounced as ‘Vrotswaf’ with the added complication of a rolling ‘r’. In attempting to say this difficult word it is necessary to sound like a bronchitis sufferer with a throat full of phlegm.
I suggest that the easiest way to achieve it would be to fill your mouth with pebbles to suppress any possible movement of the tongue and force the sound into the back of the mouth; either that or go into the garden shed and find a live moth, swallow it and then try to cough it up and you will achieve roughly the same combination of sounds that is required to get the correct pronunciation!
It is all very well for Dai of course, he is from Wales and the Welsh are used to dealing with unpronounceable place names, like possibly the most absurd of all – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch* because even the Germans don’t have place names as long as that and the longest that I can find is Villingen-Schwenningen but that cheats and includes a hyphen and is really two places next door to each other. On that same basis I am also passing over the claim of L’Annonciation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie-de-Nazareth which is somewhere in Quebec in Canada.
No one seems to know for sure but the city is traditionally believed to be named after Wrocisław or Vratislav, Duke Vratislaus I of Bohemia sometime towards the end of the tenth century.
But it hasn’t always been so difficult because it only reverted to the name of Wroclaw in 1946 when the city and the whole region of Silesia was taken from Germany and handed over to Poland as the borders of central Europe were redrawn to satisfy the demands of Stalin at the post-war Potsdam Conference.
Up until that point in history Wroclaw had not been a part of what you might call Poland for over six-hundred years and it went by the German name of Breslau, which is a lot easier to pronounce and was an almost exclusively German in a city that had once been part of Prussia, The German Empire after unification in 1871, The inter-war Weimer Republic and the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler. I’ll tell you some more about that in a future post.
I am always interested to discover how far a place name has travelled but not surprisingly I am unable to find another Wroclaw anywhere. There is however a Breslau in Ontario, Canada and another in Pierce County Nebraska, USA. There used to be one more, in Suffolk County, New York but just like its Polish counterpart it was renamed – as Lindenhurst in 1891
We left a cloudy and rather dismal East Midlands Airport near Nottingham and a little under two hours later approached Wroclaw-Copernicus airport which was bathed in dappled sunshine. As we dropped through the light cloud I could see Poland rapidly coming into view. This part of the country is flat and prairie like with a chequer board pattern of agricultural farms and fields occupying the valley of the River Oder and a long way from the mountains of the south or the forests of the east and still in its state of winter hibernation it looked rather unremarkable and it made me wonder why so many lives had been lost over the years fighting over it.
After a short thirty-minute taxi ride to the city we checked into the Best Western Hotel on the edge of the Old Town and after approving our accommodation stepped out into the street and made our way to the nearby market square which like so many others in Europe has been expertly and sensitively restored and betrays an eclectic mix of the principles of original medieval town planning and a combination of Germanic and Polish architectural styles that perfectly complement one another.
We set off on a sightseeing walk and possibly to find a bar!