MENNONITES TRAIL: ŻUŁAWY, ELBLĄG – MALBORK / July 8
(Direct route: Gdańsk – Elbląg – Malbork = 91 km / 1 hour and 40 minutes).
This day we went to Malbork, holding the road tour of Żuławy (Polish: depression), by tropes of the Dutch settlers from 16th century, the so-called Mennonites. The whole route is quite long, but some parts can be successfully done on bikes (experts suggest driving from east to west because of the eastern wind). The route is very picturesque, and some places, such as areas west of the lake Drużno, are very reminiscent of Dutch polders. This is why they are called sometimes Little Holland. There is even a project of creating a museum landscape here like true Nederlanden, with farms and villages.
Memorabilia of Mennonites possessions are probably in every second village as there are cemeteries, arcaded houses and churches, mainly from 19th century. Because we wanted to go also to Elbląg, we chose villages lying on our route, maybe not necessarily the most interesting, however worth seeing. These were: Wiślina with a wooden bell tower from 1792, Wróblewo with the church, whose wooden entablature forms a distinctive grille – it was originally, in 16th century, the chapel of Scheweke family
The chapel of Scheweke family
Trutnowy with a beautiful home with arcades, built in 1720 (apparently one can visit the interior but when we arrived it was closed) and Tropy Elbląskie – the former Dutch village situated by the canal, which by the end of 19th century served as the only communication route. Today the canal is heavily overgrown and unkept, arcaded houses are heavily destroyed, an old cemetery covered totally by grass and bushes and the former school also doesn’t show good condition.
Overgrown water duct and a ruined post-Mennonite house
However that quiet and remote place is perhaps more touching than many neat churches, because it lets to feel the spirit of Mennonite settlers. Tropy Elblaskie bring special memories to a Dutch tourist. There is a famous movie “Fanfare” made by Bert Haanstra, which shows a Dutch village Giethoorn, typical for the ’50-ties – people uses water channels for communication (read also: Fanfare for Giethoorn). Tropy Elblaskie could be on a smaller scale the sister of Giethoorn. Only Giethoorn still lives and is taken care of, this post-mennonites remains of the village are fading away by neglect. There are however some plates suggesting that some work will be done there with the help of EU. Read also: Netherlands in Zulawy.
Touring the area, we went to Elbląg, what was once a city as great and as beautiful as Gdańsk. It was founded in 1237 by Teutonic Order and until 1309 it was its capital. In the second half of 16th century Dutch immigrants came here to turn depressive Żuławy into fertile agri-cultural lands. In the early 16th century Elbląg became a part of Prussia, and after WW II it was incarnated into Poland. Having been destroyed during II World War as heavily as Gdańsk, Elbląg was not so lucky because the city is never been reconstructed. Worse, the old houses were demolished and their bricks were used for the reconstruction of Gdańsk and Warsaw. Only in recent years on the foundations of demolished buildings new houses were erected and although they are not faithful reconstructions of former ones, their style relates to the past. For this reason it is worth to see how the old spirit is revived with modern architectural designs. On the photo above: the city hall.
New old town
Late in the evening we came to Malbork.
MALBORK / July 9
Accommodation: Hotel Dedalus, a bit on the outskirts of the city, a moderate standard, but in a restaurant they have a large selection of delicious tea.
The panorama of the huge Teutonic castle, situated on the bank of the Nogat River, is one of the most beautiful in Poland. Malbork castle is one of the biggest attractions of this country, and one of the largest existing teams to today’s Gothic architecture in the world. Since 1997 it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Malbork castle by night
It’s hard not to react to this picture, made by Joseba Luzuriaga!
The construction of the huge fortress began in 1278, and from 1309 to 1457 it was the seat of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights and the capital of the monastic state. (Read also: Knights of Teutonic Order). In 1457 the castle was bought by king Kazimierz Jagiello from the Czech mercenary commander Ulric Czerwonka, who got it from Teutonic Knights in exchange for outstanding payment (!!!). From then until 1772 it was one of the residences of Polish kings. During seven centuries of its existence the shape and appearance of the castle has changed as appropriate to exercise its functions – it was expanded and remodeled, demolished, destroyed and reconstructed. It also heavily suffered during the liberation by the Red Army. Castle guides will gladly tell how Russian soldiers fired guns into the deserted castle. Its renovation continues to this day.
A look from outside
Visiting the castle is possible in groups with a guide or individually with an audiobook. Tours can last all day long, so much is here to see: two castles, refectories, dormitories, kitchen, staterooms, exhibitions, galleries and courtyards, and the castle … toilets.
The dining room with food
From May to September performances are held here like “light and sound”, there is also a big spectacle showing an attempt to gain control over the castle by Wladyslaw Jagiello after the Battle of Grunwald in 1410.
ROUTE TO MAZURY / July 10
(360 km, 5 hrs, 20 min)
Going to our next place, guesthouse Dziwiszewo, we visited two historical cities along the route: Pasłęk and Lidzbark Warmiński. The choice of Pasłęk was not accidental since it was built by immigrants from the Netherlands, invited there by Teutonic Knights. Originally the town was called Holland, but in 1701, to emphasize its relationship with the Kingdom of Prussia, the adjective “Preussisch” was added and from then until 1945 the city was called “Preussisch Holland”. The Old Town Square here is different from conventional markets in Poland, as it has, typical for the Netherlands, a rectangular shape. Unfortunately, due to the downpour, we could only make a car tour there.
The former Teuton castle and the city coat of arms
The next stop on our journey was Lidzbark Warmiński (note adjective Warmiński, as there is another Lidzbark, much to the south!), which has impressive, Gothic castle of the bishops. Dating from 14th century (it was not, however, the castle of Teutonic Order), is one the most valuable monuments of Gothic architecture in Poland. Like the Malbork castle, this one was also rebuilt many times. Currently part of the exhibition (sets of Gothic art, portraits, documents, old equipment castle rooms, Polish painting of the 19th and 20th centuries and a collection of icons), the rest is a luxury hotel.
The bishop’s castle from outside
For being late there we had only a quick look at the castle.
MASURIA / July 10-15
Masuria is one of the most attractive tourist regions in Polish, called the Land of a Thousand Lakes. In fact there are around three thousand lakes – all are remains of the ice age. Masuria is a picturesque hilly terrain, covered with forests, which often lead the way through beautiful avenues of trees. His strengths are untouched nature, beautiful open air, the richness of castles, palaces teams, rivers suitable for canoeing and especially richness of lakes, on withs one can sail. The largests ones of them, Mamry, Śniardwy and Niegocin, and the surrounding ones form an interconnected system that allows you to flow freely between them.
Some may enjoy much the view of stork nests which are to be seen every few steps. These and other advantages attract many tourists here, not only Polish, but also from Germany, England, Czech Republic and Russia. Here they can find a wide range of hotels, guesthouses and sailing centers. In 201, Masuria were among the 14 finalists of the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition – as the only candidate from Europe. Photo: a the most typical Masurian bird – stork’s nests are on almost every 3rd house there!
The first inhabitants of this region were mighty Prussians, who in 13th century were conquered by Teutonic Knights. Many of them emigrated later and were replaced by peasants from Mazovia, Germany and Lithuania, as well as from other European countries. In the 16th century Masuria belonged to Polish Prussia, but when in 1618 the Hohenzollern dynasty took over the authority, it gained independence from Poland. After coronation of Frederick I in 1701 Prussia became a kingdom, which after the partition of Poland in 1772 united with Pomerania and Brandenburg. After WW I Masuria was included in Germany and Polish population underwent persecution and Germanization.
Masurian farm, 1931
After WW II Masuria returned to Poland, but it did not improve situation of their indigenous inhabitants, which were treated bad by newcomers from the East as Germans and again underwent persecution (with no objection of the Polish authorities). As a result of this bad treatment the majority of Masurian people emigrated to Germany. The last great wave of resettlement took place in the 70-ties of last century. It is obviously sad and painful chapter in the history of postwar Poland and it cannot be denied that many of Masurian patriots had been unfairly disadvantaged.
Dziwiszewo guesthouse (pension Kuhnort)
This guesthouse is located in the close proximity to the Great Lakes, 10 miles west of Giżycko (it is necessary to take the road to Bogacko or Doba to get there). Its huge value is a convenient distance from area attractions such as Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair headquarters, Teutonic castles in Ryn and Kętrzyn, palace in Sztynort and 19th century fortress Boyen. With the distance from the main roads guesthouse Dziwiszewo offers peace and quiet (as far as its inhabitants do not interfere with a noise), and above all the beauty of the area. The nearest lake, where one could swim or sail, is in some distance, but evenings on the terrace overlooking the green meadows and forests, storks, and even deer if you are lucky enough, fully compensate for this minor inconvenience. Whenever you return from noisy places here you can feel a huge relief. Who likes biking or walking has a lot of opportunities there.
A small lake opposite the pension house
We stayed there only four full days, but we could even sit here any longer. Dziwiszewo became for us a starting point for few small trips.
Built in 1941-1944 near the village of Gierłoż, Wolf’s Lair was Adolf Hitler’s headquarters, in which he spent some 900 days in total. Here he was visited by representatives of different countries and Benito Mussolini among them. On July 20, 1944 Claus von Stauffenberg and Werner von Häften here made an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life. Visitors to this facility can see the exact place where von Stauffenberg put his briefcase with explosives – this is commemorated by a special plaque.
Meeting place after the outbreak: on the archival photo and present state
The Wolf’s Lair tourists area consists of up to 38 objects, most of these are huge concrete bunkers.
One of the bunkers
In January 1945 Germans partially blew them up in the air and the whole area was mined. Today those piles of concrete are covered with moss green and it is rather hard to imagine it as a vibrant place. Walking is done individually, according to the maps, or with a guide. Hitler’s bunker is marked with number 13.
From 2012 Wolf’s Liar has a new host and site of exposure is to be modernized. Some people may be happy, some not, as this crude, surreal shape of the ruined bunkers raises a reflection on the brevity of the might of Hitler’s empire.
Giżycko and Lake Niegocin
Situated near the lake Niegocin the city Giżycko is one of the sailing capitals of Masuria (but not the most interesting one, to be sincere). You can bathe in the lake, hence embark on boat trips on lake Niegocin or slightly longer trips to other lakes. We chose a short cruise on Niegocin, where we passed a lot of sailing boats. We drank coffee here too, but stayed for no long time because we got tired of the loud music coming from everywhere.
This is large and interesting star-shaped fortress, built in years 1844-1856 in the area about 100 hectares. In the 19th century Boyen was a major link in the chain of fortifications closing access from the east into the Prussian state. Worth to see but we only came closer to the outer walls.
Ryn is a small but picturesque town perched on two lakes. The biggest attraction is Teutonic castle which was built around 1337.
Unfortunately today it is unavailable to the public because it is turned into a luxury hotel complex. The other thing worth to see is a Dutch windmill from the mid 19th century. Our visit to Ryn was limited to drinking something cold in the front of the castle.
Fold (Owczarnia) – the Museum of Rural Masuria
Near Dziwiszewo, aside from the main road from Giżycko to the west, is situated a private museum of the Masurian village.
The old house from outside…
The restored historic cottage of the local farm is filled with authentic furniture and equipment.
…and from inside
Before or after visiting the house it is possible to drink coffee and try the dough in cafe nicely arranged in nearby old house.
We left Dziwiszewo with great regret. Beautiful weather, landscape and rest calm discouraged us from going away, but the town of Toruń was already waiting for us.
Published: June 25, 2012
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Renata Głuszek, Han Tiggelaar, Daria Niesler
* Whole route: Szczecin (2-3.07) – Gdansk (4-7.07) – Malbork (8-9.07) – Dziwiszewo, Masuria (10-15.07) – Torun (15-17.07) – Poznan (17.07) – Łagów Lubuski (18-19.07)