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Poland's Wroclaw braves the cold to launch Cultural Capital of Europe 2016

Also known, in German, as Breslau, the inhabitants of this Polish town are retelling their history through culture. This Cultural Capital of Europe 2016 launched its year in icy temperatures and snow.

Musicians in Wroclaw defied the cold for the opening weekend as Cultural Capital of Europe 2016. They played jazz, classical and folk music in the open air. Music lovers stood alongside local homeless people around the coke stoves that had been set up for the open-air performances. The heated tent on one of Wroclaw's squares attracted a fairly large crowd.

Krzysztof Maj Direktor Europäische Kulturhauptstadt Breslau

Kryzsztof Maj, festival director for the European Year of Culture in Wroclaw

Despite the cold, the people of Wroclaw were on fire – those, at least, who were watching the "Burning Islands" acrobatics and fire dance spectacle. This was a promenade performance, moving between stages and different scenes on Slodowa ("Malt") Island near the Old Town.

Kryzsztof Maj, the festival director for the European Year of Culture in Wroclaw, had some momentous words for the opening, describing the opportunity to be promoted as Europe's cultural visiting card as "the most important year in Wroclaw's post-war history." An ambitious program of more than one thousand events awaits. The organizers hope it will attract twice the usual number of visitors to the city, thereby benefiting the region not only culturally but economically, too.

European Capitals of Culture

Wroclaw is one of the two European Capitals of Culture 2016, along with San Sebastian in Spain's Basque region. Wroclaw is in the south-west of Poland on the River Oder, and more than 600,000 people live here.

Until its German population was expelled after World War Two, Wroclaw (then known by its German name, Breslau) was the capital of the province of Silesia. However, big changes took place after 1945: People who had been driven out of the city of Lwow in eastern Poland (now Lviv, in Ukraine) were settled here. Breslau became Wroclaw, and took a while for its new citizens to feel fully at home here.

Polen Breslau Europäische Kulturhauptstadt Nationales Forum der Musik

The National Forum for Music in Wroclaw-Breslau

The search for a new identity is a theme that's also being addressed during its year as Cultural Capital. For Mary Sadowska, one of the artists performing at the opening ceremony, this element is a highly topical one. "It's also talking about what's happening in Europe right now: about refugees who arrive in a foreign place and meet with different reactions," she said.

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