July 13, 2012
Friendly, picturesque, cheap and with a fascinating history. I expected none of it from Poland, the surprise packet of our holiday so far.
We stay in a guesthouse, an old hunting lodge perhaps, on the edge of a forest; eat (we think it’s pork!) in the dining room from the hosts’ best china; and then the next morning listen to Craig Hamilton call the game via high-speed internet as the Knights thrash Manly at home.
We stay in the Polish equivalent of Wests in the town where Teutonic Knights staved off a siege after suffering defeat in the Battle of Grunwald in the 1400s. The castle at Malbork is Europe’s biggest brick building and the world’s biggest Gothic structure and gobsmackingly impressive.
And we stay in the former barracks of Hitler’s security detail at the Wolf’s Lair (Wolfsschanze), where the Nazis plotted their annihilation of Jews, Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, the sick and disabled (just about anyone they didn’t like) for four years during WWII. And where Claus von Stauffenberg made his attempt on Hitler’s life. Hitler lived here for about three years, before retreating to Berlin, and suicide, as the Russian army advanced.
The site reminds us of Newnes in NSW. You feel that nature could reclaim the buildings at any moment.
The tourist “attraction” is run by Polish forestry and is minimal in historical interpretation and tourist facilities. The hotel accommodation and restaurant are basic. The guide maps are informative but a DVD documentary is in Polish only and screened in a dark, musty room with seating for about five.
Yes, you can have your photo taken dressed up as a German soldier in a motorbike and sidecar or fire air-pistol replicas of WWII guns. Is that politically correct I wonder?
But being able to roam around and through the ruins of bunkers and typists’ offices, a casino and the conference room where a bomb in a briefcase wounded Hitler and killed some of his staff is an eerie privilege.
We wonder how the Poles regard this reminder of oppression, victory and then oppression once more (as the Soviets went from liberators to rulers).
Poland has been ravaged from just about every direction over centuries, yet the people we meet appear resilient, open and welcoming.
As we ride through the countryside we admire neat cottages, colourful gardens, abundant veggie plots. And we play “stork punchy” as we spy families of these large, graceful birds in their tall straw nests atop chimneys and power poles.
We vow to become more self-sufficient when we return home. Could we manage a house cow? Maybe not.