* Cześć [tʃeɕtɕ] is an informal greeting and can either mean “Hello” or “Bye”, depending on the situation (similar to “Ciao” in Italian).
The Polish capital is particularly attractive because of its exciting mix of old and new. In Warsaw, modern glass skyscrapers stand alongside the Palace of Culture, which was built at the request of Joseph Stalin in the early 1950s. Poland was part of the Soviet Bloc at that time, and the Palace, which was built in Socialist Classicist style, was supposed to represent the power of the USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics). It was therefore not especially popular with many segments of society. The city’s residents have largely accepted the building now – probably partly because the Palace of Culture is now what its name suggests: a cultural centre. It houses various leisure facilities such as cinemas, restaurants, museums and even a swimming pool. At 237 metres high, the Palace of Culture also provides a unique view of the extensive urban area from its viewing platform.
The picturesque old town is located just a few minutes’ walk away. It forms the heart of the city. Although Warsaw was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, the historic buildings in the old town were painstakingly rebuilt until 1963 to reflect their original state. The art historians used pictures and sketches in their work, and it is now almost impossible to tell that these houses with their colourful façades are actually reconstructions. Their efforts paid off: the old town in Warsaw has been recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1980. The central point in the old town is the Rynek Starego Miasta, the market square. It attracts not only the residents of Warsaw with its different restaurants and cafés, but also tourists from all over the world who want to enjoy typically Polish and Eastern European specialities.
The statue of the mermaid Syrenka dominates the centre of the market square. She holds a shield in her left hand and a sword in her right hand, and is viewed as the city’s guardian. To this day, she is still part of Warsaw’s coat of arms. Different stories attempt to explain how the mermaid became the city’s symbolic figure.
One legend suggests that Syrenka was the sister of the famous young mermaid in Copenhagen. While one of the sisters swam to Scandinavia, the other one made her way to Poland to exactly the spot where the market square in the old town of Warsaw is now located. The mermaid felt at home there and was popular with the local people because of her singing. However, a man captured her one day and tried to make some profit from owning her but luckily the local people freed her. The mermaid remained in the city out of gratitude and promised to protect the residents if they faced any danger.
Fun fact: Syrenka was also available as a set of wheels a few decades ago. The Polish term for “mermaid“ is Syrena and it also provided the name for a Polish car that was manufactured on a large scale by Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych (FSO) between 1957 and 1972. The vehicle is no longer produced, but you can still see some of the models in the Warsaw Automotive and Technology Museum.
Amber is as colourful as its different shades and its names are just as varied: jantar, sukzinit, electrum, gold of the Baltic or gold of the north. Amber (in Polish: Bursztyn) is one of the oldest decorative stones used by people and was regarded in the past as a valuable raw material; it was even used as a means of payment at times. It was also believed to have mystical and healing powers. The fossil resin is still admired today and is a particularly popular souvenir. There are rich amber deposits in Poland, particularly in the region around the port city of Gdansk. The oldest historical sources that mention the processing of amber go back to the eighth century BC. Amulets and small figures made of amber were the main items produced at that time because of the healing powers attributed to them. Numerous amber workshops developed in Gdansk beginning in the Middle Ages and they exported both their products and the raw material far beyond the country’s borders – for example, to Bruges, Amsterdam, Cologne, Lübeck, Nuremberg or Venice.
The 16th and 17th centuries in Gdansk are described as “the golden age of amber”. Rich citizens, nobles or Polish kings ordered numerous works of art made of amber from the local workshops at that time. They were used as valuable and diplomatic gifts for tzars, popes and the rulers of large countries. This is the reason why it was possible to find articles produced by amber craftspeople working in Gdansk, at various royal courts all over Europe – even at the court of Louis XIV, the “Sun King” of France.
Even if the guild of the amber craftspeople in Gdansk was destroyed by the two world wars, the artists managed to restore their tradition over time. The craftspeople and their products are now world-famous. Gdansk has established a reputation as an important centre for processing and mining amber around the world and is the headquarters of various institutions, such as the Amber Agricultural Chamber and the International Association of Amber Craftspeople. Those looking to discover more about the “gold of the north” should definitely visit the Amber Museum in Gdansk or travel to Gdansk during the first three weeks of August, when the Amber Summer Festival takes place during St Dominic’s Fair. The amber workshops located in the old town of Gdansk can also be visited year-round, giving visitors a chance to look over the shoulders of the artists as they work with amber and make jewellery.
Another well-known figure from Poland is the renowned astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (in Polish: Mikołaj Kopernik). Born in Toruń in 1473 as the son of an affluent copper trader, Niklas Koppernigk, and his wife, Barbara Watzenrode, he later studied law, medicine and astronomy in Poland and Italy. He also completed his training as a doctor of church law in Ferrara in 1503 and subsequently held various positions in the Catholic church in Frombork. He performed his observations of the sky and his astronomical experiments from a room in the tower of Frombork Cathedral. These observations enabled him to understand that the earth revolved around the sun – in contrast to what was assumed at that time – and he therefore completely challenged the geocentric worldview of the Catholic Church. He summarised the results of his studies in his main work entitled “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Nuremberg 1543), which was his last publication. Copernicus died in Frombork in May 1543.
There is now a room on the lower floor of Frombork Cathedral that provides visitors with an impression of Nicolaus Copernicus’ workplace. The Nicolaus Copernicus House, a museum with multimedia and interactive exhibition, has been set up in the house where he was born in Toruń and it is dedicated to his life story, providing lots of information about the development of astronomy and the history of the universe.
Masuria is a major tourist attraction in summer and a place of solitude in winter. The Masurian Lake District (in Polish: Pojezierze Mazurskie) in the northeast of the country is worth visiting at any time of the year, though. It primarily attracts hikers, nature lovers and water sports enthusiasts to its picturesque countryside, which is home to numerous species of birds as well as lynxes, beavers, wolves and even moose. The Lake District is the largest freshwater reservoir in Poland with about 3,000 lakes and a surface area covering approx. 1,700 square kilometres.
When the days slowly become warmer again in spring and nature comes back to life, the Masurian Lake District is the perfect destination for walks or bicycle tours on the cycle paths, which extend for more than 100 kilometres and make their way right across the countryside. Storks feel very happy here, too – about half of all the storks living in Europe have their home in the Masurian lakes, which is why you can hear the loud clattering of the birds, particularly in late spring. Summer has arrived in Masuria – at the latest when the red poppies are in flower and the glistening yellow of the rapeseed fields combines with the extensive avenues and the bright blue sky to form an idyllic natural setting – and it is the perfect time of the year to go swimming or enjoy a canoe tour on the numerous rivers and streams. The river Krutynia in the south of the Lake District is particularly suitable for an adventurous excursion on the water.
Things get quieter here in autumn. The region shows off its golden shades in its pleasantly mild climate: the leaves on the trees glisten in many different colours and can best be enjoyed during extensive walks. Autumn is also the right time of the year to go fishing, take nature photos or hunt for mushrooms – you’ll find not only porcino mushrooms here, but also witches’ butter, saffron milk caps or chanterelle mushrooms. The Masurian Lake District then turns into a true winter wonderland during the cold months of the year. Snow-covered hills adorn the countryside, the air is cold and clear and winter sports enthusiasts then find all that they need. However, those who do not venture out on skis or a snowboard can alternatively book an outing in a dogsledge, enjoy a winter kayak trip along the rivers or go ice sailing on the frozen lakes. The days in winter are quite short, but this means that there is plenty of time in the evening to make use of the different wellness facilities in the region and warm up again.
Where would Poland be without really good food? It is true that traditional Polish cuisine is usually hearty and not particularly low in calories, but it enjoys a good reputation, even beyond the country’s borders. It mainly consists of meat, bread, vegetables and various herbs. Pierogis (Polish: pierogi) are probably one of the best-known dishes – semi-circular dumplings that can be filled with meat, vegetables, cheese or fruit. They are normally served on their own or with bacon and sauteed strips of onion as a savoury dish. A suitable drink is essential as well. A fruit compote, which many people in Poland still make themselves, goes down well to contrast with the savoury pierogis. However, unlike a classic compote made of stewed fruit, the Polish variety is a drink, which does not contain any additives, contrary to the artificial drinks obtained in supermarkets, but is at least just as refreshing. Only a few ingredients are needed for the homemade compote: fruit, water and possibly a little sugar. People preferably process the fruit from their own gardens for this: apples, pears, strawberries, cherries, gooseberries, blueberries … there are no limits to the imagination here!
Wash the fruit and cut it into small pieces. Place it in a pot with water. Mix the fruit and water in a ratio of about one part fruit and two parts water. Boil everything for about 20 minutes until the fruit is soft. You can add a little sugar as desired, but that is not essential as the fruit itself is already sweet. After cooking the mixture, either pour it into jars while hot and seal well (then the compote will last longer) or let it cool and enjoy straight away.
Thanks to its central location, Poland offers companies simple and rapid access to all the leading markets in Europe. Parts of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) also pass through Poland. This system provides networks of roads, railway lines, inland waterways, shipping routes, ports, airports and railway stations across Europe and connects Poland with the Adriatic coast in Italy, the North Sea coast in the Netherlands or the eastern Baltic Sea coast in Estonia, for example. The small village of Małaszewicze close to the border with Belarus forms a central hub in this system. The village, which is home to just 1,700 people, has one of the largest multimodal logistics centres in Poland and is also the easternmost cargo railway station for block train traffic within the European Union. There are plans to expand the railway station at Małaszewicze to include three more platforms by 2025 to allow the station to handle freight trains that are 750 metres long.
The international logistics company, Rhenus, also provides various services related to railway transportation in Małaszewicze, such as transhipping freight from normal to broad gauge trains, loading bulk commodities or general cargo and containers – and also handling the customs formalities for cross-border consignments. Rhenus has numerous warehouses at the Polish seaports to store and distribute goods as well.
To make it easier for people to read, the masculine form has generally been used in the text. The relevant references to persons, however, equally apply to all the sexes (m/f/x).
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