Friday 15 May 2015

Wrocław Główny: Poland's Most Beautiful Train Station

I'm currently in Wrocław, Poland, on assignment for Lonely Planet. 

If you're wondering how to pronounce that placename, by the way, it's not what it looks like in English. Think Vrots-wahf and that's more or less right. 

There's a lot to like about this city, including its lively central square, its attractive Old Town, and its diverse eating and drinking options.

One of my favourite Wrocław things, however, is more functional: its main train station.

The last time I came through Wrocław back in 2012, the station had just undergone a major renovation for the European football championships which were being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine. The result looked like this:

I think you'll agree, it's a spectacular building. When I'd first visited Wrocław in 2006 I'd admired this castle-like structure, but it was in much shabbier condition both inside and out.

When it was constructed way back in 1857 in Breslau (the city's German name), the station was seen as an important civic statement by the Kingdom of Prussia, which had only ruled Silesia for a century or so after winning it from the Austrian Empire.

Designed by royal architect Wilhelm Grapow, Breslau Hauptbahnhof replaced a humbler earlier structure and marked the importance of that new invention, the railway, to the expanding Prussian state.
From what I've been able to discover from research, the original platform ran through what is now the ticket hall - which would explain the elevated section along one side, which now houses cafes and restaurants:

I like the look of that timber roofing, added during the renovation. You see timber used quite a bit by Polish architects in large structures such as shopping malls, to give them a dash of nature. 

There's more of that roofing over the platforms, and some Art Nouveau-esque decoration along the staircases:

The most spectacular decor, however, is to be found within the row of cafes and restaurants opposite the ticket counters. Inside such bland international franchises as KFC and Starbucks, it pays to look up:

It's great to see Wrocław Główny returned to its early glory as a centrepiece of this beautiful city. There's no more pleasant way to travel in Europe than by rail, in my opinion; and stations like this make it a delight to depart and arrive.

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