Poland,  Wrocław

Kajtek Grzelka in Wrocław, Poland

Wrocław
Kajtek Grzelka
Zurek in Bread

The Place: Wrocław, Poland

“Beside the imposing blandness of concrete apartment blocks that blend into the sky on a dull day, brazen Germanic architecture carves out slices of the city for itself. Wrocław is a city of contradiction, and a reflection of what truly happens when East meets West.”

Read About Wrocław

A battle is taking place in Wrocław. But for once in this region’s history, no blood is spilled in this conflict. Here, the old and the new fight for attention above the hustle and bustle of the streets below. Beside the imposing blandness of concrete apartment blocks that blend into the sky on a dull day, brazen Germanic architecture carves out slices of the city for itself. Wrocław is a city of contradiction, and a reflection of what truly happens when East meets West. The city’s history is a patchwork of different rulers and cultures, each one leaving its mark before it handed the reigns to the next and, wherever you look, those marks are starkly visible. Perhaps it’s due to this unique cultural almagamation, or maybe they’ve blossomed since Poland joined the E.U., but walking through the streets gives you the feeling that you’re walking through a work of art. Whether it’s the bronze gnomes that seem to follow you wherever you go, or the sculpture of ‘Anonymous Passersby rising from the slabs of the pavement and parting the flow of morning commuters, Wrocław feels ‘alive’.


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Kajtek Grzelka, 20, Pharmacy Student

“I was born in Nowa Sól, a small city in Western Poland, and went to primary and secondary school there. I went to high school in Zielona Góra, which is a little larger and is in the same – in Britain you say ‘county’? It’s ‘Voivod’ in Polish. After I finished high school with a very good grade from finals, I managed to qualify for studying pharmacy in Wrocław…”

See Kajtek's' Full Background

I was born in Nowa Sól, a small city in Western Poland (Read a Previous Interview from Nowa Sól), and went to primary and secondary school there. I went to high school in Zielona Góra, which is a little larger and is in the same – in Britain you say ‘county’? It’s ‘Voivod Województwo’ in Polish. After I finished high school with a very good grade from finals, I managed to qualify for studying pharmacy in Wrocław, which is where I am now. I’m in my second year of five-an-a-half (including a half year of pharmaceutical practice). It’s not the longest you can study a medicinal field here. For example, if you study medicine, with the specialisation, it can go up to even ten years.

 

I am very much into music and culture. I play ukulele. Studying takes up a large portion of my life and free time for now, because the second year and third year are going to be very tough. I’m interested in a lot of things, though and I read a lot, too.

 

 What is home to you?

“I am Polish, and I love the culture, and really I do like my country despite all its flaws and all. But… I feel that home is more personal for me… At the moment it’s hard to tell what home is. I just left my ‘home’ where I’ve lived my whole life… So, it’s no longer a place I can constantly be even though it’s still a ‘home’, but I’m kind of developing a new one here.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

I think home is a place where you can always come back to, and where you have people that love you. It’s mostly a feeling for me. I am Polish, and I love the culture, and really I do like my country despite all its flaws and all. But I really don’t think that if I emigrate somewhere, my feelings are going to change in a way that I will feel I need to come back to Poland because “this is home”… No. I feel that home is more personal for me. At the moment it’s hard to tell what home is. I just left my ‘home’ where I’ve lived my whole life, and it’s now no longer my permanent home – but I can always go back there, so it fits that definition, and I have my parents there and all, but I live mostly in Wrocław and I visit Nowa Sól maybe once a month. So, it’s no longer a place I can constantly be even though it’s still a ‘home’, but I’m kind of developing a new one here. Still, nothing is certain because I might change apartments or something next year.

What is special about Wrocław?

“Wrocław is very distinct from other Polish cities because of its… ‘multiculturalism’… the third biggest minority after Ukrainians and Germans here are South Koreans… That’s special because Polish society is still very homogenous; pretty much everyone living here is of Polish heritage, is of catholic faith, and most are pretty conservative.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

I haven’t been everywhere, so I can’t say what makes it different from every place on earth, but I think Wrocław is very distinct from other Polish cities because of its… you could say ‘multiculturalism’. It’s of course not as multicultural as London is and all, but I think that besides Warsaw, Wrocław is very open to minorities. Actually, the third biggest minority after Ukrainians and Germans here are South Koreans. It’s hard to call it a ‘district’, but there is an area of Wrocław where if you’re given a pamphlet from somewhere it will have one side in Polish and one side in Korean. That’s special because Polish society is still very homogenous; pretty much everyone living here is of Polish heritage, is of catholic faith, and most are pretty conservative (though that’s starting to change despite the government that was chosen in the most recent election).

Looking at my generation, some of whom don’t have the right to vote yet because they are too young, I sincerely hope that things are going to be better in Poland, and we as a nation will be more open-minded and welcoming to new ideas, and more trusting, too. We do not really trust the solutions of the European Union. You saw recently with the refugee crisis that Poland took pretty much no refugees. The same goes for Hungary. But people want to preserve this homogenous society. That’s the nation, not me and my friends. It has a good and a bad side to it; we do take migrants. You can see how many arrived from Ukraine in the past few years, and we do accept them even though they are from a different faith and speak a different language. Most people welcome them. But it’s not the case with every migrant. For example, people who are of Islamic faith or Arabic heritage are not welcomed as warmly, which is why there’s a lot less of them here.

Another thing that separates Wrocław is fact it really tries to remain between two sides of left- and right-wing and kind of tries to do it’s own thing, and what’s best for it’s citizens. I really like the way the government of this city thinks, and how they shape the city. They came up with this idea of ‘governors without a party’. I doubt they will win the upcoming government election, but it is quite an amazing idea that they just put forward people without any party, and they are just for the city. The rest of Poland is not like that. The current party in power is P.I.S. We have this joke; it’s ‘PISlam’, because people who support P.I.S are almost like fanatics. It’s more like a religion. They don’t see the bigger picture. After the reform of the judiciary – there was quite a fuss about that in foreign media – we got suspended from the European Court of Justice which is comprised of judges from different countries. After we joined the EU in 2004, we were actually one of the first to participate in this organisation beside Germany and the ‘big boys’, because of how we treated our laws and our constitution back then, which the current party is undoing. It was almost like a holy thing, because the Polish constitution was one of the first in the world, and actually the American constitution is similar in some ways to it. We are very proud of this document, and it’s very sad to see the current party bending it. They are interpreting it in a way that suits them, and doing some ugly things with it. Our constitution is something we should be really proud of, but it’s full of weird mistakes that aren’t being corrected, and acting parties tend to bend it to their needs, which is sad for me.

What have you learned from living in Wrocław?

I had to learn how to organise my time a lot better. Pretty much everything is up to me… you can go to some lectures, but you don’t have to; it’s up to you… you to shape how your week looks… you have to get good at it to have a good study/free-time balance.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

I’ve actually learned quite a bit because, you know, first I had to learn how to cook for myself. It’s not that I wasn’t cooking at home – I did from time to time – but now I have to take care of my meal every day. It’s a very prosaic task to do, but still something you have to learn. And also I had to learn how to organise my time a lot better. Pretty much everything is up to me. At university in Britain I think it’s the same, but in Poland you can go to some lectures, but you don’t have to; it’s up to you. It’s up to you to shape how your week looks. It’s also a skill, because you have to get good at it to have a good study/free-time balance. So I learned a lot about organisation. But I wasn’t homesick, really.  I doubt that I’ve felt that at all even for a moment, actually.

 

Where is your favourite place outside of Poland and why?

My trip to Ukraine, Lviv, was kind of looking for signs of Polish culture that has gone by. Because I think we can really experience our culture at its finest when we see places where it used to be but it no longer is. It leaves a certain mark.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

I don’t think I have one favourite; I’m a person who doesn’t have a lot of things they can call their ‘favourite’. I just have plenty of things that I like. I was in Halmstad in Sweden, and in England – Bristol to be exact – the Czech republic and Germany quite a few times. I was in Ukraine in Lviv. There are still a lot of places I haven’t been to, and l really want to go. I definitely think Vilnius in Lithuania is an interesting city from a Polish point of view. Adam Mickiewicz, one of the biggest Polish poets, was really connected with Lithuania.

My trip to Ukraine, Lviv, was kind of looking for signs of Polish culture that has gone by. Because I think we can really experience our culture at its finest when we see places where it used to be but it no longer is. It leaves a certain mark. In Lviv it’s all over the place. Some street-names are actually in Polish and there is a sign with Ukrainian letters covering it, but you can still see the Polish letters. Lviv was a very important Polish city in the past, but Stalin thought it would be a good idea to give it to Ukraine. In the Yalta pact after WWII, and the borders were established, Poland had no say over where the borders were drawn, it was all Stalin. It was part of a grander scheme that he didn’t finish because he died, and Lviv, which is a very Polish city – of course you can say this about a lot of places – used to be called “the paris of the East”. It was pretty much the centre of Polish culture as a whole in the past. In Poland you have ‘Rzeczpospolita’.  In Direct translation, ‘rzecz’ is a ‘thing’ and ‘pospolita’ is ‘common’. So it’s ‘Polish Common Thing’. We are living in the 3rd Rzeczpospolita. The second was after WWI, when Poland regained it’s independence after 173 years. It’s borders looked totally different to now; it was much more oriented towards the East. This Eastern part was always integral to Poland. It was the biggest orientation of Polish culture beside Warsaw and Krakow, and it was after WWI that we actually had a say in how our borders would look. The Eastern part from then is now Ukrainian and Belarusian. But also we didn’t have Wrocław, because I think it was 1653 when Wrocław was given to Austria. We ‘reclaimed’ it, though after 300 years it had this big Polish minority but it was more Austrian-German by that point. A dynasty of Piasts gave it its original shape, and then Germany and Austria gave it more of this Germanic identity. Coming back to your earlier question, actually – that was quite a big digression – what’s also special about Wroclaw is this Germanic influence.

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Poland?

“Euro 2012 was like… Poland was this young democracy which was kind of growing, and we had every reason to be proud of ourselves as a nation, and hosting this event on our land was like a symbol of “we are European, we are proud of being part of this community, and we are growing.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

I’m totally not into football, but think I felt really proud that we hosted Euro 2012. There was a stadium built in Warsaw for this event, and it’s still up and running and a lot of cool events were hosted there. Euro 2012 was like… Poland was this young democracy which was kind of growing, and we had every reason to be proud of ourselves as a nation, and hosting this event on our land was like a symbol of “we are European, we are proud of being part of this community, and we are growing.” I think that was the peak of this really good position of Poland in the EU, and a few years later PIS came.

What is your main concern or worry about Poland?

“…we, as a nation, instead of being humble about ourselves, are going to just keep filling ourselves up with this false nationalistic pride…Polish education… keeps drilling this message into young minds: “We are a powerful nation”… they are drowning in these romantic ideas of “we are powerful, we are honourable”. The reality is, we are a very, very damaged country and society… how can you have such strong nationalistic feelings for a country which is pretty much a husk of what it could have been?”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

My worry is that we are going to keep on pushing this hate speech that is arising everywhere, and that we, as a nation, instead of being humble about ourselves, are going to just keep filling ourselves up with this false nationalistic pride. It’s not an issue that on the scale of the whole country I’m like “oh no we are all turning nationalist”. It just worries me that we will keep going in this direction. It’s not like P.I.S. is losing support. I think the main problem of these PISlam worshippers is that they don’t see the bigger picture. Are you familiar with ‘500+’? One of the largest electoral ideas P.I.S. came up with was ‘500+’. It meant that, if P.I.S. is elected, you would get 500 złoty (zł) per month per child under 18-years-old. We are not poor as a nation, but if people can get some money, then they will. This 500zł is going to really help some families, and for anyone 500zł is better to have than not have. It’s a cool idea and all, but people totally missed the point that this money is coming from them. You can’t get anything for free from your country. It’s from the tax money. People don’t see that. They say oh “500 złoty, I’ll take that”. Right now the prices of butter are skyrocketing, and people are wondering why butter costs so much. The answer is that the taxes are rising to keep covering 500+, and people don’t connect the dots.

I also think this is the fault of the Polish education system. At university, it’s amazing. It’s actually one of the best in this part of Europe. We keep producing these wonderful scientists, especially in the field of satellites. There is this program – I actually had a friend who did this – an international competition for satellites and space drones, and Polish engineers are very good at that, despite not having our own space missions, or our own NASA. But, then there’s the primary school, and secondary school which is no longer there! We had this ministry of education which is theoretically independent from political parties. But when P.I.S. came in, they said “back in the day, it was just primary school for eight years and then high-school for four. Then they changed it to six years primary school, three of secondary, and three of high-school.” So they changed it back. In Poland, it’s ridiculous how many reforms are passed, and how much money is spent on doing that, and yet they change virtually nothing. Nothing at all has changed. The program stays the same, and the program in Polish education is awful, in my opinion, because it teaches you nothing about the world. We still have this very old system with 45 minutes for a lesson and 15 for a break. It’s actually an idea of Otto von Bismarck. We keep basing our education on the idea of a guy who was leader of one of the countries that oppressed Poland during it’s 173 years of lost independence. He indoctrinated this program, because he had to make the 2nd Reich – I’m not very good in German history because Polish education only teaches you about Polish history, especially in the medieval era when Poland was the most powerful nation in central europe, and ignores the rest of the world! It keeps drilling this message into young minds: “We are a powerful nation”. That’s pretty much where this false nationalism comes from. Many people who are nationalistic just draw their ideas of Poland from this medieval era. Some go even further and say there used to be the ‘Lechistan’, which was before Poland, and it was destroyed by “bad Western powers” because it was too powerful for them, and there is this whole conspiracy going on… it’s ridiculous! People really believe that we are some ancient powerful nation. How can you think that? It’s like flat-earthers. There’s no scientific proof and people keep telling themselves some fairy tales to make themselves feel good.

The other thing that nationalists really take pride from is WWII, which was devastating for Poland. They take the symbol of ‘PW’, which stands for ‘Polska Walcząca’, or ‘Poland Fighting’, and was sprayed all over Warsaw during the Warsaw uprising, and also the regaining of our lost independence. So they are drowning in these romantic ideas of “we are powerful, we are honourable”. The reality is, we are a very, very damaged country and society. The war destroyed pretty much everything we could have had in the second Rzeczpospolita. We were seriously culturally damaged by the wars; the Nazis stole a lot of things, a lot went missing, and even more was destroyed by the Russian Soviet army when they came and started burning things for fun and to warm themselves up. It was not like the soviet army freed Poland or anything, they just kind of used it. After this horrible, horrible period of history which was WWII, communism came. There was no space at all to recover, and I think that is just tragic. So people focus on these romantic, old, outdated ideas and they ignore what we have lost and how much we have to rebuild. They just take pride in “I’m Polish, I’m from such a great nation”… but I just don’t feel that concept… how can you have such strong nationalistic feelings for a country which is pretty much a husk of what it could have been? I think we have a lot to learn as a society, but instead of taking lessons and being humble towards the EU and thinking about what we can derive from it, we just turn our backs to it and say “we got this.” I think that’s just stupid. And I think that this is the thing that I really hope is going to change. First that this awful right-wing government is going to change, and second of all that we will be the first ones to shake hands with other members of the EU, and try to integrate into this wonderful society that we could create on our continent, because if it will be one-for-all, Europe will collapse on itself. I really hope that we will be this country which will stand by it’s constitution, that we can have every right to be proud of, that has a very good judiciary system, and that will be a nation of open-minded and tolerant people, and of people who at least understand the basics of how the world works.

Why do you feel Polish Identity is Damaged?

“…we keep living in this myth that we are taught at school… This educational system really needs a good reform, and not one that switches between “we have secondary school, and then we don’t”, where a lot of teachers lose their jobs… these people are shaping future generations… It’s not like so terrible that I personally feel damaged… It works, but it doesn’t work well.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

In Lviv it’s so beautiful, and you can see so many Polish accents in this city, it’s really wonderful, and it’s just soul-crushing to see this cemetery where the historically biggest heroes of Poland are buried, and beside them are buried some random Ukrainian people to make an illusion that all the time Lviv was Polish and Ukrainian. When you look at the dates on the graves, you see the Polish graves are 1800-and-something, and the Ukrainian ones are like 2000-something.

Polish identity is also damaged because we keep living in this myth that we are taught at school. They don’t teach you nationalism at school, of course, but they do teach you this very pretty version of Polish history. They aren’t telling lies, by they talk only about the good stuff, and if you want to know about the bad stuff you have to learn about that on your own. This educational system really needs a good reform, and not one that switches between “we have secondary school, and then we don’t”, where a lot of teachers lose their jobs. Some of them are then able to work in this eight class primary school, but a large portion of them are left unemployed. My mum is a teacher of Polish Language and Culture, and teachers like her in Poland are not earning a proportional amount of money compared to how much they work. They deserve a raise. At the moment it’s not much higher than the average pay. But come on, these people are shaping future generations; they are shaping their brains. They should earn more money! Because they aren’t earning much, there are very few people in Poland who actually want to become a teacher in the future. Most of those who are teaching didn’t do well in their life, that’s basically it. For example, I had a teacher in secondary school that had studied cosmetology, and was teaching us chemistry. Yeah, she was doing everything by the book and she did her job, but I just want you to understand that there are very few good teachers in Poland because of the low pay and how much work you have to do. It’s just crazy how bad early education is here. It’s not like so terrible that I personally feel damaged or anything. I’m actually giving tutoring on mathematics, and I talk to these kids and they share with me how it is with there teachers… and yeah it’s “not bad”, but ‘Not Bad’ is not enough in terms of education. It works, but it doesn’t work well. That’s the main issue.

 

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of people from Wrocław?

“…people from my generation who are 100% Polish prefer to identify as European because we have a certain stigma abroad, that Polish people steal, Polish people aren’t very polite, Polish people don’t like learning other languages… You can think of yourself and say “I am Polish”… in two ways. You can say… “I am proud of it, I am great, strong, we have powerful kings, a beautiful history, I love Jesus”… the other way of thinking “I am Polish” is to think “I better not tell anyone because they might think something bad about me”… This Polish guilt comes from how we are viewed abroad.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

I think also that the people from my generation who are 100% Polish prefer to identify as European because we have a certain stigma abroad, that Polish people steal, Polish people aren’t very polite, Polish people don’t like learning other languages… I don’t want to defend anyone here, and personally I think that when you want to live somewhere else you should learn the language, you should learn the culture, and you should at least try to assimilate. You can’t just be proud of yourself that you were so brave to leave your home, and now you just go to live and work in a country with a large Polish minority so you will manage somehow without learning the language. This is how many Pologna in England are. You can think of yourself and say “I am Polish.” And you can say that in two ways. You can say “I am Polish” in this nationalistic kind of way’ “I am proud of it, I am great, strong, we have powerful kings, a beautiful history, I love Jesus”, and so on… But the other way of thinking “I am Polish” is to think “I better not tell anyone because they might think something bad about me”, or “it’s better to not draw attention because you will be giving the bad example”. This Polish guilt comes from how we are viewed abroad. If you are from Poland, it means you are conservative and narrow-minded… and it’s true, right? A lot of people in Poland are this way, and then the other group of people in Poland are ashamed because of these people, and they feel worse than other European citizens. It’s a very complex problem, that it’s either this nationalistic pride or this guilt that we feel on behalf of other Polish people. I also feel this Polish guilt. Not all the time, obviously, but it happens from time-to-time. I was working in Germany, for example, and I was selling ice cream because I worked in a sweet shop. There was this German guy, and I mixed up the flavours, so I asked if he wanted a new one. And he said “ok, make me a new one.” So I did and gave it to him with a smile and then he said “where are you from?” I said “I’m from Poland”, and he was like “ah-ha”, like that explains it, that’s why your service was poor.

 

The most known stereotype of a city is people from Warsaw because it is a bit more distinct than any other city in Poland. They are very posh, bossy, and very trendy. In Poland, people from the East are more racist and nationalist, people from Lublin are poorer. Nothing too extreme, though. There is some truth in these statements. There is a stereotype of the Polish tourist: socks and sandals, a plastic bag from biedronka… this kind of thing. But I think they are going extinct because I haven’t seen one in ages.

What is the best thing to ever come out of this part of Poland?

“…the event: the European Capital of Culture… It’s a very culturally rich city because we have this national forum of music which is one of the best and most advanced philharmonics in this part of Europe, and it’s amazing.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

There is actually a lot. I think it’s going to be a tricky answer, but it’s going to be ‘L.U.C.’. It’s a rapper, actually, and he’s from Zielona Góra, and he went to the same high-school as I did, and we had one of the same teachers as he did. He makes really good music, and he’s all about Wrocław because he went to study law here, but then decided that’s not what he wanted to do so he started a rap career and now he’s broadly known in Poland. He isn’t mainstream, but I really like him.

 

The other thing that came from Wrocław is the event: the European Capital of Culture. In 2016 there was a large cultural project of various exchanges with other countries, building art galleries, and so on. It’s a very culturally rich city because we have this national forum of music which is one of the best and most advanced philharmonics in this part of Europe, and it’s amazing. There’s a lot of places Wrocław can be really proud of. The national museum is really cool, and the city as a whole is an example for other Polish cities for how a city should develop. There is a lot of things to do in this city. It’s very culturally and scientifically orientated. One of the best Polish scientific academies used to be in Lviv, which is now Ukrainain, but now most faculties and achievements of this academy were brought to the University of Wrocław. This society was all German in the 17th century, and partly thanks to bringing that period of scientific progress back from Lviv, this society was settled again by the Polish. So there are lots of nods to Lviv here. For example the “something-something of Lviv professors”… so it kind of carries the torch. After the Yalta WWII a lot of people also moved from Lviv to Wrocław.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen happen in Poland in your lifetime?

“Definitely it was joining the EU. You can really see how much the union gave us, aside from money. The international exchange started to happen, which led to things like “Wrocław: the European capital of culture”, Euro 2012, and all these wonderful international events that took place here. It really makes me proud. We made it.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

Definitely it was joining the EU. I was six years old, and I had no idea what it meant, but it felt like something was different. There was this bew blue flag with stars on it… what was that? I grew up in this period when Poland was starting to figure things out with the EU. I remember one night I was sitting in front of the TV with my parents, because people were voting ‘for’ or ‘against’ joining, and we were watching the results. They came in, and it was “yes, we’re joining”, and we were so happy! I had no idea what was going on, but it was certainly the biggest change, and it was a good change. You can really see how much the union gave us, aside from money. The international exchange started to happen, which led to things like “Wrocław: the European capital of culture”, Euro 2012, and all these wonderful international events that took place here. It really makes me proud. We made it. Who knows how it would be now if the population back in 2004 voted ‘against’… how would things look? Where would we be? It’s crazy when you think about that. I think it was really the most influential thing that happened during my lifetime.

What is something outsiders wouldn’t know about Poland?

“…if you are a foreigner and you would like to learn Polish, to understand it on the level I do, and make little linguistic jokes like Polish people do all the time, and to operate the language in a way that native speakers can, is almost unachievable. I think that our language should be a national treasure because of how unique it makes us… you can fiddle around with the words. Like 90% of verbs and adverbs have a different meaning depending on what you add before or after it. Context is very important.”

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The language! It’s very strange, even for us sometimes. I think that if you are a foreigner and you would like to learn Polish, to understand it on the level I do, and make little linguistic jokes like Polish people do all the time, and to operate the language in a way that native speakers can, its almost unachievable. I think that our language should be a national treasure because of how unique it makes us, the fact that we can speak this language and do it so well and not many other people in the world could achieve the same level of ‘perfection’ in that language. You could try after a lot of effort, and years put into it, talking with other native speakers, and essentially living here… it’s not a language you can just learn, in my opinion, like English. English is pretty simple and there aren’t that many exceptions to the rules. In Polish language, there are some rules, but the weirdest thing about Polish language is probably how many things you can do with pretty much any word. For example, you have a verb “podnieść”, which means ‘to pick up’. If you mess with it, though, and say “unieść”, it means ‘to manage to hold something’. You can also say “podniecht sie” which means ‘to pick yourself up’. So you can fiddle around with the words. Like 90% of verbs and adverbs have a different meaning depending on what you add before or after it. Context is very important; one verb can have a multitude of different meanings. That’s what I mean when I say you’d have to put a lot of work in and probably live here for a number of years to truly master this language, and it would still probably be inferior to someone who was born here.

 

Because my language is this complex, it’s not that hard for me to pick up new languages, because I can notice similarities here and there. For example, I am really interested in Scandinavia, and I would like to live in Iceland for some time, just to see how it is there. If I just wanted to see how the language works, and if I sat down and started learning it, and found a tutor, I think in a year or two I would have a pretty good understanding of it even though it’s completely different. I don’t want to diminish English because it is a wonderful language and it’s really quite a phenomenal thing that I can communicate with you, for example. But I must admit that learning English was really easy for me. So going back to the earlier question about what I am proud of in my country: I think it will be the constitution and the values it presents, and the language.

What do you eat during the Holidays here?

“…I celebrate Christmas… though a good Christian I am not because I’m actually atheist… We have this thing with “the 12 dishes” that have to be on the table on Christmas Eve… In Poland it’s pretty similar everywhere… I think it’s because of this loss of Polish identity, and a lot of local customs have been lost and are never going to be recovered.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

I’m a Polish person, and I celebrate Christmas… though a good Christian I am not because I’m actually atheist. But there’s the tradition of Christmas. We have this thing with “the 12 dishes” that have to be on the table on Christmas Eve. There’s pierogi with cabbage and mushrooms, Borscht – a soup from beetroot – and Kutia, which is a macaroni made from poppy seeds (don’t worry it’s opium-free). In Poland it’s pretty similar everywhere. You can eat pierogi anywhere, buy ostilbek, which is a cheese originating from the southern mountains, anywhere, even on the coast in the North. In places like Germany you have different regions that have a unique identity, like Bavaria which is totally different from Lower Saxony. In Poland you have these counties, and they have some little quirks, but they are not as independent as in Germany. Poland derived the counties simply for their practical use of dividing the country into smaller governments, but they are not very different from each other. I’m not a historian, but I think it’s because of this loss of Polish identity, and a lot of local customs have been lost and are never going to be recovered. When we had the 2nd Rzeczpospolita, each county had its own thing, but we have kind of lost that. You can really see the scars in society everywhere you go, it’s very sad. I feel very emotional about how much was taken away from us, even though we fought so hard for this independence.

What is your favourite Polish Dish?

“…something that’s hard to get outside of the mountains… They bake this giant bread which is your bowl, cut it, extract the filling, and then pour in the soup. First you eat the soup, which can be Zurek, and then you eat the bread soaked with the soup you just ate. It doesn’t soak through because the bread is very thick and is a ‘secret recipe’.”

See Kajtek's' Full Answer

I think one of my most favourite national foods are pierogi. I haven’t met a person who doesn’t like them. There is this dough, and inside can be pretty much anything. The most popular kind is Pierogi Ruskia, ‘Russian Pierogi’, even though they have nothing to do with Russia, and no one really knows why they are called that. It’s maybe because they were popular during communism. Anyway pierogi is really common. I also love Zurek, a white rosso (chicken soup with a lot of fat), which is easy to make and good for a hangover. We always serve Zurek during Easter. You have it with egg and a type of sausage. My Dad makes the best Zurek. I also love something that’s hard to get outside of the mountains, is a soup inside a bread. They bake this giant bread which is your bowl, cut it, extract the filling, and then pour in the soup. First you eat the soup, which can be Zurek, and then you eat the bread soaked with the soup you just ate. It doesn’t soak through because the bread is very thick and is a ‘secret recipe’.

Reccomendation:

“…I would say this soup in the bread. I don’t know if you can get it in Wrocław, though. I eat it always when I am in Karpacz, and in places like Zakopane it should be there.”

See Kajtek's' Full Reccomendation

Pierogi aren’t too sophisticated, and not as national as ‘Flaki’, say. So I would say this soup in the bread. I don’t know if you can get it in Wrocław, though. I eat it always when I am in Karpacz, and in places like Zakopane it should be there. If not try ostilbek, this cheese. It should be everywhere. It actually was copyrighted a few years back, so Ostilbek needs to have a certificate to prove the proportions of ingredients are correct. So there are many things that would be considered Ostilbek, but the ratios are different so they don’t have this certificate, so they are just called ‘Ser Gorsky’. There should be a lot of it at this time of year, especially.

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The Plate: Zurek in Bread Bowl

“This is a meal that changes depending on how long you take to it eat, as the soup soaks further and further into the bread. It’s difficult to resist rushing, as the panic in the back of your mind tells you that, if you don’t finish it soon, those crisp barriers of crust might not remain so crisp you’ll be treated to unwanted, albeit nutritional, shower.”

Read About Zurek in Bread

If you want to feel rustic, soup in a bowl made of bread is the dish for you. Truth be told, I could have been fooled into thinking I was back in Norway when it stared me down defiantly, oil swirling on a thick broth walled in by carbohydrates. Intimidating though it was, the novelty of an edible table-piece reinforced my determination to finish every bite, including the bowl, of course. Unique as it is in aesthetics, the components of Zurek are fairly simple, with meat, mushroom, egg and onions acting as the only noticable textures, and what would otherwise be an intense meaty flavour is soothed and softened by a light creaminess, which leaves you with a surprisingly gentle flavour given it’s indelicate presentation. This is a meal that changes depending on how long you take to it eat, as the soup soaks further and further into the bread. It’s difficult to resist rushing, as the panic in the back of your mind tells you that, if you don’t finish it soon, those crisp barriers of crust might not remain so crisp you’ll be treated to unwanted, albeit nutritional, shower. But fear not, those behind this recipe have spent centuries perfecting a consistency that will hold, even for the most sluggish of eaters, and its worth taking your time to allow the dryness of the crust to be balanced by the soup within.


Thoughts? Leave a comment down below!


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Janus in Dąbrówka Dolna, Poland
Grzegorz in Nowa Sól, Poland

Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

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