Wrocław wants to present itself as a modern, young and diverse city. As a European Capital of Culture 2016, the Polish city now has an opportunity to present itself as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe.
Calling Wrocław the "Venice of Poland" may be something of an exaggeration. But bridges are indeed one of the more eye-catching features of the city situated along the Odra River, with its numerous tributaries and many islands. For many locals, the city’s status as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe also recalls its complex and tragic history. For Wrocław, the Second World War and its aftermath spelled a profound transformation - perhaps more so than in any other European city.
A new beginning after the war
May 1945 spelled the end of what was then the German city of Breslau. But the Polish city of Wrocław would still need to find its new identity. And the people who had been resettled there from the Eastern Polish city of Lviv - now located in Western Ukraine - would need to reestablish a home and roots in their new city. But that is now 70 years in the past, and three generations have grown into adulthood since then.
For today’s generation, the border issue that once led their grandparents and even their parents to fear a "return of the Germans" is no longer a concern. Wrocław’s German heritage is no longer being repressed, but has become part of the city’s cultural heritage.
Today German visitors to Wrocław are not greeted with suspicions of revanchism, but rather welcomed with German-language offerings – and not only as part of the year of culture. "Wrocław has a story and a history to tell," explains Magdalena Babiszewska, spokesperson for the organizers of the City of Culture event. "Our programs are intended not only for visitors, but most definitely also for local residents."
The organizers are aiming for a year of participation and celebration. The events will include the traditional festivals, which for the this year will be even larger and more expansive in scope, as well as new projects that will bring performance, music and literature to stages large and small across the city. The hope is that the year of culture will also yield economic benefits - the organizers are aiming to draw twice the usual number of visitors to Wrocław next year.
Culture as a bridge
Although the year of culture will not officially commence until January 17, Wrocław has already launched some elements of the program. Last summer, the art project Mosty (Bridges) offered a preview of the year of culture. Mosty is scheduled to be repeated in 2016, when 26 of the city’s bridges will be transformed into art projects for the span of a single day. And thousands of volunteers are already rehearsing to make sure that the opening weekend performance of Przebudzenie (Awakening) by Chris Baldwin is a success.
For this event, Baldwin, who is also one of eight curators for the year of culture, is organizing a quartet of processions carrying large-scale figures, which will start from four different places and gradually make their way through the city. The processions, which symbolize the spirit of religious diversity, rebuilding, floods, and innovation, will retell the history of the city as they converge onto a central point, where they will be integrated into a single installation.
But that is all that event spokesperson Magdalena Babiszewska will reveal. "It’s supposed to be a surprise," she says. The opening day performance is certain to be the first of many highlights of the year of culture.
Actions and actors
The festival’s information center is located in the Barbara event center. In the 1970s, this was the meeting point for the Orange Alternative, an artists’ group that antagonized city authorities with their anarchistic street happenings. Today it is a meeting point for young creatives, who flock to the stylish event center, laptops in tow, to plan their next project. During the upcoming year, locals and visitors will be able to sample from 150 different projects and events.
Some of the projects aim to provide a platform for small-scale cultural initiatives, sponsored by local groups ranging from daycare centers to senior citizen groups. Others are grander in scale, such as the May 1 event, when thousands of guitar players will gather at Wrocław’s market square to perform the famous Jimi Hendrix song "Hey Joe." The stage is open to all - anyone who can make the trip and who knows the song is welcome.
And this year, Wrocław is not just a Capital of Culture: UNESCO has also named the city the World Book Capital for 2016. To mark the occasion, the Pan Tadeusz museum is scheduled to open in April 2016. The museum will be devoted to the Pan Tadeusz, an epic poem that is the best-known work by Polish national poet Adam Mickiewicz. And a Long Night of Literature will lure even reluctant readers to attend public readings at unusual spaces, including basements, churches, and towers.
No year of culture would be complete without music and, of course, Polish jazz. On three weekends in the spring and summer, jazz will take center stage. One of the highlights will be a concert by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and Polish jazz pianist Leszek Mozder, which will take place in front of the new National Forum of Music building.
Toward the end of the year of culture, cinephiles and film buffs will come into their own when Wrocław hosts the European Film Awards on December 10. Beginning in September, a local cinema will start screening films nominated for the 2016 award, as well as award-winning films from previous years. One will be the Polish film "Ida" by Pawel Pawlikowski, which received the European Film Award in 2014 and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015.