A map of fast-disappearing pre-war German shop signs, advertising and other street graphics in Wrocław is being created in an attempt to save them from oblivion.
Many traces of the pre-war city can still be seen in the form of inscriptions and writing on walls, gateways and in the yards of tenement buildings, though they are disappearing fast as up to now little value has been assigned to them.
They are often only visible when plaster applied after the war has started to fall off. This why the project is called ‘Looking at Breslau from Under the Plaster’.
The project, being carried out by the T. Karpowicz Foundation, aims to collate and systemize these relics of the past and place them on a map that locals and tourists can use to explore and discover the city from a different perspective.
Grzegorz Czekański from the foundation told TFN: “Knowledge about German inscriptions and street signs that can still be seen in public spaces around Wrocław is chaotic, unstructured and still little known. At the same time, it is at risk – it is time to put all this knowledge into a map.”
The map, which is still being prepared, currently includes nearly 200 different types of graphic signs, which can be anything from sewer grates to pre-war advertising.
As part of the project people from Wrocław are being asked to send in photographs or information about the traces of the city from the time when it was called Breslau.
“We certainly need the support of the inhabitants of Wrocław who know about inscriptions that still exist hidden somewhere on buildings, gates or even in the basements of the houses they live in. Those visible from the outside, on the facades, are usually the easiest to find, although sometimes it is difficult to locate them. We are counting on a response,” Czekański said.
However, time is running out. “Today we have about 200 points on the map, but it could be that in a year’s time there will be 130, because they are disappearing very quickly, and the knowledge about them is chaotic,” he said.
“For tourists, the map will be an interesting alternative way to get to know the past of the city from a little known perspective. For locals it will be an opportunity to look at Wrocław from an unusual point of view and see the history of the city,” he added.
At the end of the war, Hitler turned Breslau into a fortress city, which was meant to hold out against the Red Army until the last soldier and the last brick.
The city defended itself longer than Berlin. However, the fanatical and unnecessary defence cost thousands of lives and 70% of the city was destroyed.
After the siege, the city was blighted by a period of robbery, looting and devastation. All of this meant that post-war Wrocław only resembled pre-war Breslau to a small extent.
As a result of the war, Poland lost half of its pre-war territory. In recompense, Stalin handed former German territory to People’s Poland, which was grafted on to the western flank.
For the new Communist authorities it was important to stake their claim to what they dubbed the ‘Regained Territories’ and to the Polish roots of Wrocław.
“After 1945, the people’s authorities effectively removed all traces of Germanness from the city,” Czekański said.
The aim was to obliterate any sign of German life in the city. This included all street signs, shop fronts and anything written in German.
In line with this policy, street names were changed. Tauentzienplatz became Plac Kościuszki, Kaiser-Wilhelmstrasse became ulica Powstańców Śląskich and Most Grunwaldzki replaced Kaiserbrücke.
It was not necessary to totally change German names everywhere. This happened especially in the Old Town, where the names were often of medieval origin, such as Nikolaistrasse, which became ulica Św. Mikołaja.
This process of de-Germanification was never fully completed. “The times back then were chaotic and not all traces of the past were removed. That is why if we look carefully we can see them today,” Czekański said.
The organisers plan to publish their map in November 2020 with a bilingual introduction to the subject of German epigraphs.
The map will contain QR codes so that users can quickly locate spots using smartphone maps.
In the future, the team plan to transfer the map to an app and expand the project to other cities in the Regained Territories.