Wroclaw (Breslau) 2010 

Along the Autobahn on our return to Wroclaw from Jelenia Gora via Jawor, we again marveled at the many fields overflowing with yellow rapeseed blossoms. There are several advantages to growing rapeseeds over the previous crop of sugar beets. Rapeseed is harvested during the dry summer months, not during the wet, cold, months late in the year. The crop can be cut easily with a combine, not like sugar beets which were dug out of the ground manually. Once off the Autobahn, we realized that we hadn’t yet photographed this colorful crop. Jackie, the adventurous one among us, set out through the muddy fields and ditches, and Erwin captured the moment in a wonderful photograph. We arrived in Wroclaw a little after midday, returning to the Radisson Blu Hotel. And again, we got upgraded to business rooms that were large and comfortable. Our friend Uwe Strehlow, my old German Navy colleague, had mentioned that he might meet us at the hotel, and when we arrived, there he was, sitting at the bar with a beer. We had a joyous reunion, and from then on, we became a group of six.

We visited the monument of those Polish officers killed by the Soviets at Katyn — another reminder of man’s inhumanity to mankind. It brought tears to my eyes. Small wonder that Poles like Eugeniusz Tuora had no love for the Russians. I vividly recalled his spitting on the graves of the Soviet war dead in Jawor.
Wroclaw (Breslau) is a marvelous city. It emerged from World War 2 almost totally destroyed, thanks to the incredible incompetence of Nazi management of the war. Hitler had declared it Festung Breslau (Fortress Breslau), meaning that the city would never surrender. Since the local Nazis were afraid to tell Hitler that he had a screw lose, the city was completely destroyed in its futile defense.
In August 1944, with the Soviet Army approaching, the city was declared a fortress to be held at all costs. Nazi Commander Karl Hanke and his fellow Nazis were afraid to evacuate the city. By Nazi thinking, evacuation was a sure sign of defeatism, and the hangman, or at best, the firing squad, awaited anyone who would whisper that maybe, just maybe, Germany was losing the war.

In January 1945, when Nazi Commander Karl Hanke finally permitted evacuation of civilians, it was too late: railway connections had been destroyed or were overcrowded and tens of thousands froze to death in minus 20-degree ice storms. Some 200,000 civilians remained in the city as the Soviet siege began in February; the Siege of Breslau lasted 82 days before capitulation occurred on May 6th, 1945. It was one of the last German cities to fall, even outlasting Berlin by four days. The war in Europe officially ended only two days after Breslau’s surrender. Fifty percent of the Old Town was in ruin, and the western and southern suburbs were 90% obliterated. Tens of thousands died defending it.

But, the Poles did an admirable job rebuilding the city, to bring it back to its former glory. As we walked the streets, I could not help marvel; there was little visible of the total destruction of this city. We walked a lot, since Erik, wisely, had turned in the car the afternoon we arrived. It was just a bit too large to be parked in the hotel’s garage. At our initial arrival Jackie had to fold in the side mirrors so that Erik could get the car into the underground garage- a tight fit, and a credit to Erik’s driving skills.

Walking around Wroclaw this time was much more pleasant than our first experience. The temperature rose to the point that we were able to shed some of our many layers of clothing, and we actually had glimpses of sun. The town square was always busy with locals and tourists. Many students from the neighboring university were to be seen among the various markets and food stalls. Erwin’s photos reflect the faces of the many attractive young women of the city as they chatted and walked with their friends.
Food and drink in Wroclaw were relatively inexpensive. The range of restaurants was totally international, from Polish to American, Armenian, Brazilian, Chinese, French Georgian, Greek, and Indian. We of course opted to eat in a Polish restaurant — actually, one with an Eastern Polish flavor, the Kartczma Lwowska, with pictures from the sister city of the no longer Polish city of Lviv, now in the Ukraine. Uwe had also discovered a restaurant that called itself “the oldest beer cellar in Europe”, the Piwnica Swidnicka, at the side of Wroclaw’s historic city hall. The tourist guide mentioned that this beer hall had “gone downhill a bit since this place was opened over 700 years ago, making it the first beer cellar in Europe. Named after the Schweidnitzer (Swidnica) beer brewed in the basement back in those days.” No matter the quality of the beer or the lack thereof, we all had one in the sidewalk garden; a good place for watching the tourists. Later, we visited the Botanical Garden built in 1811 on the riverbed where the Oder (Odra) once flowed around the Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski)–the core of the old city.

One of the many sights to see: the churches. All had been damaged by Allied phosphorous bombs, and by artillery fire. All had been restored, or were well on the way of being restored, thanks to exquisite Polish workmanship. A church with a cornerstone dating from 1112 carried a notation: “founded in 1112, destroyed in the 1241 Tartar invasion and then again in the 1945 siege of Wroclaw.” Here again, and unfortunately, during the period of “polonization” all vestiges of German presences had been removed. The bronze plaques mounted over what probably had been German plaques, commemorated Polish religious leaders from the 1950 through the Twenty-first Century. Strange, for churches that had stood there for a thousand years.
Wroclaw is a vibrant city with thriving businesses, restaurants, hotels, and with thousands of university students looking much like, and dressed like, Americans. Also, it was amazing how many of the business people spoke English, and spoke it well. It seemed to me that many spoke both German and English, as well as their native tongue. All in all, we enjoyed a very pleasant visit and would recommend this part of Poland as a great travel destination.

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2 Responses to “Wroclaw (Breslau) 2010”

  1. Gene Seymour says:

    Gerhardt, were you able to go to the farm your grandfather
    owned when you were a boy? If so what shape was it in?.

  2. szthamm says:

    About the old Thamm estate: a cluster of apartment houses occupies the site of my grandfather’s estate. The estate had three street numbers, 17 – 19, and during our visit in 2010, I saw a large number 17 on one of the apartment buildings. Actually, and according to one of my aunts, the Poles had followed, partially, a 1935 urban renewal/modernization plan that called for the Vorwerkstrasse 17-19 estate to be raised, and relocated about a half a mile to the north, just north of the (at the time to be build) beltway. The cluster of apartment houses was part of the old German plan.

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