After two weeks of settling into Wrocław, we are back to traveling with our “Negotiating Identities” class. On this particular weekend trip we are headed southwest; first to Prague and then to Dresden.
We left Wrocław mid-morning on Thursday ecstatic to be seeing the Czech Republic that afternoon. With a few pit stops on the way, we finally made it to Prague around 5pm where we were greeted with a beautiful buffet and Krista. Krista works at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and was our guide in Prague for the weekend.
Following dinner and a discussion on the weekend’s program, we were set free into the night to explore Prague. Seeing Prague lit up under the night sky is truly a unique experience.
Leading up to our first weekend in Wrocław, we received an email from Ula asking if we would be interested in going hiking on Sunday. Needless to say, we were all excited to get out and see another part of Poland.
The particular hike that Ula was taking us on would lead us to the top of Mount Ślęża, a mountain in the Sudetes foothills. Mount Ślęża is 718 meters high and 30km outside Wrocław.
The climb to the top was rough, or at least it was for me. Nothing makes you realize how out of shape you are like getting halfway up a mountain and realizing you’re still an hour and a half from the top. Ooph.
After 16 days of straight traveling, we finally arrived at our new home in Wrocław! Wrocław (pronounced “vrote-suave“) is the fourth largest city in Poland and sits on the Oder river.
Upon our arrival in Wrocław, after a 5 hour bus ride from Warsaw, we took a few tram rides and eventually ended up at our apartment for the semester. Located just behind a Lutheran church, we are rooming in the attic of a building owned by the church. The 11 of us share the top floor, occupying 6 rooms and sharing a “kitchen.” The rooms are large with slanted roofs, wood decor and are each fit with their own bathroom.
Our arrival in Warsaw (or Warszawa) marked a distinct shift in direction for our traveling seminar. While the last week or so focused on our class, “Negotiating Identities Across Europe’s Borders,” our week in Warsaw would begin a different class, “East Central Europe in the 20th Century.”
After settling into our hostel, we went for lunch for a final meal with Hana and Juliet (until we get to Wroclaw) and to meet with our new professor for the week, Dominic.
Following our meal, a few of us broke off from the group to go and explore the city.
Warsaw’s Old Town is absolutely gorgeous and the pictures don’t do it any justice. The vibrant colors of the buildings stand out against the day’s grey skies while the square bustles with life.
Driving into Lublin, I couldn’t help but fill with excitement as we drove past beautiful architecture and bustling bazaars. As much as I loved the Polish countryside, I missed the hustle and bustle that fills a city. Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland and sits about two hours west of the Poland-Ukraine border.
The main purpose of our visit to Lublin was the Grodzka Gate-NN Theatre Center. What once began as an independent theater in the 1980’s has now evolved into an incredible cultural center for the city.
Upon arriving at the gate, we were promptly greeted by our guide, Magdalena, and ushered into the building. In the main entrance to the museum aspect of the institution, Magdalena supplied us with an extensive history of the gate. The Grodzka Gate, where they are located, was once the passageway between the Christian and Jewish parts of the city. The NN, on the other hand, means “no name” and is what is written on the graves of people whose identities are unknown.
Perhaps one of the saddest sights to see is a place that was clearly once so full of life and culture falling into a state of disrepair. Krynki, a city with a population of 9,000 (70% of which were Jews) in its prime, now has only 2,000 residents (without a single Jew present).
We started our time in Krynki at an abandoned tannery. In its prime, the city had over 24 tannery factories and 60 small workshops. Now the main street of tanneries is almost completely abandoned. As our guide, Cecylia, led us through one of the many abandoned tanneries, I couldn’t help but wonder what this town looked like years ago. What I imagine once being a center of livelihood in Krynki now gives me chills as broken bottles and ancient dust line the floors and graffiti fills the walls.
In many ways, this introduction to Krynki set the stage for much of our visit. The disappearance of the Jewish culture and people clearly left a gaping hole that this community has yet to really acknowledge or reconcile with. This is clear both in the tannery district and the Market Square because the Jewish community owned many of the businesses that helped the city to flourish. However, in their absence, the city feels vacant. Continue reading “Remnants of the Past: Krynki”→
Upon leaving Vilnius, we drove for ~2.5 hours through the Lithuanian countryside, eventually crossing the Lithuanian border into Poland. From there, it was short drive to Krasnogruda, where we would be staying for the next several nights. Krasnogruda is on the outskirts of Sejny and is very close to the current Lithuanian border.
Driving to our destination took a little longer than one might expect however, because we were driving on a “two” lane country road that looked like it had never heard of a tour bus, much less had one drive on it. Due to this, we were actually dropped off at the end of the driveway, left to carry our bags the rest of the way.
After the struggle of getting our luggage there, we finally arrived at the Manor. Our residence for the next several nights was the former home of Nobel Prize winner, Czesław Miłosz, and the current home of the Borderlands Foundation.
The next morning we began the discussion portion of our class (Negotiating Identities Across Europe’s Borders) in a conference room upstairs in the Manor. It was nice to finally be able to discuss the immense amount of information we were fed over the last several days. Continue reading “Entering the Borderlands: Sejny and Krasnogruda”→