Wrocław, a city which is similar to Kaunas, is being celebrated as a European Capital of Culture this year. Together with San Sebastian, these cities have been anointed as European Capitals of Culture. Poland is closer to us, with Wrocław only 800 km away from us (it can be reached within 12 hours), so let’s take a bit of a look at the cultural programme that is being offered by our neighbours this year. To be more precise, I would like to invite you to explore its rich programme and select the routes for yourself, and here I’d suggest that you look at the concept used as the basis for Wrocław’s entire Programme for 2016.
The national competition involved the cultural communities of 11 cities in Poland and took place for five years. The cities not only made the decision to become candidates, but also rethought their city strategies by making culture one of their most important, top priorities. I have no doubt that Białystok, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Katowice, Liublin, Łódź, Poznań, Toruń, Warsaw and Wrocław offered particularly interesting and competitive programmes for the Expert Commission set up by Europe in 2010 to consider. Why did Wrocław win?
Their variety of cultural institutions, capacity and economic freedom were not among the most essential reasons for the choice. After all, they have cultural infrastructure projects equal to those of some of the richest cities in Europe. The most important reason is that Wrocław has a story to tell to Europe. It is a city whose name has been changed 50 times and has been ruled by the kings, emperors and presidents of different countries. It is a city that was completely ruined by the allies at the end of the Second World War, and all its surviving inhabitants were moved to Germany by trains (it has belonged to Germany for the last several years). Poles who decided to create their lives in its depressing ruins arrived to a place full of rubble and to some of the structures that had survived in some places. 90 per cent of the Old Town of Wrocław has now been restored according to photos and the city’s layout plans. Thus, their miraculous medieval buildings (they are worth taking a look at!) and several old towns with complex squares are evidence of an incredible phenomenon, i.e., a recovered culture.
But what can we say about today’s inhabitants of Wrocław, the fourth largest Polish city and second Polish city according to economy? What unites them? Is a history of 60 years sufficient for them to consider the city to be their own, and their neighbours to be their own community? As the residents of the city say, it took quite a few years to overcome their uncertainty about the future, solitude and to create their own culture from scratch. It took several decades to accept their German, Jewish and Polish heritages as a unity and as their own culture, rather than a foreign culture. Today in 2016, the inhabitants of Wrocław and its visitors have no doubts that they have succeeded. Therefore, they can share the experience referred to as “forgiveness” with the whole of Europe.
On the opening day of “Wrocław as a European Capital of Culture 2016”, the city’s Mayor, Rafał Dutkiewicz, reminded the guests who had arrived from various European countries about the history used as the basis for a major part of Wrocław’s application to be chosen and the capital’s programme for the year. In 1965, 20 years after the world’s bloodiest war, which had started with Germany’s aggression towards Poland, the bishops of a restored Wrocław wrote a letter to the German Catholic bishops and protestant pastors, starting with the words “we forgive you and ask for your forgiveness”. This reconciliation, which was accepted and sincerely responded to by both of the German bishops then, is still (or even more) relevant to Europe and the entire world. Thus, Wrocław really has a story to tell Europe. This city shows that a prosperous life can even be built on ruins and human tragedy. What can we as a country and, particularly, as the inhabitants of Kaunas, offer to Europe? What will we discuss? Who will we forgive? Who will we ask for forgiveness, and will we have courage to do this? What will we celebrate in 2022?
Author: Virginija Vitkienė
Illustrations: A. Bulacik