Friday, 16 October 2009

Signs and Portents: Poland 3

Gone to Hel and back? Or just dying for a pie in the most unlikely of places? This week I continue my survey of curious signs encountered on a Lonely Planet assignment through Poland in the depths of winter in 2006...

1. There’s nothing like that nice Mr Shakespeare to encourage confidence in an English language school... though you might wonder whether Poles are really motivated to speak just like the Bard.

Interestingly, the great playwright used to be styled as 'Szekspir' in Poland, though the original spelling of his name is usually used now. Szkoła języków obcych means 'school of foreign language', by the way, and this example was in the beautiful Main Town of Gdańsk.

The Bard was pleased that his passing mention of Poland in Hamlet had been noticed by the right people.

2. Don’t ever say something will only happen on 'a cold day in hell' if you’re heading to northern Poland. For on the end of a long sandy peninsula north of Gdańsk lies the attractive village of Hel. And when I was there in March 2006, it was very cold indeed. Still, how many people can say they’ve been to Hel and back - and saw a Baltic grey seal in an aquarium on the way?

The tourism bureau wondered why its “Go to Hel” campaign was failing to bring in the visitors.

3. No, this scary metallic fish seen in Hel wasn’t an aquatic offshoot of the robots in the Terminator movie series. It was actually a warning about maritime pollution - the sign reads 'Don't litter the sea'. It was also a tribute, I felt, to the surrealism endemic in Polish poster art.

Newly-released papers revealed that Poland’s former communist rulers had attempted to construct an artificial dolphin for their Socialist World amusement park.

4. This bumper sticker belonged to Gdynia businesswoman Beata Zielińska, a former Adelaide resident who had taken the secret of Australian meat pies back to her homeland and manufactured them to be sold to Polish schoolkids. The sticker reads 'The pie is good and cheap'. Quite right.

The EU was willing to approve manufacture of the Aussie meat pie, but drew the line at Vegemite.

5. This starkly evocative sign was one of many stencilled onto the giant concrete ruins of the bunkers at Wilczy Szaniec, better known in German as Wolfsschanze or in English as Wolf’s Lair. This hidden complex in the East Prussia region of Germany (now the Masuria region of northeast Poland) was Hitler’s wartime HQ from which he directed Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

It’s supremely ironic, I think, that the Führer's nerve centre, where he spent almost all the remaining years of WWII, is now deep within Polish territory. If you’re going to visit the ruins by the way, I couldn’t think of a more atmospheric time to do so than the midst of winter, when the broken concrete blocks and surrounding vegetation are thickly covered by snow.

Von Stauffenberg intended to show the Führer exactly how he felt about him with a surprise novelty gift.

More intriguing signs and portents to come...