I expect some of you have heard of Zakopane, in the Tatry Mountains in Poland? Zgorzelec, maybe not, but it is a town of great significance for me. It’s the home of my Uncle Włodek, whom I was lucky enough to visit this Summer.
Until 1945 Zgorzelec and Görlitz were one town, with a shared history. Görlitz (or Gorlice, as it was then known) was founded in 1354 by German settlers. In the 13th century it became rich due to its location on the Via Regia. This former trade route is one of the oldest in Europe, and reached from Kiev to Santiago de Compostela. The town became a cultural centre, led by mystic and theologian Jakob Böhme, who inspired progressive thinkers like Goethe.
I don’t pretend to understand the complications involved, but the town has since been part of Bohemia, Saxony and Silesia. At the end of World War 2, which scattered families like my Dad’s far and wide, the Rivers Neisse and Oder were established as the border between Poland and East Germany, and the town was split apart. The German part retained the name Görlitz, and the Polish part became Zgorzelec.
I have to admit to a degree of fascination with this divided town, and I had never before set foot in Germany, so I was delighted when a visit to uncle’s home presented me with the opportunity. I didn’t really know what to expect as I approached the Old Town Bridge. Certainly not the 5-tier grain elevator, emblazoned with the effigy of a face and palm. It was designed to represent an Artistic Image of a United Europe.
The bridge itself was blown up by the retreating Germans in 1945, but has been replaced with a modern steel structure, reuniting the towns. Peterskirche, or the church of St. Peter and Paul, is a mighty building, dating from 1230. It is famous for its sun organ, depicting 18 suns among its pipes.
The atmosphere changes completely as you step off the bridge into the cobbled streets of Görlitz, and are at once in “Bavaria” as I had always imagined it. I pause to pick up a street map and my ears struggle with the unfamiliar sound of the German language. A street festival is in full swing, complete with oompah music. You can get a flavour of it from Collectibles, which I wrote for Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post.
In any event, Görlitz was a delightful place to spend a few hours, and there was more to see, but the main purpose of my visit was to see my uncle. Włodek’s wife Janina died just a few months ago, and it was the first time he had “entertained” on his own. He could not do enough for us, and was proud to show off his domestic skills. These included his homemade sour cherry jam, putting me to shame.
After all that, Zakopane may seem like an anticlimax, but it definitely wasn’t. I was there in September 2009 for the occasion of my cousin Adam’s Silver Wedding celebration. Sadly I don’t have many photos to share. You’ve guessed it! I was too busy eating, drinking and dancing my legs off.
Zakopane is known primarily as a ski resort but is extensively used as a hiking centre in the Summer too. Just 20 kms south of Krakow, it sits in an area of national park and outstanding natural beauty.
I was there before the snows had arrived, but was happy to take the funicular railway zooming 1388 metres up Mt. Gubalowka for the panoramic views. The top of the mountain is one enormous playground. There are a variety of stalls selling woolly mittens, socks and hats, all in a riot of colours. Smokey mountain grilled cheese can be washed down with grzane wino, heady local mulled wine. Sideshows attract the young at heart, who can also whizz down the slope on a metal toboggan ride. Adventurous types teeter in the trees on an aerial wire. And all to a background of spectacular beauty.
If you’re interested my guide on http://www.simonseeks.com/travel-guides/zakopane-fun-snow__118121 will give you a more complete picture. I’ll focus here on family.
So that’s me at the tail end of my personal alphabet of Poland. Of course, I have a few gaps to fill in, but Julie Dawn Fox, whose idea the A-Z challenge is, doesn’t seem to mind. Check out other entries, or think about starting an A-Z of your own by clicking on the banner below.