Friday, 6 March 2015

Berlin to Łódź 2013: Day 3

world-map berlin



You can’t be into globe trotting for two long before you have to buy one. Over the years I’ve had many, some easy to get hold of, others less so.

But the thing is, logically, what with globalisation and all, surely they should be going out of fashion. After all, what is the purpose of them? Originally to check on who exactly was entering your domain and what exactly they intended to do there. I get that, but these days, what with CCTV, the internet, biometric technology and the rest, there are surely far more effective ways of doing that. But still we have them. Not in Europe of course. Thanks to Schengen, in most of the EU we don’t even need a passport and there are no borders anyway. That’s been the case for decades now and, despite the pronouncements of certain distasteful demagogues on the right, it works. So, you’d have thought the rest of the world would be catching on, right? Not a bit of it!

Two years ago I had to buy a visa to enter India. It cost me £40 and I put down the name of the first hotel on the internet that I could find. I never stayed in it. It was a pure money-making exercise. And remember, the main reason why I chose India was because my first choice, Pakistan, wanted £100 for the same piece of unnecessary bureaucracy.

This year, (and now we get to the reason behind this little rant), I’m needing to buy two. The first was for North Korea. Now, to me or indeed to anyone with a brain, having to get a visa for North Korea should come as no surprise. After all, it’s probably the most tightly-controlled police state on the planet. The £40 or so that I’ve handed over to Kim Jong Un’s enlightened regime will probably prove to be a bargain considering the amount of police resources they’ll spend on watching us and shielding us from the realities of North Korean life. Or at least, that’s what the Western Imperialist propaganda says they’ll do.

The other visa though is for China. I expected that too. Back in 2002 I paid about £30 for a Chinese visa. Now it’s about £40. So what’s the problem? Back in 2002, I paid the fee and that was that, I got the visa and into China I leapt. Fast forward 13 years though and they now need:

  • Entry date and flight number.
  • Full itinerary
  • Hotel bookings for every night in China
  • Proof of all previous visits to China
  • Exit flight and number

None of this was required before, and if it had been I could not have completed the amazing trip that I did back then. So, come on China, (and to a lesser extent India who have put their visas up to a staggering £100 now), what’s this all about? We’re meant to be breaking down the barriers, not putting them up! Globalisation is the glorious name of the game and I want to give you my business! So why are you trying to stop me? You’d almost think China was some old school communist regime that distrusts foreigners.

Wait a minute…

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Links to all parts of this travelogue

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5


germany-poland-map 1


This was the day that we had set aside to explore the second city of our tour of three so we started early as there was a lot to fit in. that said, our first port-of-call hardly counted as a cultural must-see but neither of us could resist walking through the doors of the McDonalds by the railway station, firstly because we both fancied a greasy breakfast but more importantly, because we wished to pay tribute to Healthy Dave.

Healthy Dave is a guy who we work with. He teaches the Healthy Living course and is a highly-qualified gym professional, hence the nickname. However, I also car share with the guy and despite what he preaches, he really struggles to practise it. Everyday he insists on heading towards the Golden Arches and as a result he's perhaps not the hench, six-pack body builder that his nickname and profession might suggest. Indeed, one might describe him as the worst possible influence on me, although to be fair, that probably goes both ways. Anyway, you must understand that it was purely out of respect for a friend who was not with us that we both sampled a Polish Big Mac that morning and then took photos with said source of nutrition and a card declaring 'Dave Wright, we thought of you!' to post on Facebook.

B2L15Respect to the Healthy One!

Thus filled, we went on our way, choosing a different route into town than the night before, this time heading down Święty Marcin which took is to plac Mickiewcza where there was both a rather brutal concrete monument and a museum dedicated to the uprising of 1956.

Now before this trip, if you'd said to me the words “uprising” and “1956” then I'd have assumed that you were talking about Hungary where the whole country rose up against Soviet dominance and Moscow decided to send in the tanks to crush it. However, in June of that year, before the events in Budapest, there was the first mass protest to occur within the Soviet Bloc and it erupted in Poznań and then spread with a crowd of a hundred thousand gathering in plac Stalina (now plac Mickiewcza) demanding “Bread and Freedom!” The city authorities ignored this so the crowd stormed the police headquarters, the communist party building and then the prison, releasing 257 inmates. They then turned their attentions to the secret police headquarters and that's when the guns started to be fired. The army was brought in with tanks rolling down the streets but fighting continued through the night and for most of the following day. By the end 76 lay dead, 900 were wounded and more than 300 protesters were arrested. Although undoubtedly a failure and largely ignored by historians for years, this spontaneous working class uprising only three years after the death of Stalin was a precursor for the ultimately successful strikes and rebellions of the Solidarity movement. However, whilst historians may have ignored the rebellion, the city of Poznań most definitely has not and the little museum in the basement of the Poznań Imperial Castle told its story excellently, with the exhibits well thought-out and all aspects of the story covered from secret radios to propaganda, the role of children to an old Soviet T-34 tank bursting out of one wall.


B2L17The 1956 Uprising Museum

And once done in there, the building that housed it was well worth a look took. A grand Gothic edifice built between 1904 and 1910 as a palace for the man behind Europe's first great conflict of the 20th century, Kaiser Wilhelm II – remember, Poznań was in Germany back then – it was stern and impressive, but interesting too since it was later remodelled by Albert Speer as a palace for the man behind Europe's second great conflict of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler in which he even had his own throne room where he could receive minions and a bunker underneath, (where the museum is now housed), to scuttle into in case the Allies decided to drop a bomb or two.

B2L18Hitler's lair: Poznań Imperial Castle

We continued our walk into the centre and wondered at a very strange and angular metal and glass sculpture in plac Wolności and then ogled Poznań Royal Castle – a fairytale fortress said to date from 1249 but looking very new indeed, in fact some parts still very obviously under construction[1] – before ending up by the scanty remains of the old city walls.

B2L19Crap art in plac Wolności

Having done some of what I wanted to do, it was now Mike's turn and so we headed to plac Wielkopolski where Poznań's main market is held. Mike loves markets you see. He doesn't necessarily buy anything at them, but he likes to sniff out bargains and see what the locals are eating. So we browsed the stalls stacked with cheap perfume and toys, checked out the cheapest prices for cigarettes, (perhaps Mike's main reason for coming and a nice little side-earner for me too), and then moved on to enjoy a coffee on the nearby Stary Rynek where we'd drank the night before.

Poznań's Stary Rynek is beautiful, an almost perfect ensemble of buildings flanked around and inside a large square, with the Rennaissance town hall being the pick of them with its elaborate frieze and clock. The only thing that mars the beauty is the horrendous 1960s addition in the centre – Prince Charle's phrase “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend” comes to mind – but that, I read, is scheduled for demolition, and even now it cannot destroy the ambience of the square which I much prefer to Kraków's Rynek Główny, being more intimate. And so we wiled away an hour or so reading and watching the girls go by – always a pleasant activity in Poland – and regaining our energy before embarking on the next stage of the Tour de Poznań, which involved a lengthy walk eastwards to Ostrów Tumski, an island in the Warta River which is a must-see on any Poznań itinerary.

B2L20Stary Rynek

Ostrów Tumski is today a kilometre from Stary Rynek, the heart of modern Poznań, out in the suburbs and away from the crowds. But in fact, it is far older as a human settlement and much more important in the city's story than anywhere else for it was there that Poznań was originally founded back in the 9th century, (the spot was easily defensible), and the city only moved to its current location in 1252 when a new town was laid out. Although reached by a long concrete bridge these days which would not have looked out of place in Telford or Milton Keynes or indeed any other bland new town, once on the island, the sense of history was palpable.

The island is dominated by the city's cathedral, an enormous brick edifice built in stages since the 9th century when it was founded by Duke Mieszko I, the first-ever ruler of a Polish state, as his capital. As such, Ostrów Tumski can be seen as not only the place where Poznań began but indeed, also the place where Poland itself was born. And more than that, if, as some historians believe, the church on the island was also the place where the duke was baptised in 966, then Poznań Cathedral may also be called the spot where the Poles became Christian.[2]

B2L21Poznań Cathedral

And the cathedral is a building which does justice to its historical significance. The year before in Kraków I'd been none too enamoured with Polish churches, most seemingly suffering from an excess of Counter Reformation Baroque which seemed to me to be out-of-place, an alien intrusion so far north and eat, but Poznań Cathedral is grand yet restrained and its most exuberant section, the Golden Chapel where old Duke Mieszko and his successor Bolesław Chobry are interred, although sumptuous is also tasteful in a Gothic fashion, more Hogwarts than Versailles.

What I found most interesting of all though, was the crypt in which there's an excellent exhibition charting the development of the island and its cathedral and some excavated remains of the foundations of the earliest structure and the decayed relics of some ancient ecclesiastics.

Round the back of the cathedral though, on the bridge over the Cybina River, (the other branch of the Warta), came another astonishing sight: thousands of locks attached to the bridge railings with the names of lovers and a date inscribed on them. Quite why they were there and what they signified neither of us could say, but visually it was a striking sight.[3]

B2L22The lock bridge on Ostrów Tumski

And that done, our grand tour of Poznań was complete and so we dragged our tired feet back into the centre where we dined in Chłopskie Jadło, our favourite Polish restaurant chain, (it specialise in traditional peasant food), before returning to the Stary Rynek that evening for more beers and people-watching, both of us thoroughly impressed with Poland's fifth-largest city and eager to move on and see what Łódź has to offer.

Next part: Day 4

[1]Some research on the internet has revealed what the story is. Yes, there was a mediaeval castle on the site but this, like so much else, was largely destroyed during World War II and it was only partially rebuilt in the 1950s. The “under construction” look was due to the fact that it is now being fully and meticulously rebuilt and it was just a shame that we'd arrived too early to see it finished.

[2]There is another school of thought however which states that Duke Mieszko was baptised at Gniezno, some twenty miles or so to the east.

[3]Later research revealed the following: The bridge is one of a number of “lock bridges” to be found all over the world and the legend behind them is relatively modern. It comes from a 1992 love story by the Italian author Federico Moccia,'Tre metri sopra il cielo' ('You and I are three metres above the sky) which was later made into a film. In it the two young lovers attach a padlock to Rome's Ponte Milvio and then throw the key into the Tiber River, thus binding the couple together for all eternity. Ahh...

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