We’re 50 in IYP years!
The first Poznań IYP guide, published in what was then a snazzy new design but would now be mistaken for a section ripped out of a phone book, came out in March 2002, two years before Poland even joined the European Union. Much has changed in the 16 years we’ve been exploring and writing about Poznań. The city back then was a significantly grayer, grittier, more unkempt place, still very much in the midst of post-communist transformation. Foreign tourists were a rare sight, and as such our guide was aimed mostly at the reluctant business traveller attending the city’s international fairs, and wondering how the hell he or she will survive in wild, wild Eastern Europe.
Reading through our very first issue conjures up some serious nostalgia mixed with a dose of disbelief. This was a time when sending 500g of documents via express mail, finding the payphone, and scoping out the best internet cafe were serious concerns, and when we thought that writing about a very fresh ‘cash-for-corpses’ scandal involving the city’s ambulance service would be a fun bit of trivia for the visitors. On another front, our breakfast recommendations included such tantalizing options as Ali Baba kebab (“Middle Eastern breakfast specials”) and pre-McMuffinMcD’s (“no breakfast menu but the usual burgers and fries”); sacrilege which would make the 2018 hipster shudder in horror over free-range-egg shakshouka and cold brew coffee. And a 20 pack of Marlboros for 6zł? Now you’d have to go to Transnistria for that type of bargain, and to avoid the huge pictures of aggressive throat cancer and sad guy with erectile dysfunction.
Fast forward to 2018, and the tracksuit-sporting skinheads have been replaced by hummus-eating, beanie-wearing, lumberjack-bearded hipsters, the lacklustre milk bars by dubstep-blasting pho joints, upscale ‘new Polish’ restaurants, and vegan food trucks, and the shady vodka dives by craft beer pubs sporting the latest instagram-approved light fixtures.
Infrastructure has generally been brought up to 21stcentury European standards, including the main train station (or at least half of it), shopping opportunities (the malls are now too numerous, if anything), the INEA stadium, and many of the roads in town.
Perhaps surprisingly, some core sights have undergone a transformation as well. Most dramatically, the Royal Castle, razed during WWII, has been rebuilt almost from scratch in the years 2010-2013, even though the questionable historical accuracy of the final result has earned it the nickname ‘Gargamel’s Castle’. Medieval city fortifications were also partially restored, with works ending in 2008. Meanwhile, the list of essential Pozań attractions expanded to include the Stary Browar shopping & art complex, the renovated Freedom Square with its geometric Freedom Fountain, the Porta Posnania ‘heritage interpretation centre’ which serves as the high-tech gateway to Ostrów Tumski, and the high-end restaurants of City Park. There’s also been an explosion of street art, with large-scale murals by international artists covering drab walls and local troublemakers like Noriaki and iamsomeart illegally adding pops of interest to the grungier bits of town.
So what hasn’t changed? Our 2002 section on religion is still accurate – though attitudes in large cities are changing, Poland by and largeremains staunchly catholic, especially compared to its neighbours. Since the fall of communism, religious symbols and sites have become much more visible, sometimes to the point of absurdity: for example, in 2010 a massive 36-metre-tall Jesus statue was unveiled in the tiny town of Świebodzin (100 km west of Poznań), then fitted with wifi transmitters in 2018. Back in Poz, efforts continue to preserve the local religion and heritage. The billy goats atop the town hall still butt heads at noon, the local croissants continue to emerge from the city’s ovens and disappear in Poznanian’s mouths, and the Cathedral Island looms across the Warta River as solemnly as ever.
While we celebrate the old, like Poznań’s magnificent historical architecture and numerous landmarks, we’re also shedding a proud tear over how much positive change there has been in recent years. Yes, it’s a different world, but we’ve never been more excited to be sharing it with you. Enjoy!