Klezmer band called ‘Muzykant’ in Praga

August 5, 2018

This band played in our neighborhood last night.  I would call their music Klezmer, although I do not know what they call it.  Klezmer is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe dating to the Renaissance.   We do not possess musical notation of the earliest forms, however when Jewish musicians came to the US their music was influenced by jazz.  To strictly define Klezmer is difficult but I like to say I know it when I hear it, although it is rather difficult at times.  These days bands often consist of a clarinet, sax, fiddle, drum, accordion and a trombone.  Last night there was a bass guitar and a flugelhorn.  Hammer dulcimer and bass fiddle are traditional.  I have never seen a horn mounted on a fiddle, but I have now!

The friendly crowd was enthusiastic, dancing, enjoying some of the excellent beer you find everywhere in Poland.  A good time was had by all.

One of the band gave me a slip of paper with some email addresses and websites.  muzykant@man.torun.pl or kke@edu.pl,”Dobranotch” http://dobranotch.ru & “Opa!” http://o-p-a.ru

There was not much light so the video isn’t great, but you will enjoy the music.  Check out the light show on the side of the building next door.  


Wroclaw: Complex history, rich culture

July 2018

The train carried us for a bit over two hours in a full six person compartment, my 20 kilo suitcase perched precariously above our heads.  We are going from Poznan to Wroclaw.  Wroclaw has a complex history.  It was born in Poland, later controlled by the kingdoms of Bohemia, Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire,  Prussia. and  Nazi Germany.  It was founded circa 950, like Poznan on an island in a river.  Also like the other cities we’ve visited  it was a member of the Hanseatic League (1387), which helped make it a wealthy city.  Among its famous inhabitants are a director of the Clinic of Psychiatry, Alois Alzheimer.  A professor named William Stern developed the concept of IQ in the same turn of the century era.  

During the war there was no fighting until February, 1945.  The Germans decided to hold the city and did so until after the fall of Berlin.  About 50% of the city was destroyed, some by the Nazis who did so in their efforts to fortify the city and the rest by Russian carpet bombing, with 40,000 civilians killed.  By that time refugees from Germany and elsewhere had increased the population to nearly one million, including some 50,000 slaves and 30,000–60,000 Poles relocated after the end of the Warsaw Uprising.   After the war the German population of 190,000 was forced out.  Poles ejected from its eastern territory, mostly around Lviv now in Ukraine but then in the Soviet Union, then moved in.

Wroclaw, called Breslau when it was in Germany,  is jam-packed with notable architecture of various styles including the predominant Gothic, some significant examples of the Baroque, at least one Bauhaus (the bank building in the Rynek), Art Nouveau, and of course some Soviet era concrete block.  

.   The Rynek is spectacular, a large open space surrounded by fabulous buildings in various styles

The Brick Gothic Old Town Hall in the Rynek dates from the 13th c.  You can visit the original council chambers, with period furniture.

Old Town Hall

Also in the Rynek is the Gothic style St. Elisabeth’s Church (Bazylika Św. Elżbiety).  It has a 91 meter/300′ tower. St. Mary Magdalene Church (Kościół Św. Marii Magdaleny),  dating from 13th c, is not far.  

St Elizabeth Church

Rynek, Wroclaw


The city was founded on an island now called Ostrów (island) Tumski (Cathedral) in the Oder River.  Wroclaw Cathedral dates from circa 950.  There are several islands and altogether there are hundreds of bridges making it among the highest number in the world, just barely behind Venice.  


Cathedral, rebuilt after the war

We paid the extra to see the chapels, rewarded by the superb sculptures of the Giacome Schianzi chapel.  I later learned that the St. Elizabeth is by Ercole Ferrata, a student of Bernini, and that the cardinal’s tomb is by another Bernnini student, Domenico Guidi.  Bernini!  No wonder I was so floored.  

Detail of sculpture, chapel by Giacome Schianzi

St Elizabeth in the chapel by Giacome Schianzi

The unemployment rate is just 2.2%.  People from around Europe come here looking for work as a result.  This is inflating wages and prices generally, although it is quite inexpensive still compared to France, UK and even less than Spain.  We have had lunches for two with a beer for from $10, in Valencia lunches start at $12 with wine, in Paris closer to $18 plus wine. 


Churches of Poznan

There are three outstanding churches in Poznan.  The most important and oldest is not the most beautiful although in its setting it is quite charming.  The other two rank as among the best Baroque churches anywhere, which I say having been in all of the great ones in Rome, Palermo and elsewhere in Italy.  I have every reason to believe that they were both done by Italians using Italian marble and other materials.

Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul is on Cathedral Island which is also shares with two excellent museums.   The first church on the site was built in 968.  The remains are still visible in the basement.  Starting in the 1300’s the church was rebuilt in the Gothic style, renovated into the Baroque style after a fire in the 1600’s.  The damage in 1945 led to its reconstruction in the Gothic we see today.  Pope John Paul II visited and is honored in the church.  The setting is a amidst lovely trees and buildings, some church owned, on the small island where Poland was founded.  The site was at one point a palace.   Archaeologists have excavated the area, which is in front of the cathedral.


my pen and ink of Poznan Cathedral

St Stanislaus 

This stunning church was built in the 1600’s.  Along with it is a Jesuit college.  For interesting details see St Stanislaus 


Church of St Anthony

For more information click on the link above




Strolling Torun

Torun is small and thus easy to walk.  It is full of remarkable architecture, with many restaurants, bars and cafes to add to your enjoyment.   The buildings range from the brick structures daring from the 14th century Teutonic Knights to the Gothic to Art Nouveau and Art Deco.   The town was not damaged in WW2, so the buildings are not newly rebuilt.

One of Toruń ‘s fabulous buildings in the small old town

Toruń is another of several Polish city members of the Hanseatic League.  The prosperity led to the three main styles, Gothic (dating from 1200’s) in brick, Mannerism and Baroque.    The city walls and the now ruined castle are from the Gothic period.    

Torun old city walls

City Hall, Toruń , Gothic, 1274










The Cathedral of SS. John the Evangelist and John the Baptist (14th century) has some wonderful sculptures and paintings from the era, including a  Moses and St. Mary Magdalene.  The multiple altars are ourstanding.


Altars in the Cathedral


Copernicus was born here and, if you will allow just this one pun, the city revolves around him.  There are two museums that deal with him at least in title, this statue in front of city hall, and lots of reproductions of famous portraits.    


Street sculpture

Street sculpture

Ulica Szorka, Torun

While you wander about you are tempted by the lody – ice cream – which is very popular in this comparatively warm weather, with temperatures as high as 28c, 80f in generally partly cloud skies.  Donuts are elaborately presented,  a variety of calorie rich cakes.  The city is most famous for its gingerbread, which fortunately for my waist line I do not like.  There is very good cappuccino, espresso and macchiato (small cappuccino) —  be careful about the latter as there is a small macchiato espresso and a the very large latte macchiato.    There are waffles with real whipped cream and cherry jam.    Gone are the pretzels, hard and soft, found in Cracow and the multitude of fruit stands and street markets from everywhere we have been.      Remaining is the ever-present beer, with wine still an expensive alternative, and I hope you do not like sugar-free colas as they are harder to find if not impossible.  Pierogies are everywhere in Poland so here as well, but I could not find latke, potato pancakes.  Since our 1998 visit the Italians and Turks have moved in, so pizza and donor kebab are popular, as well as hamburgers even.

With our flat located within blocks of the Rynek (central square) we had the shortest possible commute.  This turned out to be not the case in our next destination, the historical city of Poznan.    On the other hand, we had two flights of these stairs:

Our staircase

It’s impolite to stair!

It is impolite to stair! Our place for a few days in Torun. It’s two flights up, a piece of cake for us without baggage, a puffer with my 20 kilos. The exterior and staircase both need renovation, but the flat is beautifully done with some odd things left out, such as towel racks, soap holders for the shower, soup spoon and coffee maker of some sort — we travel with a hand-held cloth filter, having run across this more than once.  And really crappy kitchen knives, also a common problem, and one for which we  prepare.


stairs at 42 Kopernika (Copernicus)

Solidarity Forever

June 28, 2018

Yesterday we took a walking tour offered by the tourist bureau.  There are two, and we chose the Solidarity tour, which covers the period starting in 1945.  She made no comments about the present disturbing situation in Poland, although it was clear she is not a supporter of the current authoritarians in power.

Gdansk is the home of Solidarity, the first non-governmental trade union in the former Soviet bloc.  It became a political movement, reaching a peak of over 9 million members.  Today there remain some 400,000.  It’s full name is Independent Self-governing Labor Union. 

In its effort to crush Solidarity, the government imposed martial law in 1981, imprisoning thousands including Lech Walesa.  This brought financial support from Pope John Paul 2nd, from Krakow, and the US government and the AFL- CIO.  The list of demands made in 1978 was precipitated by female dock workers, our guide recounted, who pressed for additional concessions from the government beyond allowing the formation of a non-government union, including the elimination of censorship.  On the 31st of August 1980, the government agreed to the demands and Solidarity was formed from over twenty labor committees.  

Solidarity’s list of demands

Pieces of Berlin wall











Another demand was a monument to victims of Communist suppression, the first such in a Communist country.   Thirty people died when a 1970 protest was met with machine gun fire

A combination of bad working conditions, massive increases in food prices, shortages and other economic failures led to workers’ decision to take on the Communist government.  The government was backed by the Soviet Union, massively residing on its border, with post war repressions in the Czech Republic and Hungary vividly recalled.  The Soviet Union took 45% of Polish territory following the Yalta conference, a fact which must have been still fresh in the minds of organizers.  That territory remains part of Russia.

The movement was closely tied to Roman Catholic social policies promoting the common good.  Jean Paul II’s photos remains on the entrance to the Solidarity Museum and the shipyard, next to the list of demands.  

The Monument to the fallen Shipyard Workers, 1970 killings

Our guide lived through many years of repression.  I think she said that her family came from the eastern side of Poland that is now part of Russia.  Along with hundreds of thousands, they left when the Russians took control.  The Russian soldiers treated the Poles and particularly Polish women as they did Germans in the immediate post war period.  Brutality and rape were common, thus contributing to this exodus. 

She recalls rationing for just about everything — meat, potatoes, shoes to give just a few examples.  Her shoes were wearing out during that period.  The two stood in line for shoes, after which they could examine the offerings.  There were always just two styles.  Often the shoes came with not two but three shoes in the box.  Sometimes the shoe sizes did not match.  People stood outdoors and traded with others whose sizes were also mismatched.

The government controlled all the sources of information.  When the government did not like what was happening and it suited their purposes it would not mention the incident or give a false version.  

Our guide on the walking tour.  She went to art school and is a sculptor 

The museum recounts the events that led to the expansion of the union to about 9 million, the attempts to counter its impact and the eventual downfall of the Polish government.  

The relationship between the union and the Church greatly facilitated union efforts.  In  Sollicitudo rei socialis, Pope John Paul II preached solidarity with the poor and marginalized.   Wałęsa was publicly Catholic piety, said, “The Holy Father, through his meetings, demonstrated how numerous we were. He told us not to be afraid.”  This sounds like natural reasoning and not an account of divine intervention, but be that as it may, the movement was successful in large measure.

The priest Jerzy Popiełuszko was very active with the union, celebrated masses during strikes.  The Communist regime is blamed for his murder.

Krakow: the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque

Wawel Cathedral

Krakow is replete with finely preserved notable architecture.  The Rynek Glowny (Main Square) is in the center of the old town (Stare Miasto).  Sukiennice (The Cloth Hall, 1400) is a fine example of the Renaissance.  The Cloth Hall was a center for the export of salt (there is a huge salt mine nearby), textiles and lead and the import of spices, silk, leather and wax.  The Rynek Glowey is normally full of visitors, horse drawn carriages, and outdoor seating at the many restaurants.  


Cloth Hall in the main square
Cloth Hall in the Rynek Glowny

A short distance away is St Mary’s Basilica is late Gothic church with two unmatched spires at 80 m (260′).  One was originally a city watch tower.   The Basilica’s foundations date to the early 13th century.  The church has a famous wooden altar piece by Veit Stross (Wit Stwosz).  Every hour a trumpet plays from taller tower, the former watch tower.  It commemorates the 13th c. trumpeter shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before a Mongol attack on the city.  The noon hejnał is broadcast Polish national Radio 1 Station.

St Mary's Basilica
St Mary’s Basilica

The Royal Cathedral is another Gothic structure dating from 1100.  Pope John Paul II gave his first performance as a priest here in 1946.

Wawel Cathedral
Wawel Cathedral


The Church of St. Adalbert, which is one of the few remaining examples of the Polish Romanesque style in Krakow, and the oldest Christian chapel in the city to boot.

Church of St. Adalbert
Church of St. Adalbert

The pointed arches show the Gothic character of the Collegium Maius

Collegium Maius
Collegium Maius

The Barbican is a fortifcation once connected to the city walls just behind it. 



The Church of St Peter and Paul is Baroque in style. 

Church of St Peter and Paul
Church of St Peter and Paul

Polish cuisine

Polish food has long since been a part of American cuisine, even if a small part.  Who has not had kielbasa sausage or dill pickles.   Polish cuisine is a calorie and fat rich cuisine, heavy on pork, chicken and beef to a lesser extent.  Cabbage is a major item —  there were three types of cabbage served with the huge platter we shared on our first night.  They use a lot of cream and eggs, as well as grains. Bigos is a hearty stew made of finely chopped meats sauerkraut and cabbage.  Pirogi are a major feature, stuffed noodles or rolled pancakes–  I had one stuffed with cheese and spinach.  You can get a variety of pretzel (but soft) in food carts and bakeries everywhere.    Sour dough breads are common, including its use in soups.  In the main square there are booths.  At one we tried a grilled smoke cheese with cherry jam.  It was excellent!


Breads and meats in the main square

A small place open just for lunch is called Lunch-  that’s right, Lunch.  We noticed that locals were piling in so figured it was probably both good and a good value, and it was indeed.  This meal plus a beer and coke was just $15.00, and either would have been enough for two people.  The pirogi had a potato pancake on top and another on the bottom.

goulash with potato pancakes

Cheese and spinach pirogi, pancake style

Goulash was borrowed from the Hungarians, becoming an integral part of the cuisine.









I have my doubts about spinach as a traditional ingredient.

I’ll have more to add as we go.