A gearbox can take a lot. Guide and driver Darek knows how to make his gray Opel Corsa roar like a race car. All apps on his phone run in the background. The chance that he will miss one of the many radar controls is negligible. We will drive on the back roads of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian region, known locally as Kujawsko-Pomorskie, in northern Poland. Well-known in this rather unknown region is the castle of Malbork. The largest medieval castle in Europe. From the road we see that it is indeed a gigantic castle. We omit a visit. We are looking for the unknown places of Pomerania.
The view over Grudziadz
The Eastern Bloc flats are visible on the horizon. Not gray and drab as usual. Soft blue and in a cheerful yellow hue. The fencing along the bank has a matching color. We stop on the iron railway bridge over the mighty Wisla river. Grudziadz, which is located on the other side, turns out to be quite a town after all. On top of Castle Hill is a round tower built of bricks. This is the 23 meter high Klimek tower, a replica of the original tower that was part of a Teutonic castle. The Germans blew up the tower in 1945 just before they were defeated. The view from the top over Grudziadz and the Vistula is beautiful. A bit hidden in a corner of Grudziadz market square is a bench that is always occupied. On this rectangular square surrounded by colorful mansions we meet Nicolas Copernicus for the first time.
The nature of Gorzno
Your home is your castle. That certainly applies to Darek. He is in love with his village and house. Górzno has just over a thousand souls. The cute little park opposite the church and next to the shops is the heart of the village. Between the cheerful flowers are three poles with signposts. Each pole has at least twenty signs. Getting lost is impossible. And there is plenty to experience. The lake and the forest area on the edge of the village attract many visitors from their own country. The golden beach, the jetties equipped with diving tower and the beach volleyball field on stilts are undoubtedly crowded on sunny days. Now it is deserted and the weather is better for cycling around the lake. Hotel Dworek Wapionka a few hundred yards away is an idyllic spot with lakeside seating and a watermill converted into a restaurant. It feels like decades back in time. The forests surrounding the lake are vast and deserted. Only Jesus on the cross we encounter countless times. Besides cycling, this area is also popular among geocachers. Hidden in tree stumps, trellises or between the leaves are tubes or jars containing a book and some knick knacks. Darek proudly unscrews a reflector from a tree trunk and shows the hiding spot. There are still hundreds of holes and trees in which something is hidden. We cycle back towards the lake via a hilly and unpaved forest path.
The swords at Golub Dobrzyn
Once a year the knights go wild. With horses and swords they fight each other on the narrow lawn in front of the castle of Golub Dobrzyn. The rest of the year it is a pretty square castle that overlooks the town. Two German ladies are weaving a boat on a camping chair as part of a historical project. In the courtyard of the castle there is a guillotine, without a cutting blade, which is used many times. The arsenal of weapons sold in toy form with axes, swords and cleavers is downright interesting. Golub Dobrzyn’s Teutonic Knights had set up their headquarters in Torun, 45 minutes away. The city of Copernicus.
Pigeons forage over the vowels in search of something edible. Nicolas literally looks down on the gray beasts. It has a nice spot on the main square in front of the beautiful old town hall. Early in the morning begins the ritual that Nicolas has to undergo every day. Phone comes out of pocket or bag, smile is put on and flash. The next one’s up. The celebrated mathematician and astronomer Nicolas Copernicus was born in torun. He was the inventor of the theory that the sun, instead of the earth, was placed at the center of the then known planets and fixed stars. His hometown is almost an open-air museum. Of course Copernicus also has its own museum. Two stately buildings form the Copernicus House on the, not entirely coincidentally, the Kopernika Street. The museum gives a nice insight into the life of its most famous resident.
We climb the tower of the old town hall to get an overview of Torun. The suburbs are the domain of pastel-colored apartment blocks. The medieval city center is beautiful from above with its decorated facades, gabled roofs and spires flanked by the Vistula and the forest area behind it. It is quite busy along the bank of the Vistula which is partly tiled in steps for use as seating. The old city wall along the city center is clearly visible from here. Via the market square of the New Town we walk back to the Old Market Square where the liveliness is concentrated.
In love with Chelmno
I only counted one heart. Or actually two in one. An elegant steel flower box consisting of two hearts. That was it. Yet Chelmno proudly calls itself the ‘city of lovers’. This is thanks to some handy traders who managed to buy the two bones of the skull of Saint Valentine in the Middle Ages. The relics ended up at the parish church in Chelmno. Special powers were attributed to the bones that are kept in a beautiful jar behind a glass door under the portrait of Valentijn. That makes Chelmno, pronounced without the c, not a city of lovers. The city has misrepresented itself. And you don’t have to, because it’s a nice town with stories. Like the deer head in Valentine’s Church. A deer’s head hangs from the ceiling between the ornaments of angels and saints. The head is called Meluzyna and is a special barometer. When the beast has turned its head to the right, good weather is coming. If the antlers point to the left, the umbrella can be removed from the cupboard. Via a narrow concrete spiral staircase followed by a somewhat wider wooden staircase we climb to the tower of the church. There, a beautiful view unfolds over Chelmno, which is surrounded by the forests and farmlands. That same mighty Wisla meanders through the landscape a kilometer from the town. The square square with a white church in the middle in which the regional museum is located. The Nine hills festival takes place every year on the square. With music, theater and street art. The town now has quite a few works of art, some of which even fill the facade.
The western part of the Pomeranian triangle accounts for the largest city in the region with the beautiful name Bydgoszcze. Pronouncing the name turns out to be easier than expected. Guide Daria clears her throat and says the name three times. ‘Byd gosts’, it sounds. It’s the city she loves so much. And the city that was built almost along the water. That invites you for a boat trip. The solar panel boat is ready. Durable and environmentally friendly. But painfully slow. Cheap, an hour sailing with the Water Tram costs 15 Zloty, converted a little more than three euros. The boat chugs along the Brda River past Mill Island. This islet has become the green heart of Bydgoszcz. The former flour warehouses have been restored to their full glory. The renovation of the three-piece Rother’s Mills has just been completed. A viewing platform has been created on the roof. The water tram continues at a snail’s pace under several bridges. The massive doors of the lock open to the boat. The difference in height with the other side is at least ten meters. Just before a graceful arch bridge lies the turning point and the captain changes course. We heat the same way back on solar energy.
Pomerania is wooded. Many places are surrounded by forest. Bydgoszcz is no exception.
The forests south of Bydgoszcz have a story. The remains of the partly dismantled Zachem Chemical Factory are still visible in the landscape. We leave the industrial area and drive into the forest area on a dirt road. The concrete framework of a building is visible between the trees. Run down and abandoned. It turns out to be one of the buildings where dynamite was tested in the past. We are near it explosion, the factory used by Germans in World War II for the production of explosives. Lucas dresses in style. In his camouflage pants and boxes, he organizes tours of the complex, which is largely hidden underground. Fist-thick concrete corridors connect the production areas. Forced laborers worked under harsh conditions in a life-threatening environment. When they touched poisonous substances, their skin took on an orange hue. The exhibits are very interesting. After the fall of the Germans, the Russians completely gutted the complex, leaving little left.
Pearls of Pomerania
Just still authentic, that’s how the Kuyavian-Pomeranian region feels. Still undiscovered by the foreign visitor. Where you communicate in Polish or with hands and feet. And menu cards have to be translated with an app. A beer on the terrace for less than one and a half euros. Nice villages and unknown towns. They are the jewels of Pomerania.