The key appeal of Decrease Silesia

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Adolf Hitler by no means dreamt that Germany would lose Decrease Silesia. If he had, presumably he wouldn’t have set about constructing an unlimited underground metropolis below its mountains. Tunnel networks have been dug into the rock however left unfinished when the battle ended. The undertaking was known as Venture Riese (that means “big”) and, unfold over a number of dozen sq. kilometres, was unmatched in its scale and ambition. What the Nazis have been planning on doing right here stays a thriller. “All of the plans disappeared on the finish of the battle,” defined the information who confirmed me across the chilly, damp tunnels.There are different secrets and techniques hidden right here in Poland’s Owl Mountains. Some locals consider Nazi treasure may additionally be buried right here — Poland says half one million artworks have been stolen throughout the battle. Individuals stored secrets and techniques too, each the German mining engineers who stayed and the Poles, harbouring grim wartime recollections, who arrived. For years, the small print of their entangled histories remained unstated.Maybe the Nazis hoped to get well their gold and artworks after the battle, not anticipating that Decrease Silesia, a part of the German Empire since 1871 and predominantly German and Austrian because the late Center Ages, can be given to Poland in 1945, solely to fade behind the iron curtain, the place it sank into obscurity and disrepair. To this present day, the area is ignored by vacationers, although it’s full of castles, Swiss-style villas and medieval cities with steep slim streets that make you consider Italy.

Sarny Fort, which dates from the late Sixteenth century, hosts literary festivals and live shows . . .

. . . and affords lodging in its luxuriously renovated outbuildings

In late spring I set off on a four-day journey to discover a few of these little-visited spots hiding in plain sight within the coronary heart of Europe. My British associate most likely suspected he was in for limitless servings of pierogi and the type of boring, flat panorama that predominates close to Warsaw. My data of the area was solely barely higher than his. Born and raised in Warsaw, in my youth I related Decrease Silesia with coal mines that had been closed down within the Nineties, and the following poverty and decay.

We flew from London to Warsaw, borrowed a automobile from a good friend and have been on the motorway earlier than noon. A brand new freeway hyperlinks Warsaw and Wrocław, the area’s lovely capital, and after just a few hours we have been crossing the River Oder and arriving in what felt like a distinct world. We have been leaving the previous Russian-occupied a part of Poland and coming into an primarily German panorama, buoyed on a sea of inexperienced hills. Homes have been few and much between, large and with oval home windows and sinuous traces of artwork nouveau. None of these we handed dated from after the second world battle. The area was poor and stayed so after 1989, a proven fact that satirically helped to protect its authentic structure and inexperienced areas. Whereas funding was pouring into Warsaw, bringing within the aesthetic horror of the Nineties, Decrease Silesia remained untouched.

The spectacular towers of the Adršpach-Teplice rocks, over the border within the Czech Republic © Alamy

A stone arch resulting in one of many trails at Adršpach

Our first cease was Sokołowsko, a village close to the Czech border surrounded by forests and hills. We pulled up in entrance of a monumental grey-brick four-storey villa known as “Rosa” and stepped out into the late-afternoon solar.Within the nineteenth century, Sokołowsko was generally known as Görbersdorf and hosted the primary tuberculosis sanatorium in Europe. Constructed by the German physician Hermann Brehmer, it was so successful {that a} new sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, was modelled after it. Footage present sufferers mendacity in chairs lined with blankets, respiration the chilly air, like a scene from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. The Polish Nobel Prize-winner Olga Tokarczuk has simply written a novel about Görbersdorf, to be revealed this month.When the painter and sculptor Bożenna Biskupska and her daughter Zuzanna Fogtt purchased Villa Rosa 15 years in the past, together with what remained of the sanatorium close by, it was a dilapidated constructing stuffed with previous ghosts. Now renovated and full of artwork, it has 9 visitor rooms and a delightful view of the mountains. Biskupska’s studio is within the attic, the archive of famend movie director Krzysztof Kieślowski is on the ground under, and the villa has grow to be a gathering place for artists from world wide. Throughout our go to a number of younger artists from Ukraine and Belarus have been staying, invited by Biskupska following the outbreak of battle.

Villa Rosa is now a visitor home full of artwork . . .

. . . and the sanatorium itself can be being renovated © Jerzy Wypych

We have been proven to our room, which featured an summary portray by Biskupska above the mattress, and set off for a stroll in direction of the centre of the village. Nightfall had fallen, and the neo-Gothic towers of the previous sanatorium loomed above us as we descended the hill. The fir bushes that lined the trail have been planted to decrease the temperature, deemed useful for the remedy of tuberculosis. There was a hum of dashing streams and the damp scent of the mountains.Within the village, the dim mild revealed empty streets and buildings of uncommon magnificence: tall German early Modernist villas with oeil-de-boeuf home windows. Fogtt later informed us that flats have gotten scarce as artsy individuals from Warsaw and Berlin have settled right here or purchased second properties. Even an Australian poet has moved in.Ultimately, we reached a constructing the place a plaque knowledgeable us that Kieślowski had lived in an condo on the primary flooring. The director of Decalogue and the “Three Colors” trilogy had spent his childhood right here whereas his father was being handled for tuberculosis. Reverse was an previous cinema, full with an orchestra pit, constructed to entertain the wealthy clientele of the sanatorium. The longer term director noticed his first movies right here, perched on a tree and peeking by means of a window within the roof.

The Maria Sniezna sanctuary overlooking the hills round Międzygórze © Kontakt8951/

As for the sanatorium, after the battle, elements had been dismembered when the authorities have been searching for bricks to rebuild Warsaw. In 2007, it almost burnt to the bottom. Now, its roof has been repaired and it homes, amongst different issues, Biskupska’s placing life-size sculptures of half-people, half-shadows, just lately returned from Auschwitz the place they stood vigil for 35 years. We set off once more, this time throughout the invisible border with the Czech Republic, and after a 20-minute drive discovered ourselves within the scenic village of Adršpach. At a small crowded restaurant, we ordered some staple Czech meals: knedlíčky (boiled bread-like dumplings), spicy goulash and smažený sýr (grilled breaded cheese), strikingly evocative of the only of a shoe.The opposite cause to go to is the Skalní město — 1000’s of rock towers, as much as 81m excessive, shaped from sandstone eroded over millennia. Elements of the 2005 movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe have been shot right here, and it’s simple to see why. Slender trails cross between the rock spires, which encircle a lake so turquoise it appears as if it has been Photoshopped.Our diversion into the Czech Republic was a shortcut to our subsequent vacation spot, albeit again in Poland, such is the zig-zaggy nature of the border in these elements. Within the night, we climbed in direction of Międzygórze, somewhat mountain spa city developed within the nineteenth century by Princess Marianne of the Netherlands. The crystal mountain air, the shimmer of the stream, and the mock Tudor facades made me consider Tyrol or Switzerland. We have been staying at Villa Titina, considered one of a number of Arts and Crafts-style guesthouses set amongst gardens and woods on the sting of the city.

Villa Pepita, sister property to Villa Titina, set among the many woodland simply exterior Międzygórze

It was from Międzygórze that we drove to Osówka, a part of Hitler’s underground metropolis, then on the way in which again we stopped for mint tea at Sarny Fort, considered one of many within the area. Prince Charles was as soon as planning to purchase and restore the late Sixteenth-century fortress as a conservation undertaking however as a substitute two attorneys and a journalist from Warsaw snapped it up. It’s now present process a pricey renovation however already hosts literary festivals and live shows, in addition to providing 16 luxurious bedrooms in two of the fortress outbuildings. We stopped for dinner in Kłodzko, a surprising medieval fortress city on a hill, with a wealthy historical past of Czech, Polish, Austrian and German kings and princes combating each other to personal it. In Italy or France its streets may host a procession of vacationers, however at 8pm the principle sq. was empty besides for 2 drunks and three youngsters.Fortunately, one restaurant (“On the Iron Bridge”) was prepared to serve us meals at what was clearly thought of an outrageously late hour. We washed down pierogi — there was no getting away from them in any case — with kvass, a low-alcohol drink made out of fermented grains, finest identified from Russian novels. The restaurant had a selection of eight, all produced domestically by craft breweries and bought in hip bottles. Mine had a touch of honey and was deliciously fizzy.

The turrets and historic homes of Kłodzko © Satori13/

The Międzygórze waterfall © Castigatio/

On our final day, we visited a lonely stone-walled church on a steep slope overlooking Międzygórze. Now Polish Catholic, the Church of the Holy Cross was as soon as German Evangelical. When the Germans have been compelled out after the battle, Poles shipped in from the east would typically stroll into the primary home they clapped eyes on. Heat soup may nonetheless be on the desk. There’s a poem by Tomasz Różycki, a up to date Polish poet who was born within the area: “Every little thing I’ve is post-German ( . . . ) post-German graves, post-German flat, post-German stairs and clock . . . ” Maybe it’s no shock that, although vacationers are typically scarce, a lot of those that do go to are German. Descending stairs beside the magnificent Międzygórze waterfall, we all of the sudden discovered everybody was talking German. There have been middle-aged Germans, aged Germans struggling down the slippery steps, and German teenagers being shepherded round on a college journey. For them, I suppose, this was some kind of homecoming; for me, it was the invention of a complete new a part of Poland.DetailsVilla Rosa ( has double rooms from PLN300 (£56) per night time. Villa Titina ( has doubles from PLN320. For extra on visiting the area, see the vacationer board web site dolnyslask.journey; for particulars on visiting the Nazi Riese undertaking, see Tickets for the rock towers at Adršpach must be purchased upfront at There are direct flights to Wrocław from quite a few European cities together with London, Paris, Milan and ZurichFind out about our newest tales first — comply with @ftweekend on Twitter

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