How many different takes on history could be fitted on top of each other?

Built at the beginning of the 20th century as barracks for German troops, when the city was within Germany. After the war, the building became Soviet army base for troops stationed in Poland. Then, the protagonists of “Lubiewo”, Michał Witkowski’s novel, traveled there to have sex with soldiers, which places the barracks in the ephemeral Polish Queer history. After the departure of the Soviet troops, the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Wrocław moved to the building. As part of the renovation, artificial antique columns were placed in the corridors.

Lower Silesia, with it’s capital Wrocław, is a region in Poland, mainly known for being a part of Germany before 1945. After becoming Polish, the entire region, called the Recovered Territories after the war, had to face not only the uncertain status within the country, but also the need to quickly re-invent and recreate its history. It was at the same time an economic resource, a question mark, a new home for those migrating from the East. What is it now? What is the sum of the plural histories?

Work in progress.

The building of the former elementary school at 5-7 Drobnera Street in Wrocław, entered in the municipal register of architectural monuments, was sold to a private investor. As a result, a residential and office building will be built in this place. Despite the historic character, the investor leaves only the facade of the original building; this way of reconstruction is called by some “the Wrocław style of renovation”.
Bolesław Drobner, who gave his name to the street, was the first post-war president of Wrocław, author of a conception of the city being socialist autonomous republic (Republika Drobnerowska). Soon after publishing it, he was ousted from the office.

Model of the Wrocław Water Junction, Institute of Environmental Engineering, Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences.

The model, built in 2006 in the 1: 200 scale for experimental purposes, reproduces the center of Wrocław with its characteristic buildings and hydrotechnical elements. It is used to carry out research related to the mechanics and engineering of the river in the city. Within the city's administrative boundaries, five natural rivers merge, and the Odra River - the main of them - splits into several waterways. The Wrocław Water Junction is a complex network of connections and hydrotechnical structures, with locks, hydroelectric power plants and flow weirs. The model, one of the few such large models of Wrocław, allows for an academic analysis of the relationship between them.

Wroclaw is commonly referred to as the City of a Hundred Bridges; in fact, according to various estimates, there are currently from 101 to 118 of them – some of them are the city's showpieces and technical monuments. The Odra River and its canals played a logistic role in Wrocław; the city had two large cargo ports, river shipyards, a sailing school, commercial marinas, scout riversides.

Due to its location, Wrocław was affected by floods in 1903, 1905 and 2010, but the most severe flood for the city was the one from 1997, known as the Millennium Flood. 40% of Wrocław was under water. 2,583 residential buildings were affected. The Odra river flood of 1997 was one of the most disastrous floods in history of Poland. It took 56 lives, and all possessions of at least 7000 people. 680,000 houses were damaged or destroyed. The losses were estimated at 63 billion PLN.

The Odra river flood of 1997 is also perceived as a turning point in recent history of Lower Silesia region, as the first moment in which the process of regaining this territory – taken over from Germany half a century earlier – has been completed on social level. Relationship with this region prompted people to heroically fight to defend not only their possessions and lives, but also to join collective efforts in defense of cities against the upcoming water. According to the estimates of the City Hall, from 300,000 to 480,000 bags of sand were placed in Wrocław, mostly by volunteers.

One of the most affected during the 1997 flood was a part of Przedmieście Oławskie district of Wrocław, dubbed Bermuda Triangle, as it was perceived a particularly dangerous place. In fact, Triangle – district of multi-storey tenement houses and post-industrial facilities from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – was inhabited right after city became Polish, and was severely underfunded ever since. The Bermuda Triangle and its stereotypically criminogenic nature were the inspiration for the words of the 80s song by Lech Janerka and his band Klaus Mitffoch, „Strzeż się tych miejsc” („Beware of these places”).

The most known fictional inhabitants of Bermuda Triangle neighbourhood in Wrocław are the family of Kiepscy and their neighbours. Świat według Kiepskich, originally inspired by series such as Married… with Children and alike, is a TV series aired since 1999.

Originally written by Janusz Sadza, the script was based on his experiences of living in Bermuda Triangle; stereotypically associated with a low standard of housing in former German tenement houses, coal-based stove heating or toilets in the corridors, and excessive alcohol consumption. This is also the life of the Kiepski family.

Currently, the area of Bermuda Triangle is no longer characterized by above-average crime, and its notoriety is stereotypical. Now it is undergoing intensive gentrification along with the renovation of town houses and the construction of apartment estates.

Meanwhile, Wrocław is expanding rapidly. The scale of the Lower Silesia’s capital urban sprawl is so large, that shortly after this photo of an unfinished luxurious villa in the suburbs was taken, the building was demolished and a housing estate was built in its place. The village of Radomierzyce increased the population of its inhabitants by several hundred percent over the last decade. The situation is the same in most of the nearby villages.

Over the last century, Siechnice turned from a suburban village into an independent town. Until the 1980s, there was an ironworks there, which was closed due to environmental concerns. The second area of production was food industry, which has developed over time. Currently, tomato greenhouses in Siechnice are one of the largest in Europe.

Urban sprawl of Wrocław means further population of the area with new housing estates. Combined with the expansion of agriculture production, it resulted in a conflict over the light pollution of the natural environment. As a temporary measure, greenhouses are partially covered at night, but at dusk the glow emanating from them is visible from several kilometres.

Wałbrzych, second biggest city of the region, was called the Polish Detroit until a few years ago. When in 1994 the coal mines – the industry that constituted the most important element of the local economy and identity – were closed, the city and its surroundings experienced an absolute economic collapse.

I first documented Wałbrzych in 2013 and 2014, when the situation was slowly improving. The traces of mining, which lasted over five centuries in this city, were slowly waning.

At the same time, right next to the place where Copernicus stood – a mega-shaft that was to turn the fate of the Wałbrzych Coal Basin, but was demolished just after its completion – mining of surface deposits was underway. It is extremely dangerous, but for people working in the bootleg shafts it is a necessity to survive. It is also illegal, and shafts are often destroyed by the officials.

Wałbrzych still celebrates Barbórka – name day of St. Barbara, patron saint of miners. Celebrated with a parade, it is mostly attended by former Green and White Feathers – which means higher, safer office jobs in mining uniforms. There are associations of former miners, trying to maintain what once was a central point of local identity.

I asked the children waiting for the Barbórka procession through the city what they associate with mining. They answered in chorus that the local sports club was called Górnik (Miner). They were born 10 years after the announcement that coal mining in Wałbrzych would be closed.

But, there are places where mining is still operational. Bogatynia is a small town located in the Turoszowska Valley, in the south-west corner of Poland. The municipality borders with Germany and the Czech Republic and is one of the richest in Poland. Municipality of Bogatynia is known both in Polish scale and internationally primarily due to huge opencast Turów mine that takes up most of the valley, as well as due to heating and power plant connected to it.

The existence of an open-cast mine in the Bogatynia region causes many problems on both international and local scale – the open-pit mine, located in the immediate vicinity of the Czech Republic and Germany, provokes protests from the inhabitants of nearby towns. In order to exist, the mine still absorbs settlements located on its banks.

The plum tree growing by the road is the last trace of the inhabitants of this plot. Opolno disappears in stages. Kasztanowa Street, formerly known as the Main Street, has the last building on the right with the number 22. Previously, there were twice as many. Currently, efforts are being made to obtain conservation protection for Opolno, which would protect the town from its complete disappearance.

The proximity of the border poses one more problem, apart from the mine’s influence on international relations.

Local methamphetamine is produced in the Czech Republic from pseudoephedrine-containing cough medicines available in Poland without a prescription, such as this tablet. Medicines are taken out of the blisters and transported across the border. Piko, as methamphetamine is called in the local slang, isn’t popular in Poland. But in Bogatynia, it has a huge impact on social life.

Miedzianka, known in German times as Kupferberg, was one of the smallest towns in pre-war Germany. Located in the Sudety Mountains, it was known as an important point on the map of mining centres since the 14th century, as well as a tourist destination. After 1945, when the region passed into Polish hands, the mining of uranium ore was carried out in the city as part of the Soviet R-1 project. Due to the need to hide this fact, as well as many years of mining damage, a decision was made to liquidate the city. In the 1960s, house renovation was forbidden, and in 1972, virtually all buildings besides a few homes and a church were demolished. The inhabitants of Miedzianka were relocated to Jelenia Góra.

Former R-1 Uranium Processing Plant, Kowary.

Right next to Kowary, there’s a Wild West city. Western City is a private Wild West themed funfair located at the foot of Śnieżka, the highest peak of the Sudetes. On July 4, 1998, on the anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence, the city's owner and Sheriff, Jerzy Pokój, officially opened the Western City to the world with a shot in the air. The town has an area of about 65 hectares, most of which are vast pastures for cattle and horses.

In August 2015, Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter, two treasure hunters, reported to the city council that they had likely identified the place where the Golden Train was hidden. According to various sources, a nazi freight train filled with stolen valuables was supposed to leave the besieged Wrocław in the last days of World War II and dissolve without a trace.

Information on the potential location of the train, allegedly hidden underground right next to former Książ Ceramics Factory, in a blown up tunnel almost with the entrance exactly at the height of 65 kilometer mark of Wrocław - Wałbrzych railway line, alarmed the public opinion. After gaining official permits, P. Koper and A. Richter started ground works to examine their initial findings. The drillings made did not confirm that there is any hidden tunnel or train full of gold at 65th kilometer. The train has not been found.

I am convinced that the closer you are, the more obstacles they throw at your feet. On the basis of a poor photomontage, the Loch Ness municipality was able to subsidize the search for the monster in the depths of the lake; we have the facts, and we must strive for any support from the city.

Piotr Koper.

Few hundred metres from the presumed location of the Golden Train, those are the remains of Książ Ceramics factory, which once was the biggest ceramics factory in Europe. During the 90s almost all industry in Wałbrzych region went bankrupt.

After being transferred to Poland, Wrocław and Lower Silesia were the locations of many industrial plants.

Zygmunt Czerniak was an engineer in Pafawag locomotive factory, a member of the workers’ community. In a spirit appropriate to socialized production, he participated in the rationalization of factory work. He wrote down all rationalization conclusions, and the improvements he proposed, in his notebook.

Mr Czerniak’s grandson, as a gesture of commemoration of his late grandpa, tattoed himself with a banner of Pafawag sport club.

EN57, an electric train developed and manufactured by Pafawag, was the longest-produced electric multiple unit in the world – 1,429 units were produced. EN57 is a synonym for railways in Poland and has gained a cult status in the graffiti community. In former Pafawag workers’ allotment gardens, seats from EN57 are used as benches.

Jelcz-Laskowice is a city established in 1987 from the merger of two smaller towns. The main reason was to provide accommodation for employees of the Jelcz factory, created in 1952 on the basis of the Krupp Bertha Werke, which had been there before.

Jelcz was the largest bus manufacturer in communist Poland, and the name of the city in Poland is associated with public transport to this day. The plant went bankrupt in 2008. Currently, military trucks are produced there, and part of the factory complex has been demolished or sublet to other producers as part of the Wałbrzych Special Economic Zone. The only buses I could see in Jelcz were Bar Jelczanin in a vehicle of different brand, and a toy behind a local pub in the factory’s housing estate.

Fredruś, tourist bus and a landmark symbol of the post-war years of Wrocław, being rebuilt by City Transport Sympathizers Club (KSTM) on the premises of the former Tram Repair Works, after it was left to rot for almost 20 years. Fredruś was built in 1974 from Jelcz 272 MEX city bus.

Wojciech Jarząbek is certainly the most famous starchitect in the Lower Silesia region, synonymous with early capitalisms’ prosperity. Associated with postmodern buildings from the early 90s in key points of the city – such as the Solpol department store on Świdnicka, the main shopping street in Wrocław, an unlikely but steady candidate to the status of the most recognised building in Wrocław.

This is the first time that I am involved in something like this - it is about Solpol, but also about what is happening in the city in general, that other important modern monuments are in danger. In Solpol, the truth about the times in which it was created is simply the most visible. This building was always eccentric, a bit to the side – also of my architectural preferences, really – but it attracted attention. It is genuine.

I think that I study architecture to react somehow. Not only by designing, but also by meeting what already exists. Visualizations of neo-nineteenth-century tenement houses terrify me. The city should not be populated with historical reenactments, or imitate something considered a classic, but also reflectively look at more modern things. I think it is also a matter of Wrocław, a shift towards some idea of model city. (...) I do not feel that I have the agency to save it, but I can gather people and promote the image of Solpol a little bit. Now the matter is not in my hands.

Alicja Stefaniak, architect, student, co-host of the @solpolposting Instagram profile, responsible for a number of offline and online activities related to Solpol.

Several years of efforts to give Solpol the status of a historic monument ended in failure, and in March 2022 the demolition begun, to make place for a new investment. A building designed in the early 90s in five days – that's what the investor, Zygmunt Solorz, one of the richest Poles – gave to Wojciech Jarząbek to design a department store on the main street of the city. Thirty years later, the same capitalism whose early form it expressed ended its existence.  However, it sparked a protest that was one of the most recent instances of activist movements in the region.

The little dwarf in a cap is one of the most recognizable symbols of Wrocław. Placed on the walls in the 1980s in places where the authorities painted over opposition slogans, it was one of the first actions of the Orange Alternative, led by Waldemar "Major" Fydrych. Over time, the movement grew to street demonstrations, mocking the communist system with absurd humour. After 1989, it lost its political importance. One of the original dwarfs by Major, preserved under glass after renovation of the facade.

An advertising agency, commissioned by the city, for a new symbol of Wrocław contacted me somehow in 2004. We were looking for a spatial form. The dwarfs I came up with were of a very non-monumental quality, they were tiny. The city did not like the fact that such a sculpture was several centimeters in size, for public money. Originally, there were five of them, I installed them myself. We were supposed to do a few each year in non-obvious places. Then the concept changed, the city decided to announce to everyone how anyone can make their dwarf, counting on the fact that private businesses will do it as part of advertising. Other people started doing them, basically stealing my concept.

Tomasz Moczek, author of the first dwarf sculptures.

As of 2022, there’s more than 600 dwarf sculptures, mostly in Wrocław and nearby areas. The one pictured here, KaDecik, was commissioned by Koleje Dolnośląskie (Lower Silesian Railway), and is located in Legnica, where the main yard of the company is.

Right next to it, there is a plaque describing the return of Legnica (here under the name that was in force shortly after the war, Lignica) to the motherland – a rhetoric generally adopted towards the Recovered Territories by state propaganda, referring to the rule of the Polish Piasts in Lower Silesia nearly a thousand years earlier.

Legnicka Fabryka Fortepianów i Pianin was established in 1947 on the basis of the Eduard Seiler German instrument factory that had existed earlier in this place. The piano factory in Legnica was one of the two large plants of the People’s Republic of Poland producing these instruments. The plant was closed in 1998, despite the efforts of the descendants of E. Seiler to buy the plant. One of the windows on the street level has been secured against burglary with a fragment of an instrument that used to be built in the factory.

Besides pianos, Legnica is mostly associated with being the headquarters of command of the Soviet Northern Group of Forces until 1993.

Mr. Michał Sabadach was friends with the Soviet soldiers stationed in Legnica.

The city was divided by a wall, and Soviet soldiers had their own shops, hospital and service points at their disposal. Living through a wall with Russians left a huge mark on the city’s infrastructure and society. When they were leaving – the train with the last group left the city on September 16, 1993, exactly 28 years ago - they left Mr. Michał souvenirs. Together with the items related to the Polish People’s Army – the army of the People’s Republic of Poland, uniforms, and monuments that were overturned after the regime change - they are now the basis of the museum. Mr. Sabadach organizes meetings for veterans, during which they lay flowers at the monuments in his garden.

In 28 years after the Northern Headquarters of the Red Army Group left Legnica, most of the one-third of the city’s buildings occupied by the military have been renovated and perform other functions – from administrative to housing.

Although there are no exact statistics on ethnic minority communities in Lower Silesia, the region is in some ways known for its multicultural accents. After World War II, a small German minority remained and escaped expulsion. Additionally, re-emigrants with Polish roots from France, as well as residents of the former Eastern Borderlands, settled in Lower Silesia. In the years of the Polish People’s Republic, the inhabitants of Greece also migrated to the city for political reasons.

Currently promoted with the slogan of multiculturalism taken from the words of John Paul II about the “City of meetings”, Wrocław has one of the largest populations of migrants from the East in Poland. The region’s authorities established special official units for Belarusians and Ukrainians to help them acclimatize and function in everyday life. Due to the production in Biskupice, there is also a noticeable Korean community in the city, with its own housing estates, school and church.

The city also has several separate Roma communities – some of them have lived in Wrocław for generations, customarily in districts such as Ołbin or Brochów. In the second decade of the 2000s, there was also a Romanian Roma community living in an illegal encampment. Thanks to the efforts of activists and with the support of the municipality, in 2019 the last inhabitants of the camp were settled in city apartments, and the place itself was liquidated.

This inscription, “Sorry” or “Forgive”, was painted at the entrance to the encampment area in 2013 by an unknown person.

The extreme right-wing circles announced an attack on the Roma encampment on April 20 – the birthday of Adolf Hitler. In order to partially prevent and partially publicize the threat in the media, a picnic was organized to attract television cameras there.

The photo shows Dr Przemysław Witkowski, who is leading the attack on goal. A journalist and writer researching the extreme right, he was badly beaten in 2019 for commenting on homophobic inscriptions on a wall. The perpetrator turned out to be an activist of nationalist organizations.

It is difficult to tell the story of right-wing movements in Wrocław without noting the mutual dependence between them and the community of football fans of Śląsk Wrocław. The central figure for this alliance is Roman Zieliński, who died last year, for many years considered the leader of the Silesian fanatics. Zieliński was the author of the book “How I fell in love with Adolf Hitler”, published in 2006, for which he was sentenced under the paragraph on promoting totalitarian regimes. Wrocław, unlike some cities in Poland, has only one significant football team – so instead of local wars between fans of different teams, with Zieliński’s large initiative, the vector of aggression was directed towards left-wing, migrant or LGBTQ + communities. Zieliński and his milieu were responsible for strengthening the anti-leftist message in Śląsk Wrocław, along with the cult of the Cursed Soldiers. In 2015, Zieliński took over from the National Revival of Poland the organisation of the annual march of right-wing, cooperating with Jacek Międlar, a former priest called “the nationalist chaplain”.

In 2019, hooligans of Śląsk published a statement in which they strongly distanced themselves from Zieliński, criticising him for causing internal conflict of the community, and declaring that he was not allowed to enter the hooligan quarter at the stadium. After his death, a commemorative mural was created.

Currently, the far-right community is partially dispersed due to internal reshuffles. However, there are still extreme right attacks on left-wing and pro-social initiatives in the city.

I decided to become a racist as a result of teenage rebellion, because when I was younger, actually I didn’t like anybody. I figured it would be easier to base this hatred on skin colour or place of origin. My entry point was the fascination with music – national socialist black metal. We also had the local NSBM or RAC scene, bands that romanticised racism by presenting members of the subculture as some sort of defenders of the white race against its enemies. These enemies were, in the Wrocław context, a bit of an abstraction those 15 years ago, because there were not too many non-white people here. I was a misanthrope, and my racism was an expression of that. Through my friends, I got in touch with racist organisations, such as the ONR. I couldn’t quite find myself at their meetings, because I did not fully agree with their political doctrine on other issues, or with Catholic dogma. Other organisation, NOP, wasn’t catholic; but all their supporters kept together. I hung out with them because they were friends of mine.

I came out of it because I grew out of this phase of rebellion based on hatred of other people. It was a process of gradually opening up to the world and noticing that it was not structured as I had seen it before. I just drifted away. No former friends chased after me. Instead, I had a rising disgust for the things I believed and said out loud. I have never hit anyone or attacked anyone in the street. I want to believe that if I had known someone of a different skin colour then, they would have been my homie, an exception to my views at the time. From my perspective today, what I once thought, and racism in general, as a form of political orientation, is some form of teenage angst, fear of the world, of others, masquerading as a political view.

B., formerly identifying with far right-wing organisations.

At least since the 1970s, Wrocław and Lower Silesia have been important points on the map of Polish independent culture. The punk scene has existed in the region since the 1980s, several documentaries and other studies were made about it. The first squat in Poland was also located in Wrocław.

In present day, one of the most important points in the scene is Salka CRK collective – a group of musicians and animators of grassroots culture concentrated around CRK, a former squat and a cultural center in Wrocław Nadodrze.

The whole scene grew out of the activities of jazz/punk band Kurws, and the band itself is one of the most important representatives of the Polish alternative. Pictured here is a guitar amplifier that was shared by most of the bands from this community, a small combo amp produced by Laboga company, which also hails from Wrocław.

CRK was established in 2000 as a continuation of the previously existing squats. For 20 years, several thousand different people, activities and collectives have passed through the place. Currently, CRK is a legal cultural center and nobody lives there. The activity of the place was compromised.

This is an element of the city’s complex policy towards cultural institutions – although according to unofficial information it was Nadodrze that secured Wrocław the status of the European Capital of Culture in 2016, many of the independent cultural institutions were taken over or closed.

Pictured here is New Year’s Eve party on the roof of CRK.

Another important place on the cultural map of the region is Sokołowsko. It was established as one of the first sanatoriums in the world, due to the exceptional conditions resulting from the location in the valley and very clean air.. After the industrial collapse of the region in the 1990s, it was taken over by artists and became the venue for the annual film, experimental music and performance art festivals. For several years now, the settlement has been gentrifying a lot, and there has been an ongoing replacement of inhabitants.

Right next to Sokołowsko, an open-cast mine and a quarry of melaphyre – a stone material used in road and railway works – has been located in the mountains near Wałbrzych since at least the 1950s, but there are also sources documenting mining in this place before the war. Due to the mining method adopted, the mining area increases, reaching the height of the mountain peak over a decade ago. New residents of Sokołowsko fear that further expansion will change the conditions in the valley over time.

Built in the early twentieth century in connection with the construction of the dam on Lake Pilchowickie, the railway bridge is part of the railway line number 283, which has been shut down since 2016. The bridge is a technical monument, and its current technical condition is good.

In 2020, the public learned that, despite its status and condition, the bridge is to be blown up as part of the production of the next installment of the Mission Impossible action film series. The Polish producer initially denied it, but the findings came to light that the bridge was actually supposed to be blown up and then rebuilt – with public money. The deputy Minister of Culture defended this decision. However, the resistance of local activists and organizations dealing with technological heritage stopped work on the destruction of the bridge. The movie was shot elsewhere.

Archaeological research conducted at the site of the planned industrial investment in the suburbs of Wrocław. As part of the excavations, several hundred well-preserved graves, over a thousand years old, were discovered. A logistics center will be built here.

Currently, the vicinity of Wrocław, well connected with international expressways, is primarily an investment area for the logistics and fullfilment industry. The municipality of Kobierzyce, located just outside the capital of Lower Silesia, in which the large Special Economic Zone is located, has earned the name of one of the richest in Poland. There is also the largest shopping center in the country.

Banner advertising open job positions in Amazon warehouses in Bielany Wrocławskie. Former Wałbrzych Glassworks, closed in the early zero years, in the background.

Despite the demolition, Solpol remains present in the landscape of Wrocław. As a local landmark, it was included among other known buildings of Wrocław and Lower Silesia region as a part of Kolejkowo, the biggest rail transport model in Poland, containing many local monuments and recognizable objects on a miniature scale.