A journal of political, social, and other important, possibly even somewhat related affairs, including but not limited to: Central European Society, The European Union, HC Kometa Brno, American Politics, Film, and Beer.

21 July 2010

Legnica, or Liegnitz

The next stop on our little tour was Legnica; the Germans knew this town as Liegnitz. Legnica in the past was a majority German-speaking town; only after 1945 did it become a Polish city. Like many cities in western and/or southern Poland, many of the Polish there are transplants from what is now Ukraine; when the 1945 borders were drawn up, parts of Poland became Ukraine or Belarus; parts of Germany became Poland. Poland "moved west." As a practical matter, it was easier to move Poles from the (former) east Poland to the (new) west Poland, rather than everybody moving a little west. So many Poles who now live in Legnica trace their family history not to Silesia, but to Ukraine. This is a little interesting, since the Polish Piast Dynasty buried the last of its issue here in 1675. (However, this Piast is still very much alive.)

This uprooting resulted in a city that underwent a bit of a personality change in the late '40s, which along with ideological, ahem, augmentations, created a very "new" old city. Liegnitz of the Nineteenth Century was a relatively wealthy city, in a relatively industrial region (before that word developed its negative connotation, when smokestacks and mines were a source of civic pride, rather than a provincial embarrassment), and as a result built gardens and parks. (Apparently, Germans had a thing for gardens.) The denizens of today's Legnica still wander through the in-some-places-overgrown Park Miejski, and many of the garden buildings are long gone, or or their way. Underneath the garden's weeds, there are places of beauty, and it is slowly being rehabilitated, and transformed.

The Riding School for noblemen's sons is also enjoying a renaissance in this quiet town. It unsurprisingly (due to the relative dearth of noblemen's sons and horsemen generally) has been transformed into a museum, which looks back to examine Legnica's incredible history and glimpses ahead, showcasing the most modern of its art. Things are gone, and they ain't coming back, but the town whispers its history, in a hushed German voice. Its future is decidedly Polish, but with open eyes to other places as well.

My traveling companion and I spoke with my dear Polish friend about the fact that many Germans come to Silesia on "memory tours," and asked if the same thing ever happened for Poles, wistfully dreaming about their return to their childhood on the steppes of Ukraine. He mentioned that it is slightly more common now, but for many, many years, it was forbidden to even discuss the possibility, and many of those Poles who could give their descendants a Polish-Ukrainian history lesson have been silenced by time. One wonders what the Poles -- and the Ukrainians -- have lost.

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