Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Opole - unknown Polish town

The capitals of Poland's voivodships (provinces) are generally well-known cities - Warsaw, Kraków, Gdańsk, Poznań, Wrocław, Katowice, Łódź, Białystok, Szczecin, Lublin... then there are slightly less-well known Polish towns (Rzeszów, Kielce, Olsztyn); then there are those voivodships that have two capitals (Kujawsko-Pomorskie's Toruń and Bydgoszcz - both well-known - and Lubuskie's Zielona Góra and Gorzów Wielkopolski - not so renowned). And then there's the smallest of all the voivodships - Opolskie; its capital and indeed only significant town is Opole (pop. 125,000).

If I were to redraw the map of Poland, I'd chop up the artificial construct of Lubuskie (or Ziemie Lubuskie); Where should Gorzów Wielkopolski be but in Wielkopolska!?!? Give the top bit to Zachodniopomorskie (capital Szczecin); the bottom bit to Dolnośląskie (capital Wrocław) and the rest (including Gorzów) to Wielkopolska (capital Poznań). And Opolskie... its very raison d'etre is questionable (a cultural separateness caused by its German minority). I'd donate most of this tiddly province to Dolnośląskie where it firmly belongs, with its eastern fringe going to Śląskie.

Having done that, I'd create a new voivodship consisting of Warsaw and the surrounding nine poviats (districts). This super-wealthy (by Polish standards) province could go it alone while the rest of Mazowsze minus the agglomeration would then be eligible for extra EU funds as it is easily as poor as the 'eastern wall' provinces that currently also receive hand-outs from the whole of Mazowsze including all those poor bits. Radom, Ostrołęka, Ciechanów, Siedlce... these are poor towns. [Indeed, my ideal would be to return to the immediate post-war administrative map of Poland to maximise the effectiveness of regional government, though without a separate Łódź and with an expanded Warsaw Agglomeration. And Radom in the same voivodship as Kielce.]

ANYWAY... having assailed you with my plans for reforming Poland's administrative borders, what I really wanted to share with you, dear readers, were my impressions of Opole (Oppeln until 1945).

Like Świdnica that I visited last year, a small German town before the war, with its German railway station (high wooden platform canopies, red-brick building, white-tiled subways), German town hall and German churches, Opole fits into the stereotypical post-German Polish town.

What sets it out from other such towns in the west of Poland is that every second shop front is an employment agency, offering jobs in Germany or Holland. A large number of citizens of Opole work (and have historically worked) in those two countries, mainly as a result of dual nationality, though less than 2.5% of its 125,000 population currently claims to be ethnically German.

Below: Alte Oppeln, a scene little changed from the 1860s, when the sluice was built. An undeniably Germanic klimat.

Below: the town's main post office also smacks of Teutonic solidity, built to house armies of efficient, stamp-wielding clerks, ensuring that vital administrative letters reach their intended recipient.

Below: I like the old town square. The angular town hall is nicely countered by the rounded turret ending the square's north terrace.

And here's the town hall - ratusz or rathaus. Though officially the 1864 tower is neo-renaissance and refers to Florentine architecture, I can sense the Mongol, the Eurasian, the exotic East in this structure. Let us not forget that the Golden Horde had advanced as far as Legnica, over 150km west of here, in 1241.

Below: monument to a region's inferiority complex. The cannon is fashioned after the 13th C. Piast Tower, one of Opole's landmarks, named after the first dynasty of kings that ruled the Polish nation state; the slogan on the pedestal is "Let us defend our Opolskie" (the name of the voivodship). If anything, this sculpture shows the administration's fear that one day, Warsaw might see the absurdity of such as small regional authority has as much reason to exist as the county of Rutland did in its day.

Left: what's this I spy hidden away in an Opole courtyard drive? It's a 1955 four-door Buick Special, no less, in immaculate condition. It was behind a gate, but I managed to push my camera in to get this shot.

A reminder of the time when America's auto industry led the world, when everyone wanted to drive an American car. What a woeful decline since those glory days. Today's Buick Regal is an Opel Insignia with a different badge on the front.

This time last year:
Raise a glass to Powiśle

This time three years ago:
Mud, rain and local elections (Mrs G-W gets a thumbs down)

This time five years ago:
There must be a better way (commuting woes, again)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

nothern and western Poland - surely very much Poland with clear eastern Germany continuity feel; very different to eastern Poland (like Warsaw) and its Asia continuity ;-)