The untold story of Poznan

The Polish are known as some of the most hospitable people in the world, and although thrifty by nature and characteristically a little reserved in Poznan, the people here are no exception. Located in the country’s west, Poznan is the fifth largest city in Poland.

Poznan is a place that seems to defy expectations and offer a surprise on very corner. Wander down other city centre sidewalks and you’ll encounter international brands from Burberry to McDonalds. Meanwhile, in the Jewish quarter, a sophisticated bohemian culture has arisen; the streets are cluttered with a selection of cafes, bars and bistros, each adorned with its own quirky blackboard menu.

The 600,000-population city is a place of contradictions. Wander around the Śródka district, a worker’s area that is currently being redeveloped, and it’s like stepping back into the Eastern bloc of Soviet times. The only sight that reveals the district is now in the modern era is the collection of cars dotted along the city streets. Old men peer out onto the sidewalks from their balconies, and it’s easy to imagine that many of them have lived there since the communist era.

The district plays host to the hidden away Vine Bridge restaurant, offering Polish traditional food with a distinctive modern twist. The eatery owns the title of smallest restaurant in all of Poland, with a tiny kitchen and just three indoor tables, expanding onto the street outside only during the summer months. Everything on the menu is prepared using regional products and traditional cooking methods. Offerings such as “meat in clay” and “bear paw” echo the regular fare of the region from around 100 years ago. Even to a modern palate though, Vine Bridge offers splendid flavours and a fine-dining experience at an unbelievably affordable price.

Polish cuisine draws strong influences from other European food cultures, civilizations that span both east and west. Another foodie recommendation for those looking to explore Polish food is the Brovaria Restaurant in Poznan’s Old Market Square, housed in the town’s former market hall building. Again, the food draws on both national tradition and more modern European influences, but the unique selling point of this particular spot is its alcoholic connections, particularly with Polish beer.

The region of Wielkopolska boasts a long history of breweries and vodka production, so it’s no surprise that Brovaria is one of numerous city restaurants to boast having its own microbrewery on site. Its brews even contribute to its delectable breads as well as its drinks list.

If you’re in the mood for a smaller culinary offering, the traditional St Martin croissants are an excellent choice. These crescent-shaped rolls are filled with poppy-seeds and almonds, with a decorative runny sugar glaze poured over the top. St Martin’s Day is celebrated on November 11th in the Greater Poland region, especially in its capital of Poznan, and these customary croissants are the food of choice for the occasion.

Poznan’s history is painted on its walls, and especially present in its differing architecture. Reflecting 123 years of German rule – and a good few different architectural trends within that – and a stint under Soviet jurisdiction has resulted in a truly weird mix of buildings. Vast differences can often be seen along the same street. And then, of course, in the name of modernity, there is a spattering of oversized glass atrocities thrown in for good measure, their short history altogether less meaningful.

This is the case in the city’s religious architecture too. The Peter and Paul Cathedral, more commonly called simply the Poznan Cathedral, is the oldest and most stunning site in the part of the city known as Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island). The original version of this building was erected in 968 in the same position as today’s imposing Gothic construction. Standing on the nearby “love” bridge, there is a decidedly Russian influence to the cathedral’s architecture. Look again from the viewpoint directly in front of the striking structure, and the cathedral would not look out of place in Italy or France, competing in grandeur with just about any other Christian monument in Europe.

Much of Poland’s history can be traced back from the offerings of a single religious building. These are the structures which connect different historic periods; they have remained consistent or been rebuilt throughout the ages, but are nonetheless marked by history in their own way. They draw together the influences of many different countries and rulers, providing 1,000 years of history in one single location. Artwork, sculptures, materials brought in from a vast myriad of different countries are showcased inside most of Poznan’s cathedrals and churches, and Poland as a whole offers extremely decorative and exceptionally beautiful Christian buildings.

The palace complex in Wasowo is a place of both architectural and historical interest, encompassing the Sczaniecki Palace and the Hardt Castle within its spacious grounds. The Sczaniecki Palace is presented in a style typical of the late 17th century Polish nobility, while succeeding owner Richard von Hardt erected his imposing Neo-Gothic castle in the early 1870s.

Since 1995, the estate has been operated by a private owner as a 4* hotel and a popular wedding venue, still decorated beautifully in the traditional style. Boasting spacious gardens and a series of interesting hidden-away buildings to explore on evening walks around the grounds, there’s still something very royal about this place.

The active traveller will be impressed with the plethora of outdoor activities available at the Malta Lake. This 2.2km-long lake is man-made and was formed in 1952 when the Cybina River was damned. The complex now consists of an ice rink, ski slope (the first to be opened in former Communist Europe), and a world-class regatta course, as well as the Adrenaline Alpine Rollercoaster. The Adrenaline measures 500 metres and is filled with twisting loops, which make for lots of fun when travelling at 40km per hour across the course.

Elsewhere in the Wielkopolska region you can take a bike-ride through the Puszcza Notecka (Notecka Forest) forest, as well as try your hand at medieval weaponry by visiting Machiny Obleznicze (translated as ‘machine siege’), an impressive open-air weapons exhibition and a fully functioning medieval shooting range.

All of the machines and models displayed on site were built by hand in the traditional Polish ways of constructing weapons, the creators referring to Polish history for guidance. As well as being a fascinating educational museum for weaponry from long-ago times of war, it’s also a fun, hands-on, practical experience that will appeal to many types of tourist. Understandably, the exhibition centre is very popular with children, and makes an exciting visit during family holidays.

One of the region’s most peculiar attractions is in Nowy Tomysl. The small town is home to the world’s largest wicker basket, which stands proudly in its main square. Woven in 2006, it measures 17 metres in length, 9 metres in width and 7.7 metres in height; it was constructed completely by hand and has been verified as the biggest wicker basket in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. The strange creation reflects a long history of basketry and weaving in this town.

The town’s Museum of Basketry and Hop Growing showcases various folk arts and traditional activities, and is part of the broader Agricultural Museum structure in Greater Poland. An expansive outdoors exhibition of ornate wicker items features decorative archways and a life-size woven car among many other impressive wicker constructions.

Diversity, individuality and friendliness are the components that define Poznan and its people. With eight different routes from the UK and Ireland to Poznan on Ryanair and Wizz as well as many tour operators offering holidays starting in the city, there’s really no excuse not to visit Poznan on your next holiday.

Originally published by Just About Travel. Image above by Fjmc65 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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