And the winner is – Wroclaw
The beautiful city on the Oder river is booming
The old city on the Oder has benefited from the EU’s eastward enlargement like no other town – and it returns a lot of it to its visitors.
The whole hubbub about the capital of culture hasn’t really found its way to my mate Adam yet. Ok, the newspapers have covered the subject, and of course there were TV reports which is more important to Adam anyway. But next year, some of the European football championship matches will be played here – and that’s more interesting for him. After all, he is a sportsman himself, a pro wrestler with the local army sports club who has already done a stint in the German wrestling league in his heyday. His obvious indifference proves the critics right who were against Wroclaw’s application for the title of capital of culture which was marked by a lack of interest demonstrated by the local residents. Still, it was also marked by art in public space: Wroclaw is considered the Polish capital of street art – the festival „Out of something“ has been invented here, enjoys a good reputation, and has left many visible signs of life here. But probably the crucial factor was the commitment of politics to the matter after all.
The city has an innovative mayor
City president (mayor) Rafał Dutkiewicz of the liberal-conservative governing party Citizen Platform (Platforma Obywatelska – prime minister Donald Tusk is also a member of this party) has wanted the project at all costs. Dutkiewicz has a reputation of being the most innovative of all Polish mayors. He certainly knows how publicity works, and he also know where to find European subsidies. Poland is the main beneficiary of EU payments. In return, the big country has experienced a remarkable development since joining the EU in May 2004. The formerly wide-spread sceptical attitude towards Europe has long vanished – most Poles are Europe enthusiasts – although the enthusiasm is decreasing with increasing age. Europe’s opponents are old and live in rural areas, mostly in the eastern part of the country, in the so-called Poland B. Wroclaw is Poland A.
Wroclaw is Poland A
In the meantime, Adam (who is 41 years old) has taken up to make a living as a door man - among other jobs. Some of his wrestling mates work for him sometimes. „Security“ - „Ochrona“ po polsku – will be a lucrative business next year. After all, each big event needs security – and men like Adam who take care of it. Even now, his business has improved: he has replaced his old Ford Sierra which he still drove three years ago with a new BMW 5 series. That his hometown has won the competition for the title of Capital of Culture 2016, still isn’t important for him. It’s still far away – the present in Wroclaw is too intense to think about the future now.
Wroclaw, a thriving industrial location
Generally, the clubs and hot spots in town do benefit from the boom in Wroclaw already now, as do the numerous hotels: the venerable famous university prospers, more and more western European students enrol, and the city is popular with language students, too. The industrial location Wroclaw is thriving – and an increasing number of tourists flock to the city. First, the senior tourists from Germany, in order to visit their old hometown, unpopular, but tolerated because they spent their money in Wroclaw. After WWII, the city’s society was changed completely: the Germans were expelled, and the Poles from the eastern parts of the country were forced to come to Wroclaw because their old home regions were suddenly part of the Soviet Union. Poland experienced a parallel shift from East to West. In the meantime, the situation has become more relaxed. The residents have gotten used to the curious senior citizens from Germany, they have understood, that the old people don’t come to settle old scores, or to get back their houses and farms. They come for sentimental reasons – and what is to say against that?
A relaxed German-Polish relationship
The Poles have long come to understand that for the Germans, Wroclaw means what western Ukrainian – formerly Polish – Lviv means to them. This town once was part of their nation – and for some time, they have pilgrimaged to Lviv, following a similar sentiment. Wroclaw is among the biggest winners of the EU enlargement. People have adjusted themselves to the opening towards the western world very early. It is surprising how many young people here do speak good English or German. And Wroclaw is not very far away: the brand-new A4 from Dresden via Görlitz rolls out her black velvety tarmac to the beautiful city on the Oder. Take a break in Görlitz (which, together with its Polish neighbouring city Zgorcelec, lost the competition for the title of capital of culture 2010 - the winner was Ruhr2010): the architecture and a stroll over the Neiße bridge to the Polish bank are an ideal preparation for Wroclaw. Basically, the Slavic trip begins in the Dresden Neustadt district, at the east bank of the Elbe river, at the „Golden Rider“, the monument for Saxonia’s king August the Strong who also was the king of Poland. If you visit one city shortly after the other, you can feel their relation to each other.
The country’s most beautiful station
But there’s also an airport in Wroclaw, offering a lot of affordable flight connections - and the most beautiful Polish station in which even a quick snack at Mc Donald´s can be an entertaining affair. The rich cultural life focuses mostly around the old market place (Stary rynek). Pre-war, still German Wroclaw is also the setting of Marek Krajewski’s crime novels. And before his novels were translated into English, and mostly into German, meaning six or seven years ago, when he still didn’t earn a lot of money with them, you could book Mr. Krajewski for a paid guided tour, have a nice cup of coffee with him at the Rynek, and discuss the German-Polish relations. Since „Death in Breslau“, „Fortress Breslau“, „Phantoms of Breslau“, „The Calendar Killer“, „Pest in Breslau“, he just does it occasionally, provided that you were from German TV, from the BBC, or worked for a national feuilleton... So, a night out with Adam with some beers and some chats is much easier to arrange. And he knows the prettiest waitresses in town, kissing each one on their cheeks… And his mobile phone rings incessantly, leading to the meaningful remark „Biznes!“, followed by some steps aside to take the call – of course.