Dzień dobry from Olsztyn! Today’s extract is from…
Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Rage (trans. from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones; AmazonCrossing, 2016), p. 11 and p. 13-14. Polish State Prosecutor Szacki series #3
Historical note – Before becoming a Polish city in 1945, Olsztyn was called Allenstein and was part of East Prussia.
Just after moving to this city, he had read in the Olsztyn Gazette that the city’s traffic operations designer doesn’t believe in the “green wave” – because it makes people drive too fast and thus presents a danger for road traffic – and at first thought it quite a funny joke. But it wasn’t a joke. He soon discovered that in this not very large city, which you could walk across in half an hour, and where vehicles moved down wide streets, everyone was always getting stuck in traffic jams. […]
Finally he began moving again, drove past the hospital, the brothel and the old water tower, and then – after serving his time at the lights again – he took a gentle curve onto Kościuszko Street. Here there was finally something worth looking at, first and foremost the Administrative Court. A huge edifice that demanded respect, it had originally been built as the headquarters of the Allenstein regional administration in the days when the city was part of Germany. It was a wonderful building – a stately, majestic five-storey sea of redbrick rising from a ground floor made of stone blocks. If it had been up to Szacki, he’d have housed all three of Olsztyn’s prosecution services in this building. He thought it would mean something to witnesses to be escorted up the wide steps into a great big building like this one, rather than into the miserable little 1970s box where his own local office was situated. The public should know that the state meant dignity and strength built on a solid foundation, not penny-pinching, stopgaps, terrazzo tiles, and gloss paint on the walls.
The Germans had known what they were doing. Szacki was born in Warsaw, and at first he’d found the Olsztyn citizens’ deference toward the builders of their little homeland irritating. To him, the Germans had never done any building – on the contrary, they had reduced Warsaw to a heap of rubble, thanks to which his native town was a pitiful caricature of a capital city. He had never liked the Germans, but he had to give them credit: everything attractive in Olsztyn – everything that gave the city its character, or made it interesting with the not-so-obvious charm of a thick-skinned woman of the North – had been built by them. Everything else was bland at best, but usually hideous.
I chose this extract before heading off on our travels, and had to laugh when we found ourselves in a traffic jam five minutes after arriving in Olsztyn – the first of many over the next three days. But I found the author’s judgement of the more modern areas a little harsh. Olsztyn is a vibrant, energetic city on the up, and lies in an area of great geographical beauty.
So what’s with Olsztyn, you may ask. Why not a more major city like Gdansk? The answer is that this one has a bit of a personal connection – my mother’s family lived here and in the neighbouring town of Ostróda (Osterode), as well as a tiny village called Marwald (Marwalde). And aside from rediscovering the places where my great-grandparents, grandparents, mother and aunt hung out back in the day, it was nice to get off the beaten track and discover somewhere a little different and rather lovely.
Here’s Olsztyn’s High Gate, which leads the way into the old town.
Olsztyn’s main square. That building in the middle, the Old Town Hall, is now a LIBRARY. Cafes and restaurants abound…
…a very nice place to while away an hour or two on a warm September evening. Yes, it’s more fish soup, plus a delicious egg mayo and dill mixture to go on your bread – or in the soup?
Lovely little book-nook in the evangelical church off the square.
The big bookshop in the new town had a generously proportioned crime section.
Over in Ostróda, there’s a large and rather idyllic lake in the middle of town (one of many in the area – a kind of Polish Lake District).
And a number of beautiful churches.
And here’s the tower of the old church in Marwalde, where my mum remembers sneaking into weddings as a little girl with her sister.
And everywhere we went, the autumn leaves were turning – a beautiful sight.
Oh, that’s wonderful that you were able to connect with your own past, Mrs. P.! And I do love the ‘photos you shared. It looks like a really pretty place.
It was lovely, Margot – and very interesting given that I’d heard about these places for such a long time. Nice to see somewhere a little away from the usual tourist routes as well.
Morning Mrs P, and thank you for yet again another glorious set of photos. What a very pretty place Olsztyn is. Even the ‘New’ town hall looks as though it’s been there for centuries. It must have been lovely seeing the places your mum remembered as a child. My dad’s family were from that part of the world too, but further south in the old Kingdom of Galicia. A small town near Lvov which is now in eastern Ukraine.
I love the look of the soup, even if it is fish! The egg mayo looks delicious as well. Polish pickled dill cucumbers always go down well with me, with slices of salt beef. Mmm.
Morning, Kathy P! Fascinated to hear about your family’s roots in the old Kingdom of Galicia (must look that up – what a wonderfully grand title). Have you ever visited or considered visiting?
Sorry to keep shoving fish soup in front of you! We’ll arrange for a large bowl of the egg mixture and some lovely bread to be placed before you instead. Plus the dill cucumbers and salt beef, of course!
Morning Mrs P. When my dad was born in 1907 it was called the Kingdom of Galicia, Austro-Hungarian Empire. He, his older sister and parents came here in 1919 on their way to the U.S. However, my grandmother already had a cousin who was living here with her family in Hackney. Needless to say they never got to the U.S.
Lvov is in fact in western Ukraine (was having a senior moment there). I’ve never visited, simply because time and finances would never allow. But now that I’m retired who knows…..
Funnily enough I’m making up a large batch of egg mayo sandwiches for my BFF’s sons tea break, in his teams final cricket match of the season. At the moment though ‘rain (has) stopped play’ 😕.
Dear Mrs P I love your reading your blog – have found so many good reads here. Also really appreciated all your tweets during that awful referendum and now I’m reading about your trip with huge ENVY! Glad you liked Olsztyn and enjoyed tracing your Polish roots. Both my parents came over postwar from Poland & rest of my family still there (including in Olsztyn.) This summer when over on our family visit we went for the first time for years to Łódź – really interesting city for your next trip 🙂 lots of renovations of old textile mills/factories, fantastically long main street full of restored buildings of all kinds of architecture; shows just what you can do with EU money!
Thanks so much, Jo – that’s lovely to hear.
It’s fascinating to hear about your Polish roots – so many remarkable family stories and journeys. I shall put Łódź on the list for next time.
Yes, everywhere we went there were signs of building and roadworks – some major upgrades to infrastructure that I’m sure are being supported by EU money. Good. Very much a sense of a country on the up (though their current government is not to my liking).
Now in Berlin and about to head off to a flea market. The end of a trip is always dangerous in terms of reckless souvenir gathering. Hopefully I won’t be tempted by an entire set of German 70s dinner plates…
How lovely it all looks and what a special journey. I enjoyed reading about it.
Thanks, Christine! Just one more stop/extract to go now, from lovely Berlin. I’m going to do my best to savour these last couple of days.
Wonderful photos and slice of setting and life for a Miloszewski fan like me. Thank you.