Sunday, June 15, 2014

LIES: A Writerly Weekend in Poland, Part I

Last December, I received an email from Professor Liliana Sikorska, Head Department of English Literature and Literary Linguistics of the Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland.

She said that she had loved my book, The Speech of Angels, and had talked about it with a friend, who had fallen in love with another book of mine. Professor Sikorska is an editor of Studies in Literature in English published by Lang Verlag in Germany and the US, which, apart from scholarly articles connected with a given topic, also contains an interview with a writer in each volume. She asked if I would give her such an interview.

I said yes; the interview took place; and led to an invitation to be the University's guest author at the University's yearly LIES event -- LIES being an acronym for Literature in English Symposium. It would mean visiting Poznan for two days. Well, tell me -- are bunnies fluffy?

Long story short: LIES took place the week before Easter, and I was there. This was the programme.

The actual Symposium took place on Sunday, but I arrived on the Friday before that and was treated to the most wonderful Polish hospitality. Liliana and her friend and colleague Kasia picked me up at the airport and whisked me into Poznan, where I was brought to my hotel for a freshen-up. That evening we had a meal together in a cozy Polish restaurant, and I met some more lovely Polish women, whose mastery of English was truly impressive.

The next morning, Saturday, I roamed around Poznan a little on my own, after which I met up with Kasia and Martha; after lunch I was taken on a sightseeing walkabout of Poznan--a truly beautiful city, resulting in the following photos.
The Castle
The Poznań residence of the German Kaiser William II was designed by Franz Schwechten and erected in the years 1905-1910. It was the last imperial edifice built in Europe, modelled on mediaeval castles and meant to be the symbol of German domination of Wielkopolska. There is an interesting legend linked to the construction of the castle. Commenced in 1905, it attracted crowds of onlookers. The German president of the city took notice of a farmer from Górczyn who visited the building site every day and urged the workers to work hard. Amazed by seeing a Pole endorsing the building of a German castle, he asked him to state his reasons. The farmer answered: "the prediction says that when the imperial castle is erected, Poland will be resurrected". Indeed, soon World War I broke out and Poland regained its independence.

Easter Market

Stary Rynek (the Old Market Square) and its surroundings are among the most interesting places to see in Poznań. The Renaissance town hall, old houses, charming side streets, numerous museums, monuments, cafes and people walking about - all of them create the unique atmosphere of the place. Stary Rynek is the heart of Poznań.

Pre-Easter Fair at the Old Market

Artists at the Pre-Easter Fair

Located to the south of the town hall, the houses were once used for trade purposes. In the Middle Ages makeshift wooden stalls were erected there where herring, salt, binders, torches, candles and other commodities were sold. In the 16th century the stalls were replaced with narrow houses with Renaissance arcades supported by sandstone columns. The houses featured stalls on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors. House no. 17 boasts the coat of arms of the merchants' guild consisting of a herring and three palm trees and House no. 24 has the owner's emblem on the capital of the column. The work must have been finished around 1535 judging from the date carved on the capital of the column of House no. 11. The edifice adjoining the merchant houses to the south was built in 1538 and is called the Municipal Chancellery or the House of Scribes. Until the 18th century it was the residence of municipal scribes and presently it houses the Society for the Friends of Poznań founded by Mayor Cyryl Ratajski. The arcades are a popular spot where local artists sell their cityscapes. Kurzanoga [Chicken Leg] Street behind the merchant houses presumably owes its name to a house that once stood there.

Town Hall

The town hall in Poznań is undoubtedly the most magnificent Renaissance building in Wielkopolska and one of the finest in Poland. The earliest mention of it is from 1310 but it must have been built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries judging by the keystone in the cellar decorated with the coat of arms of the Czech dynasty of the Premyslids (Weneclaus II Premyslid was King of Poland in the years 1300-06). The Gothic town hall was a small one-storey building without a tower that was not added until the early sixteenth century. In the mid-sixteenth century a fire swept through the city and the town hall was partly destroyed. Giovanni Battista Quadro, an Italian architect from Lugano, enlarged the town hall westwards in order to strengthen the tower which was on the verge of collapsing.

In front of the town hall in the Old Market Square. This Baroque fountain is embellished with the crest of Poznań and bas-reliefs representing the four elements. The sculpture in the basin depicts a mythological scene: the abduction of Proserpine by Pluto. The fountain was designed by Augustyn Schöps in the years 1758-66.

The Synagogue – Wroniecka Street, near Stawna Street, Małe Garbary and the extension of Żydowska Street. The construction plans were made in 1902. The corner stone was set on 6th May 1906. The construction was completed on 5th May 1907. The last service was conducted on 9th September 1939. In 1941 the Nazis transformed the synagogue into a swimming pool for Wehrmacht soldiers and it is still used for that purpose nowadays. In 2003 the Jewish community took over the property right to the building

Having established the first archbishopric (968) near the ducal palatium and the rotunda founded in 965 on the island of Ostrów Tumski, Mieszko I built a pre-Romanesque three-aisled basilica. The shrine was damaged in the years 1038-39 and rebuilt in the following years (until 1058) in the Romanesque style. In the 13th c. an early Gothic presbytery was erected and in the mid-fourteenth century a new Gothic nave was built. The reconstruction of the church in the Gothic style continued in the 14th and 15th century, during which a new presbytery with a chevet and a row of chapels was added. In the 17th c. the church was extensively rebuilt in the Baroque style (most probably by Krzysztof Bonadura the Old, and later in accordance with a design by Pompeo and Antoni Ferrari). The church was damaged in a fire in 1772 and given a Baroque interior that survived until 1945.

The Black Madonna
The original is here.

Marta and Yours Truly... front of a statue of the Polish Pope John-Paul II! Outside the Cathedral.

Actually, it's a new castle -- recently rebuild in a bizarre architecture of its own!

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