Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wroclaw (pronounced vratz-waf)

Wroclaw Town Hall

I know...Wroclaw = Vratz-waf???? We love the country, but our Polish language classes here are proving to be quite a challenge. It's a good thing we have a very good teacher with a wonderful sense of humor. They have 17 different letters/characters than English. Then the word endings change depending on case (of which there are 7), number (of which there are 3 - singular, plural [which is 5 or more], and any number ending in 2, 3 or 4), and gender - of which there are 5. A noun can have up to 14 different endings! (And the endings of adjectives also change.) Verbs can vary by type of environment (in air, in water, on land, etc.), whether it's a single, repeated or finished action resulting, for instance, in 6 different words for "go", each with different possible endings. A lot of detail complexity for this old brain to remember. I have such respect for those who speak Polish well!

Anyway, Wroclaw is a lovely city to have our Fulbright orientation. We're staying in a dorm, which is not so lovely, but the food they're serving us is good (lots of cucumbers and tomatoes at every meal, good bread, wonderful vegetable salads, lots of potatoes). Breakfast is like lunch: bread, veggies, and cold cuts. Lunch is like dinner: it always starts with a delicious soup, then 2 kinds of salad, a meat, 2 types of starch, and just a piece of candy for dessert. Dinner is a light lunch, much like breakfast except with the addition of soup or another dish. We also have a "second breakfast" mid-morning. Even with all the walking, we certainly won't lose any weight! The tea is very good; the coffee is instant Nescafe.
The orientation consists of Polish lessons each morning and lectures on Polish history (or culture) in the afternoon. We've enjoyed getting to know the other Fulbrighters (7 other professors and 15 student researchers). Only one of them will be in Krakow with us.
Back to's the 4th largest city in Poland and has a big-city feel to it. John wanted me to be sure to mention that he counted at least 20 cranes he could see working on buildings just in the area we've been in, so there's a real feeling of progress and economic development. The city's history is extraordinary: one guide book describes it as having the "souls of two cities." That's because there is the city that has stood on this spot, Czech by origin but for centuries German (who called it Breslau). The other is Lvov (now Lviv) capital of what was the Polish Ukraine, which was taken by the Soviets after WWII. After the war, Lvov's Polish population was "encouraged" to move out and take over the depopulated Breslau, which had been taken from Germany and given to Poland! (The German area of Silesia was given to Poland after WWII as partial compensation for losing a much larger portion of their country - parts of what are now Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine - to the USSR. Poland emerged from WWII 20% smaller geographically and with 30% fewer people. 12 million Poles died fighting the Nazis and the Soviets and in concentration camps.) Much of the city was destroyed during the war, as this was the last stand of the retreating Nazi army and they made a point of wrecking it before they withdrew. But the Poles have done a wonderful job of restoring many old buildings, and there are some that did survive.
Pod Griffoni, 1587

Beautifully restored Old Town Square

Building with bullet holes still visible

The weather here was great for the first 5-6 days and we spent all our free time walking around (not only because the weather was so nice, but also because they didn't get our interenet connection working). Wroclaw has over 100 bridges (the Odra River runs through the city), nice parks and just great scenery. It's about a 30-minute walk from our dorm to the University building where we have our classes, then another 10 minutes or so to the town square, which is just fantastic. The last few days have been cooler and light rain off and on, but not enough to keep us from walking (there are trams or buses we could take, but we really enjoy the walk).
How's this for a classroom!

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