When asked what I did this summer, I can’t help but feel a thrill when I tell people that I went to Poland from May 7–28 for an English and Art History field school to learn about Polish art and translated literature. As Apr. drew to a close, I excitedly packed, and repacked, my bag for three weeks of education in Wroclaw.
Nine students and two professors (Terri Doughty and Justin McGrail) took part in this trip worth six course credits. We arrived at the hostel very late, but as we drove into the city, we could feel the city waking up. I longed to join them, but I had no idea where to go or how I would get back.
The first full day took our group on an exploration of the city and culture, as did every day after that. I was thrilled to find small brass gnomes scattered throughout the city. The gnomes were originally placed to represent The Orange Alternative, a group formed during a period of solidarity and martial law in the ’80s. The members would dress as gnomes and hand out roses to the police officers. Police were baffled by them and they had no clear message, which drew many people to the group. Today, these brass gnomes are a tourist attraction more than a representation.
For Polish art, we had no textbooks to learn from. Instead, we were taken to museums to look at the art and learn the history. One of the most interesting museums we visited was the Panorama Museum. Inside is a huge painting wrapped all the way around a circular room. The painting is of a battle between the Poles and the Russians in 1794. Poland lost the battle and their independence. Though they lost, the Polish call this battle “a heroic defeat.” There have been a few instances of Poland losing their independence and falling under a different country’s rule, but Poland has always existed as an idea for its people.
Wroclaw is an interesting city because it hasn’t always been Polish, though it started out that way. Until the end of World War II, Wroclaw was under German rule and called Breslau.
We did a day trip to Krakow where the people there have always been Polish, no matter who was ruling them. Even the ruling country has usually recognized and respected that. During World War II bombing, the opposing sides tried to stay away from Krakow to keep from damaging it, whereas over 70 percent of Wroclaw was destroyed. Krakow has one story, but Wroclaw is made up of many different stories, and each one wants to be heard. This can be seen in their architecture and their art, emphasising their need to retain their stories.
When asked what my favourite part of Poland was, I can’t give a single answer. I loved wandering to Main Square, called the Rynek, and spending an hour in my favourite café to drink my latte with a spoon. A friend and I would lean over to watch how they made each latte and marvel at their skill. I would bring my journal and meet a friend at our favourite tea place to unwind from the day. When I felt homesick, I would wander until I heard a conversation in English and it would instantly make me feel better.
Poland is a fascinating place. While much of Europe is historical and very proud of it, Poland accepts and remembers its rocky history. I hope to see more of Poland soon and to understand more of their history. Wroclaw is a city of many stories, but so is the rest of the country, and I wish to hear more of those stories and share them.