Nat’s Travels; Hunting the Gnomes of Wroclaw.
Have you heard of Wrocław (pronounced “vrots-waf”)? No, neither had I. Until I was looking for a convenient place to break up the journey between Kraków and Prague. At about four hours by bus from either city, Wrocław seemed like a good place to break up the journey for a few nights. I didn’t know what to expect from this city, but it did not fail to steal my heart.
A Bit About Wrocław
So, this city I had never heard of turns out to be the fourth largest city in Poland. It has been regularly rebuilt, as it changed ownership several times in the past. Known as a city of Islands and Bridges, the River Odra flows through the city.
Like a lot of Polish cities, the historic centre is dominated by the main square. The centre of this one is taken up by the Town Hall. There are also plenty of churches, pretty buildings, a Jewish quarter and a University.
However, the main attraction here is not the impressive St Elizabeth, nor the Panorama of the Battle of Racławice, but the statues scattered all over the city. The Gnomes.
The Importance Of Wrocław’s Gnomes
You may be surprised to hear that the ubiquitous gnomes are much more than a tourist gimmick, but actually have an important place in history. The gnome as symbols of Wrocław correlates with the political climate of the 1980s.
During this communist era, the gnome became the symbol of the “Orange Alternative” movement. This underground movement used nonsense to stage peaceful protests. The group would mock the establishment’s attempts to censor public space, by graffitiing gnomes. The Orange Alternative grew in popularity and gnomes became linked to the movement, and to Wrocław.
In 2001 the first gnome statue, Papa Krasnal, was placed near the subway where Orange Alternative demonstrations often took place. He was placed to celebrate the history of the Orange Alternative; he looks different from the other gnomes and is the largest. He is actually placed on top of a middle finger.
However, it wasn’t until 2005 that the gnomes became a big thing. A local artist was commissioned to make five more gnomes. These gnomes became so popular that local businesses contracted other artists to create more. Although there are only a few artists who create the gnomes, as they all have to be similar.
Now there are over 500 gnomes around the city. There are some with political messages, some advertising a business and some are just having fun. You literally cannot miss them.
Going On A Gnome Hunt
There are several ways you can hunt the gnomes, but I doubt you will ever find them all (some are in buildings closed to the public). You can just wander around and you are sure to trip over them. Or you can download an app and hunt them like Pokémon. Alternatively, there are two maps available from the tourist offices.
Me? I got the kids map with stickers. Because I am super mature.
On my map were 36 gnomes. They were numbered and followed a trail. There was information about each gnome, but it was in Polish so I couldn’t understand. The trail took me around the city centre. I saw Papa Kransal, an Italian Gnome, a Gnome in jail, a fellow traveller and gnomes using an ATM, among many more.
My Favourite Gnomes
Where to begin! There are so many. All in all, I saw over one hundred gnomes, I think. So I barely scratched the surface, but I definitely had some firm favourites.
For instance, Więziennik, with his ball and chain at the old prison.
Gazus, on Cathedral Island, helps the Lamplighter with his trade. This area is still lit by gas lamps at night.
Arcik is found outside a hotel, with his suitcase. He is a resident of the hotel.
Peregrine of Wrocław is a knight and by his statue, looking up at him is a gnome. There is a short poem that goes with these pair.
And who couldn’t love a suffragette gnome? This was one of the first I stumbled across and quickly became one of my favourites.
Lastly, the orchestra. There are about twenty little gnomes in the orchestra just outside the Filharmony. Unfortunately, they are not allowed to practice inside, but I guess that’s actually a good thing!
Gnome hunting was by far my favourite part of my Eastern Europe break.