Elbląg – Elbing…

Elbląg has always been present in my family history. At least since the 17th century.

Now it is present in my life even more. I do not live there but I visit the place very often,  with my groups, or just for pleasure, myself.

Unfortunately the tour operators still do not understand that it is a good place to start any tour around in the former East Prussia region, and they still do not see anything interesting here.

Fortunately I myself organize trips and tailor the tours to the needs of my clients. 🙂

Medieval Elbląg was the most important place in the Teutonic State. It also was among the richest towns of the region at that time. Therefore also had a very high intellectual potential.  This is still visible in the remaining (by miracle saved) pieces of art.

I wrote “by miracle saved”, because the time border for Elbląg as well as for towns in today’s north east Poland – was January 1945 (the Red Army attack on the German positions, the so called East Prussian Offensive). And therefore the town structure was nearly completely destroyed. Germans destroyed the water gates and dikes to stop the Soviets approach. This did not help. The Soviets preceded in their deadly march, destroying everything on their way. 

So, this is the fate: somebody starts the war, the other one marches to victory leaving ruins behind… The victims are always the civilians, architecture and art. 😦

After the war destruction and silly communist decisiveness, Elbląg stayed empty for until some 20 years ago. That was the moment, when some wise decisions were made: we shall rebuild Elbląg in its historical shape, within the historical range of the Old Town. But before this could start, the city turned into a huge archaeological site, biggest in Europe.

The city, I called it ? Well, I remember cows grazing around St. Nicholas church (today a cathedral), and the high grass made it impossible to imagine that once here was a proud and rich Hanseatic city. Most of the brick from this ruined once mighty trade center – went to rebuild other towns, among the others – Gdańsk, and Warsaw to rebuild Warsaw, (4000 historical sites lost their brick, only to rebuild Warsaw!).

After the archaeological research the decision was made to rebuild the old town area in a new way. Save the shape of the buildings, but make them in a new way. And this new way was called Retro-Version.

It took a long time, but today Elbląg’s Old (New) Town looks good. It still needs investing, and all the quarters are built-up yet, but now at least the place starts to have an “old” shape.

One thing which should be changed is the mentality of the locals. They still do not feel “local”. They are the children or the grand children of the post-war settlers. Not all had the opportunity to grow roots here. A high unemployment rate does not help the locals to identify with a place that is slowly becoming the “bedroom” of the Tri-City. Because most of the residents go to work there. The liquidation of local workplaces after political changes has badly influenced identification with the place associated with the so-called Poland B.

Fortunately, a few years ago something “twitched” in Elbląg. The local Historical and Archaeological Museum began to popularize the history of these areas in an interesting way, very different from other traditional museum centers. Elbląg museum exhibitions have been arranged in a memorable manner. And the “Memories” project of the former residents of the city is very touching and allows the present residents to understand the feelings for the place of childhood. Also great is the initiative of local guides, organizing free historical walks around the city.

So, when planning a stay in Gdańsk, which is now only about an hour’s drive away, do consider visiting Elbląg too. Besides, from there it is much easier, and nearer to visit FromborkElbląg Canal, Olsztyn, and of course – Malbork.

And HERE are some pictures of Elbląg. Past and present. Enjoy 🙂

Neverending fascination. Świdnica.

So, I’ve been there again.

And again I took some pictures. Everytime I visit the Świdnica Church of Peace, I find something interesting to photograph. Details which I have not noticed earlier…

Święta Lipka – Holy Linden

A charming view…

From among the trees – there emerges a church in a valley, amidst the joyful twittering of birds and the buzzing of bees in the linden trees.  The surrounding gardens bloom hollyhock, everywhere there is a raised atmosphere, at the sight of an impressive building, and above all at the sight of the brilliant gate carved in iron by Schwartz, the blacksmith from Reszel.

The history of the place can be found in the eternal Wiki, an about the history of splendid paintings in the church – I wrote HERE.

That however is not all. Święta Lipka also offers splendid music. Every day there is a short recital, presenting the sound of the splendid instrument. And every summer the Święta Lipka Organ Music Festival takes place. Listeners from far away come to applaud performers, among whom there are many organ celebrities.

As for the instrument – it is one of very few, that survived the Second World War, and the post war robberies, and banditry and vandalism. Below I am attaching my translation of the entry from the Hertitage (Dziedzictwo) website (unfortunately they did not care for making the English version of the website).

The organ was built in 1719-1721 by Johann Josua Mosengel, organ master from Koenigsberg. The instrument had 40 voices with a baroque sound. The beautiful, richly decorated organ prospectus is one of the most magnificent Baroque prospectuses in Europe. The casing is decorated with a golden ornament of acanthus leaves. The statues of angels playing musical instruments are placed on the finials of the towers. On the two highest towers are the Mother of God and the Archangel Gabriel; these two figures together with the dove – symbol of the Holy Spirit, constitute a group of the Annunciation. These sculptures together with the stars and bells on the towers are set in motion during the concert. The interior of the organs was thoroughly rebuilt in 1905, when the place of the majority of Baroque voices took on new, romantic sounds (35 voices in total). In 1944, the instrument was destroyed. After the war, the missing pipes were repaired and the figures destroyed for many years were repaired and put back into motion.

After the sightseeing and listening to the recital, it calls for a meal… Luckily, in In Święta Lipka there is an inn… A little local restaurant, in an old historical building, so typical for this region. The owners and the staff love people, food, and life. And they serve a delicious variety of the traditional food. So after visiting the church, walk some 5 minutes, to finally sit down in a cosy room, and enjoy a great lunch.

And below – enjoy few photos I took during my last visit. And YES!! I promise to have my camera the next time, for better quality photos…

And so, I went to Prague…

So, I visited Prague. Again.

This should not surprise anyone, as Prague is a MUST.

Why???

Just because. 😀

This time – my Prague was without haste. And finally with a good guide; a girl in love with her City, and capable of talking about it with passion.

When we bade farewell, I had enought free time, so – just like a doggie released from the leash – I set off to explore the city. I immersed myself in the colorful and multilingual crowd, remembering however, to tightly hold my bag, as such crowded places are the paradise for thiefs and pickpockets…. I had my city map so deep in my bag that to get to the map, I would have to finish a crash course in archeology… So I set off, entrusting my intuition.  Of course the main goal was the Hradčany Castle.

But before I got there from the other end of town, I “hooked” on almost all the churches. Most of them are furnished in barogue alatrs, and confessionals. I still do not like baroque, as I once wrote somewhere in this blog. But sometimes even I have to like it, even for a moment. Prague’s barogue is light, non-aggressive and tactful. I can already hear the voices of experts, outrageous on this description. But whatever … 😉

My favorite Prague church is the Church of Our Lady before Týn. The north portal of this exceptional edifice was supposedly built by Peter Parler, and it is the main reason why I like this church so much… I could photograph it continuously. And of course – I finally had time to almost “sniff and touch” all the walls of the church thoroughly, and guess what! I found fire pits. Fortunately, in Prague almost everyone is smiling, so my smile of joy surprised nobody.

After more than a hundred years or so, I finally reached Prague Castle. Knowing I did not have to hurry anywhere, (that in the worst case I might die along the way from hunger 😉 ) I stopped from time to time for a photo, and even sat on the curb to stare at people. This made me feel quite like on vacation.

My head was ringing Smetana, with his Vltava … The sun was shining, the multilingual crowd around fell into the same childish delight in front of the Golden Gate and the famous “Parler’s rib”. I felt wonderfully.

In addition, while looking into available alleys of the castle hill I found a trace of Ząbkowice (Silesia) – in the form of a small, inconspicuous monument to Master Benedict Rejt near the Powder Tower …

And finally I went inside the castle. The main reason of entering the building was to see the famous room, where the “Second Defenestration of Prague” took place in 1618. A room … Nothing special, but just to think to what symbol it soon grew, makes one look around the room differently.

Therefore it is worth combining the exploration of Prague with a tour of Wroclaw (the second after Prague, favorite city of the Luxembourg dynasty, and besides a beloved city of Emperor Charles of Luxembourg). And it is not at all due to the interest in windows, ie. Defenestration of Wroclaw (in 1418), which is connected with the outbreak of the Hussite wars. The visit to Wrocław – should be treated in conjunction with the Thirty Years War, which was a (much simplifiyng the story) somehow the consequence of “collective falling out of the window” at Prague Castle …

And if Wrocław will be on the route, it is necessary to visit Swidnica with its outstanding and impressive Church of Peace, which became one of the symbols of the Peace of Westphalia.

And so, after nearly 8 hours of sightseeing Prague, when I finally sat down with a mug of beer in my hands – my thoughts involuntarily returned “home”

🙂

Published in: on 08/10/2015 at 22:53  Leave a Comment  

Former East Prussia – on the road again

How I longed for East Prussia! Winter was gloomy and long, yet very busy with unexpected tours, and expected trainings. Some translations, and lectures made me quite busy – so my favorite place on earth had to wait… Till yesterday, when I took my camera and went east. To East Prussia.

As the road through Paslęk and Orneta is under permanent construction, I decided to drive though Młynary, a small town, situated on the boundary of the Oberland (Upper Prussia) and Warmia. And this was not the best of my ideas. I nevertheless ended up in Orneta, cursing the road works, and narrow roads under renovation – where the big lorries and trucks tried to fit in like a cat in a matchbox… This however was not the worst of all. The worst hit me on the way, when I drove through the villages.

Today’s life in the former East Prussia is difficult, the villages are poor (and so are the people). Many places are being sentenced to social death and abandonment by the new political system in Poland; the residents are not able to get out and away from the gloomy and sad reality and seem to have no bright future. The lack of future means also the lack of historical consciousness. This results in a thoughtless destruction of what the Red Army did not destroy in 1945, nor did the Communists – during the long years of the regime. So, the once splendid palaces of East Prussia, many richly equipped churches – all are slowly decaying. Not speaking of the cemeteries, which are continually treated as German and are unwelcome. Those thoughts accompanied me, when I stopped village after village, taking pictures of what is still left. Some places I remember as unharmed… Untill a mysterious fire or collapse of walls. So symptomatic for this land.

Why is it like this? Well, after WWII, Stalin divided former East Prussia, taking the port of Königsberg (after destroying it thoroughly), and leaving the farmlands to Poland. After the flight of the original residents of the region – new people were brought in by the Communists. They came from the poor areas of Lithuania, and south Poland, brainwashed with propaganda. Not many understood how rich historically is this land. And here I am not speaking of the times of the Teutonic Order, nor the later German nobility like the Eulenburgs, or the Zu Dohna, or Dönhoff.

I am speaking of a much older times. Prussia’s history dates long before the German settlement. It is the history of the Old Prussians. Also there were many outer influences – as this was (is) the land “en route”. So when we speak of this region – we also need to speak about Truso. It was a port, where influences from all around the then world were found during the archaeological excavations. For those who want to find more – read the notes on Wulfstan of Hedeby.

By the way – nowadays in England’s Brittish Museum there is a wonderful exhibition about the Vikings. Do not miss the display of the artefacts found in Truso (near Elbląg east of Gdansk), which have been sent to the Museum, to enrich the exhibition.

But – so as not to complain too much about the sad reality – I must state, that there is also a “light in that tunnel”. Some of the young generation residents of this absolutely magic land – are already very much conscious of the historical inheritance. They re-enact the medieval battles, life, Prussian jewelry, household, customs, language, etc. They also save and keep what still can be saved.

And to be honest – there is much more history in this land – worth international attention. This land witnessed Napoleonic battle of Heilsberg in 1807. The First World War also did not spare this area… Not to speak of the numerous castles (some in ruins) built by the Teutonic Order

Every year brings more tourist interest in this land. Scenic landscape, historical heritage, unpolluted environment, and still existing splendid monuments of engineering, art, and architecture – all that make the North East province of Poland worth visiting.

HERE are some photos I took on the way. Everywhere here is far. Even if it takes only 10 kilometers to drive – because of numerous curves of the roads – the distance seems longer. Everything here is at the world’s end 😉

HERE are photos I took in a bell tower of a church en route. Wooden beams surprise, especially when one knows the tragic  history here in 1945…

HERE are photos of an absolutely stunning shrine in the middle of a little village with some 90 residents…

HERE are my photos of Gładysze – Schlodien, a palace that survived the fire march of the Red Army, but was burned down after 1985 !!! It is very hard to have any compassion or any other “civilised” feelings towards the locals, knowing their attitude to this historical place! It could have been an attraction for tourists, now it is a source of bricks for the local communities 😦

HERE are my photos of the unfinished construction of the Masurian Canal.

HERE are photos I took in the famous Wolf’s Lair – known for the July 1944 plot.

Published in: on 09/03/2014 at 22:13  Comments (3)  

Elbing -Elbląg again…

This year is a very special year for Elbląg (North East Poland). The city is celebrating its 777th anniversary. It owes its existence and prosperity to the Teutonic Order, which in the 12th century was invited by one of the Polish Dukes to help against the Baltic Prussian Tribes (Prussians). As it sometimes happens (simplifying the history), the invited knights-monks decided to stay in “the land beyond”, rather than return to uncertain western world. Thus they created their own piece of state. And it was quite a piece -as it is estimated, that the area of the Teutonic State had c.a. 58thousand sq. kilometers. Some historians say that even more. The history was never very gentle with the Hanseatic Town of Elbląg… The last tragic episode – having an impact on today’s shape of the town, was in 1945, and right after the seizure by the Red Army. Post war times were equally dramatic – as most of the brick “went” to rebuild Warsaw and Gdansk… Today slowly the town is being rebuilt. In a different shape, yet with a slight reference to once splendid architecture.

So as not to bore anyone with a long text and to many details – HERE is a link to an article about Elbląg, as well as HERE.  Also HERE is a very interesting website – about Mennonites in Elbing. It is worth mentionning here, that the second Mennonite church, built in 1900 (altough some give 1890 as the date of construction) is now serving the Polish National Catholic Church. Since there is a new priest in the church, it is open for visits at last.  🙂

HERE are some photographs I have taken recently.

Published in: on 23/02/2014 at 23:02  Leave a Comment  

Warsaw’s new Gothic Art exhibition

Yesterday I went to Warsaw. Nothing special, as I travel there very often. Having a good bus connection – it takes only about 5 hrs to get there. I had a good reason to go – even though I had to wake up at 4:00 am to catch the bus at 6:30. That reason was a new arrangement of a Gothic art exhibition in their National Gallery (Museum).

So I went – and what I saw – took my breath away. I was not alone there – as there were about a dozen of us – guides – who came for the training from nearly all around Poland. It was not a strictly understood training. It was rather an exquisit lecture exclusively for us. The same lady lectured to us, as did during the splendid Europa Jagellonica exhibition in 2012. So we knew, that the quality of the training would be just exactly matching the quality of the exhibition, as well as our expectations.

Sadly we noticed many of the pieces, originally belonging to Wrocław or Gdansk, which were appropriated right after WWII. This is a big problem still discussed in Poland widely, and probably will never be solved. However, I thought that with the quality degradation of the National Gallery in Gdansk – it is far better to have those splendid art pieces being exhibited in Warsaw.

So, not to fall into a sad mood – HERE are some pics which I took during the visit.

I will definitely return there – as soon as possible – for more wonderful sensation.

 

Published in: on 13/02/2014 at 11:42  Leave a Comment  

My Lübeck

I have always wanted to visit Lübeck. It influenced my Gdansk – as far as the City Rights are concerned, and city outlines (to some extend) too. So when a friend of mine (a guide as myself) called me one evening with a suggestion to go to visit the town, where the Hanseatic League started – I agreed without hesitation.

And so we went, for three days. The flight from Gdansk takes about 50 minutes.

We got off the plane at half past 5 p.m., into a little airport – somewhere in the middle of nowhere. With no idea where to get to the bus to the town’s center, nor how long does it take to get there.. 😉 Luckily today, the modern lingua franca is English – so we managed to get some information from the Airport Information Desk. We found the bus stop, and for 3 EUR per person we bought tickets to the town. It takes 30 minutes’ drive to get off at the Lübeck bus station. And this was exactly where we wanted to get off. We had a room booked in one of the small hotels in the near vicinity of the station. We left our luggage and started off to encounter with the city. We walked to the Holstentor, which looks splendid every hour of the day (or night), and past it – to the center of the old town. We walked it for about 4 hours. And I can say – we saw most of it. At the same time – we knew, and planned what to see next day.

Here are some photos I have taken during the short three days visit to Lübeck. It is a pity, that out of 2000 photos, only about 1600 have relatively good quality. I had no tripod, so especially in bad light the pictures turned out to be somewhat out of focus… But – still those, which I have seem to be a fine memory of an interesting trip.

It is not to expensive to stay in Lübeck, as cost of coffee starts from 2 EUR, the cost of a snack starts from 2 EUR. Museum and church entrance fees vary from 3 to 6 EUR. Hotels can be easily booked through booking. com.

Example entrance fees to the MUST SEE’s are: * St. Mary’s Church – 3 EUR (and you do not get the receipt there), * Town Hall – 4 EUR (the tours are everyday at 11:00, 12:00 and 13:00), * St. Anne’s Museum – 6 EUR – BUT – you need to ask for a ticket for two museums – so that for the second one you pay only half price. If you do not ask it – nobody will propose this to you. It is good to know – what to demand. This information you can get at the Lübeck Welcome Center. However – probably due to the low season (we went there this January) – it takes a bit to attract attention of the staff. But finally – then they are very helpful, kind, and informative. It also is good to print out a map of free toilets. 😀

Remember, that you will not be allowed to take ANY pictures in the St. Anne’s Museum nor in the Buddenbrook House (situated in the house of the famous Mann family). Besides – DO NOT await any impressive interiors in the Buddenbrook House, as unfortunately it was thoroughly remodelled after the last film adaptation of 2008. However – one can take a walk – tracing the Buddenbrook family story – with the book and the map of the town.

NB. anyone wanting to see a perfect example of a merchant house interior – will have to come to Gdansk – to visit the Uphagen House, which has been perfectly rebuilt and refurnished after the destruction of the City by the Red Army in 1945.

This was what I was thinking of – while walking the streets of Lübeck. The city was bombed in 1942, but despite this tragedy – fate spared the city the hellish suffer from the Red Army furious invasion, which hit my Gdansk. Lübeck did not suffer from the Communist regime, as Poland did, so the city was rebuilt and reconstructed – exactly (or as exactly as could be) as it was before the war tragedy. Besides – the population of Lübeck – unlike in Gdansk – did not change. The centuries of family traditions, everyday customs, even marzipan production – did not change as the years and centuries went by. There is a continuation of all that forms the Self Identity of a Hanseatic City… Nothing like that can anymore be found in Gdansk. 😦

So – this is what I was thinking – while walking the streets of the Hanseatic Town of Lübeck… The Hanseatic tradition is still seen everywhere – while in Gdansk only few know what was this organisation, and few only realize that Gdansk was one of the mightiest Hanseatic cities of its times… In Lübeck no-one fights against history. It is accepted and present, and is a source of pride. Whilst in Gdansk it is clearly seen that the history is not accepted at all by majority, being the descendants of the post-war settlers. There is a great and foolish crusade against the Hanseatic look and tradition of the town. The latest exmaple of the lack of common sense and the lack of any taste (!) was the consent to build the so-called Shakespearean Theater (although nobody knows for sure whether any of Shakespeare’s plays were ever played here centuries ago). Well, but what can be awaited of the people, who in majority are the post war settlers, or their descendants – having no will to dig into the rich history of Gdansk!!

Those of us, who have Gdansk roots going back several centuries, or those who are lovers of the town’s great history, fear that untill the next elections – the city will be spoiled with such unwise, disgusting and ugly designs, amidst political quarrels, and corruption.

Envy – sad envy – this is what we both felt when taking hundreds of photographs and enjoying the views of splendid Lübeck, and while inhaling its atmosphere. We somehow felt at home there. Even though neither of us speaks German – the atmosphere of a Hanseatic Grandeur felt familiar – but we both come from Gdansk, also once proud and rich Hanseatic and Royal city.

However – here in my hometown, one can still feel that atmosphere of Grandeur, if only one knows where to open the eyes, or set the ears… 🙂

Published in: on 11/01/2014 at 19:00  Leave a Comment  

My Scottish trip

Some time ago, in 2012, I went to Scotland.

To be exact, I drove do Scotland. A friend of mine proposed he’d take me there on his way to his son. Well, I have always flown by plane, I have never taken Europe in a car. Well, not true – I have – but never that far. I decided to give it a try. I had some business to attend to in Edinburgh, so I had to go anyway. I got into the car and off we went. Travelling through Europe is great – now as the borders do not exist anymore, it is open for touring.

The first stop was at the Channel Tunnel. It was an experience for me – as I am claustrophobic, so I feared a bit – especially having in mind what happened in 2009. But the trip took about 20 minutes or so, so I managed, I survived. And here I was on the British Isles. The route “up the map” was quite easy. And finally we crossed the “border”, and drove into Scotland.

I went back in my memories, and remembered how many times in my life, still in Nigeria, I had heard about Robert the Bruce, Sir William Wallace, Arthur’s Seat, the Scottish mountains, and heather, and the Scotch broom (which also grows here in the north of Poland even more yellow, and which by the way, gave the name to the House of Plantagenet – from “planta genista”).

Finally I reached Edinburgh. As a great fan of history – I had it now all at my fingertips…

Especially I was concerned about St. Giles” Cathedral (particularly it’s Thistle Chapel), John Knox, Sir Archibald Campbell, and of course the Ramsays… To find out why Ramsays – read HERE.  Everyday I was starting my methodical sightseeing in the early morning, so as to see as much as I could…

I know now, I shall definitely return to Edinburgh. And the next time I will make sure to tak the Cities of the Underworld tour in the Mary King’s Close. I went there during my stay, but it was too late. 😦

So next time, I know what to see, what and where to visit, what to focus on in the city. And next time I shall take a train to Glasgow, to visit the Hunterian Museum too.

HERE and HERE are some pictures I have taken during my two days’ stay in this Grey Stone Town.

The only pity is that it is not allowed to take photos of the Stone of Scone. By the way – if anybody says again I am enthusiastic about Polish history – go and listen to a guide in the Edinburgh Castle! The way SHE talked about Scottish history made me feel not a patriot at all. 😉

Well, this is all I had to say about Edinburgh.

For now 🙂

En route – collection

It still is season, although not as busy as in summer, but still I find it difficult to settle. The worst of all is that in the meantime, I have no time to sit down and sort out the photos taken throughout the season. And there is quite a lot to file. Some probably will have to be deleted. It always is a problem – which ones should I delete? Sometimes there is wonderful light but not to sharp edges… Well, finally recently I had some time, as I was ill. So being stuck at home for few days (without rush!), I finall managed to do some sorting 😉

Here are the results – three short miscellanies – one about Torun (what else could it be if not my beloved town!), the other – Poland en route and the third – Malbork (with some pics that had been waiting since past winter) 🙂

Enjoy 🙂

Published in: on 30/10/2013 at 21:04  Comments (2)