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Thursday, February 2, 2023

The secret allure of Lower Silesia

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Adolf Hitler by no means dreamt that Germany would lose Lower Silesia. If he had, presumably he wouldn’t have set about constructing an unlimited underground metropolis underneath its mountains. 

Tunnel networks had been dug into the rock however left unfinished when the conflict ended. The venture was referred to as Project Riese (that means “giant”) and, unfold over a number of dozen sq. kilometres, was unmatched in its scale and ambition. What the Nazis had been planning on doing right here stays a thriller. “All the plans disappeared at the end of the war,” defined the information who confirmed me across the chilly, damp tunnels.

There are different secrets and techniques hidden right here in Poland’s Owl Mountains. Some locals imagine Nazi treasure may also be buried right here — Poland says half one million artistic endeavors had been stolen in the course of the conflict. People saved secrets and techniques too, each the German mining engineers who stayed and the Poles, harbouring grim wartime recollections, who arrived. For years, the small print of their entangled histories remained unstated.

Perhaps the Nazis hoped to recuperate their gold and artworks after the conflict, not anticipating that Lower Silesia, a part of the German Empire since 1871 and predominantly German and Austrian for the reason that late Middle Ages, could be given to Poland in 1945, solely to fade behind the iron curtain, the place it sank into obscurity and disrepair. To today, the area is neglected by vacationers, although it’s full of castles, Swiss-style villas and medieval cities with steep slender streets that make you consider Italy.

Sarny Castle, which dates from the late Sixteenth century, hosts literary festivals and live shows . . .

View through a door to a bedroom with a flower mural behind a double bed
. . . and affords lodging in its luxuriously renovated outbuildings

In late spring I set off on a four-day journey to discover a few of these little-visited spots hiding in plain sight within the coronary heart of Europe. My British companion most likely suspected he was in for infinite servings of pierogi and the form of uninteresting, flat panorama that predominates close to Warsaw. My information of the area was solely barely higher than his. Born and raised in Warsaw, in my youth I related Lower Silesia with coal mines that had been closed down within the Nineteen Nineties, and the following poverty and decay.

GM040611_22X Poland_map_updated

We flew from London to Warsaw, borrowed a automotive from a pal and had been on the motorway earlier than noon. A brand new freeway hyperlinks Warsaw and Wrocław, the area’s lovely capital, and after a number of hours we had been crossing the River Oder and arriving in what felt like a unique world. We had been leaving the previous Russian-occupied a part of Poland and coming into an basically German panorama, buoyed on a sea of inexperienced hills. Houses had been few and much between, big and with oval home windows and sinuous strains of artwork nouveau. None of these we handed dated from after the second world conflict. The area was poor and stayed so after 1989, a indisputable fact that satirically helped to protect its unique structure and inexperienced areas. While funding was pouring into Warsaw, bringing within the aesthetic horror of the Nineteen Nineties, Lower Silesia remained untouched.

Narrow towers of rocks rise behind a scene of a green field and rural houses
The spectacular towers of the Adršpach-Teplice rocks, over the border within the Czech Republic © Alamy

A stone arch resulting in one of many trails at Adršpach

Our first cease was Sokołowsko, a village close to the Czech border surrounded by forests and hills. We pulled up in entrance of a monumental grey-brick four-storey villa referred to as “Rosa” and stepped out into the late-afternoon solar.

In the nineteenth century, Sokołowsko was referred to as Görbersdorf and hosted the primary tuberculosis sanatorium in Europe. Built by the German physician Hermann Brehmer, it was so successful {that a} new sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, was modelled after it. Pictures present sufferers mendacity in chairs lined with blankets, respiratory the chilly air, like a scene from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. The Polish Nobel Prize-winner Olga Tokarczuk has simply written a novel about Görbersdorf, to be revealed this month.

When the painter and sculptor Bożenna Biskupska and her daughter Zuzanna Fogtt purchased Villa Rosa 15 years in the past, together with what remained of the sanatorium close by, it was a dilapidated constructing stuffed with previous ghosts. Now renovated and filled with artwork, it has 9 visitor rooms and a satisfying view of the mountains. Biskupska’s studio is within the attic, the archive of famend movie director Krzysztof Kieślowski is on the ground beneath, and the villa has develop into a gathering place for artists from world wide. During our go to a number of younger artists from Ukraine and Belarus had been staying, invited by Biskupska following the outbreak of conflict.

A four-storey grey building surrounded by green fields and trees
Villa Rosa is now a visitor home full of artwork . . .

. . . and the sanatorium itself can be being renovated © Jerzy Wypych

We had been proven to our room, which featured an summary portray by Biskupska above the mattress, and set off for a stroll in direction of the centre of the village. Dusk had fallen, and the neo-Gothic towers of the previous sanatorium loomed above us as we descended the hill. The fir timber that lined the trail had been planted to decrease the temperature, deemed useful for the therapy of tuberculosis. There was a hum of dashing streams and the damp scent of the mountains.

In the village, the dim gentle revealed empty streets and buildings of uncommon magnificence: tall German early Modernist villas with oeil-de-boeuf home windows. Fogtt later advised us that flats have gotten scarce as artsy individuals from Warsaw and Berlin have settled right here or purchased second properties. Even an Australian poet has moved in.

Eventually, we reached a constructing the place a plaque knowledgeable us that Kieślowski had lived in an residence on the primary ground. The director of Decalogue and the “Three Colours” trilogy had spent his childhood right here whereas his father was being handled for tuberculosis. Opposite was an previous cinema, full with an orchestra pit, constructed to entertain the wealthy clientele of the sanatorium. The future director noticed his first movies right here, perched on a tree and peeking by a window within the roof.

A white church seen from above, surrounded by green hills
The Maria Sniezna sanctuary overlooking the hills round Międzygórze © Kontakt8951/Dreamstime.com

As for the sanatorium, after the conflict, components had been dismembered when the authorities had been searching for bricks to rebuild Warsaw. In 2007, it practically burnt to the bottom. Now, its roof has been repaired and it homes, amongst different issues, Biskupska’s putting life-size sculptures of half-people, half-shadows, not too long ago returned from Auschwitz the place they stood vigil for 35 years. 

We set off once more, this time throughout the invisible border with the Czech Republic, and after a 20-minute drive discovered ourselves within the scenic village of Adršpach. At a small crowded restaurant, we ordered some staple Czech meals: knedlíčky (boiled bread-like dumplings), spicy goulash and smažený sýr (grilled breaded cheese), strikingly evocative of the only of a shoe.

The different cause to go to is the Skalní město — hundreds of rock towers, as much as 81m excessive, fashioned from sandstone eroded over millennia. Parts of the 2005 movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had been shot right here, and it’s simple to see why. Narrow trails move between the rock spires, which encircle a lake so turquoise it seems to be as if it has been Photoshopped.

Our diversion into the Czech Republic was a shortcut to our subsequent vacation spot, albeit again in Poland, such is the zig-zaggy nature of the border in these components. In the night, we climbed in direction of Międzygórze, a bit mountain spa city developed within the nineteenth century by Princess Marianne of the Netherlands. The crystal mountain air, the shimmer of the stream, and the mock Tudor facades made me consider Tyrol or Switzerland. We had been staying at Villa Titina, one in all a number of Arts and Crafts-style guesthouses set amongst gardens and woods on the sting of the city.

An imposing arts and crafts style house surrounded by woodland
Villa Pepita, sister property to Villa Titina, set among the many woodland simply exterior Międzygórze

It was from Międzygórze that we drove to Osówka, a part of Hitler’s underground metropolis, then on the way in which again we stopped for mint tea at Sarny Castle, one in all many within the area. Prince Charles was as soon as planning to purchase and restore the late Sixteenth-century fortress as a conservation venture however as a substitute two attorneys and a journalist from Warsaw snapped it up. It is now present process a pricey renovation however already hosts literary festivals and live shows, in addition to providing 16 luxurious bedrooms in two of the fortress outbuildings.

We stopped for dinner in Kłodzko, a shocking medieval fortress city on a hill, with a wealthy historical past of Czech, Polish, Austrian and German kings and princes preventing each other to personal it. In Italy or France its streets may host a procession of vacationers, however at 8pm the primary sq. was empty besides for 2 drunks and three youngsters.

Thankfully, one restaurant (“On the Iron Bridge”) was keen to serve us meals at what was clearly thought of an outrageously late hour. We washed down pierogi — there was no getting away from them in spite of everything — with kvass, a low-alcohol drink made out of fermented grains, finest recognized from Russian novels. The restaurant had a selection of eight, all produced regionally by craft breweries and bought in hip bottles. Mine had a touch of honey and was deliciously fizzy.

The turrets and gingerbread houses of Kłodzko
The turrets and historic homes of Kłodzko © Satori13/Dreamstime.com

The Międzygórze waterfall
The Międzygórze waterfall © Castigatio/Dreamstime.com

On our final day, we visited a lonely stone-walled church on a steep slope overlooking Międzygórze. Now Polish Catholic, the Church of the Holy Cross was as soon as German Evangelical. When the Germans had been compelled out after the conflict, Poles shipped in from the east would generally stroll into the primary home they clapped eyes on. Warm soup may nonetheless be on the desk. There’s a poem by Tomasz Różycki, a recent Polish poet who was born within the area: “Everything I have is post-German ( . . . ) post-German graves, post-German flat, post-German stairs and clock . . . ” 

Perhaps it’s no shock that, although vacationers are usually scarce, a lot of those that do go to are German. Descending stairs beside the magnificent Międzygórze waterfall, we instantly discovered everybody was talking German. There had been middle-aged Germans, aged Germans struggling down the slippery steps, and German teenagers being shepherded round on a faculty journey. For them, I suppose, this was some type of homecoming; for me, it was the invention of an entire new a part of Poland.

Details

Villa Rosa (villarosa.sokolowsko.org) has double rooms from PLN300 (£56) per night time. Villa Titina (villapepita.pl) has doubles from PLN320. For extra on visiting the area, see the vacationer board web site dolnyslask.journey; for particulars on visiting the Nazi Riese venture, see osowka.eu. Tickets for the rock towers at Adršpach ought to be purchased upfront at adrspasskeskaly.cz. There are direct flights to Wrocław from quite a few European cities together with London, Paris, Milan and Zurich

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Source: www.ft.com

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