The Land of the Gnomes

Wrocław nad Odrą.

I’m totally sure that in this post, every person will be able to find something interesting for him or her, as what I am going to do right now is to drop a couple of lines to pay tribute to those remains of romance, that trifling beauty and endearing absurdity that we still can find in Europe in the age of haughty urbanization and omnivorous globalization.  More precisely – I will write about one of the most fascinating places in Europe – no less than a city inhabited by gnomes.

I can’t guarantee that this place wouldn’t have gone past me unnoticed if I were not the one who was going to study there in the near future. This city is situated in Central Europe, being sharp enough – in Poland, and more dead – Lower Silesia. It is called Wroclaw. It has several names, such as ‘Venice of Poland’ (there are five rivers and over 100 bridges in the city), and ‘the City of Gnomes’. It is the place where the past and the present meet each other to have a couple of glasses of maty honey beer with herbs under the excuse of drinking the future’s good health.

Wroclaw was established in the 10th century but the name of Silesia was first mentioned in 98 AD and quite naturally is overgrown with a multitude of various myths and legends and a lot of them of course are connected with Wroclaw – Lower Silesia’s capital city. I must admit that first I thought that the presence of gnomes in this city had something to do with those legends but as I tried to dig deeper I found out I was wrong.

In fact, you could hardly find any of the cute little sculptures of gnomes, made of bronze of course, untill the beginning of the third millennium. These fairy-tale mates started to invade the streets of Wroclaw only in 2005 thanks to Tomasz Moczek’s mother who had given birth to Tomasz Moczek who actually created the first echelon of tiny invaders. Some of the sculptures were commissioned by the City Council and some by local businesses but all the above-mentioned institutions have failed to keep the sum total of the leprechauns’ brothers from reaching 123, the number which is permanently growing (and while you’ve been busy reading this, the 124th gnome is very likely to have been placed).

GnomeYou might fairly ask – why Wroclaw? Gnomes have been always associated with Zürich. Yes, but there are two reasons why Wroclaw is privileged with the title of the City of Gnomes. The first one – who cares about Zürich? The second –  the forefathers of the modern bronze gnomes appeared in Wroclaw in the 1980s where they were printed on walls by members of  the Orange Alternative Movement. It was a bright remarkable political organisation founded by a student of the University of Wroclaw – Waldemar Fydrych, primarily known as Major. He and his followers preferred to express their anti-communist ideas through graffiti and various ‘silly’ demonstrations. As over night they used to find their anti-government graffiti covered by communist stain, they began to paint gnomes on places of the covered graffiti. It was impossible for the authorities to put the activists under arrest for such an inoffensive harmless thing. But still it worked for Fydrych – the gnomes drew more and more attention to the number of anti-government slogans that had been hidden. Consequently, along with some others, this movement of gnomes contributed in the Communist era facing the final curtain. Thus it turned out to be one of the funniest manifestations of protest ever, and of course, couldn’t help becoming the city’s symbol.

Every one of them has his or her or their own story to tell.  There might not be two gnomes who would look the same but every respectable dwarf (hopefully they will not take this word as offence as for sure all of them know that being called a dwarf is without a doubt nowhere as horrible as tautology) wears a magnificent bonnet. The gnomes have a full right to be considered citizens of Wroclaw and moreover they are its symbols, guards and talismans. You can meet them literally everywhere  – above the windowsills, on the lantern polls and letter-boxes. Wroclaw gnomes can also be detected right under your feet sticking out from the depths of the dungeons. Among all the variety of  these good-natured creatures with long beards there are a football fan (of course he supports Silesia), a very full gourmet, a sleepy guard of the entrance to the dwarfs’ village, a cinema lover, a washer on the bank of the Oder, a prisoner and a postman. There are even two Sisyphuses pushing the ball from the opposite sides (not too clever, is it?).  Ah! And of course don’t forget to give alms to the the needy gnomes – the blind, the deaf and the lame – who are always eager for your help on the main square of the city, Rynek. You are completely wrong if you do assume that you will not have to toil a bit in order to find a gnome. I have no need to remind you but I will – no noble gnome is anywhere easy to find, that’s for sure.

It is a pure pleasure for me to realize that this sort of things still exists in Europe, that we still can experience some minutes of magic amongst our steel and glass jungle. I’d give a lot for a couple of minutes in a fairy-tale and I’m endlessly happy that there is at least one and it’s free. I’m convinced that these wee gnomes make the world better and while looking for them in Wroclaw we at least can do no harm. Wandering around the places like this, I suppose you feel the stream of life losing its velocity…

Thank you very much indeed for reading up to the end and, as a good friend of mine says, stay tuned!

R. A. O’Rayne