Poznan was one of the first capitals of Poland and enjoys a beautiful Middle-Age and Renaissance Old Town, with an animated nightlife. Closer to Berlin than Warsaw, Poznan has a rocky history with Germany. And a tradition of international fairs which often welcome Indians.
Poznan, a city with 600.000 inhabitants at the heart of the rich industrial and agricultural region of Wielkopolska (Great Poland), has much to offer to the tourist, the student and the businessman. It enjoys an Old Town packed with history, a pleasant nightlife, great studying, trade and business opportunities, and beautiful palace to visit in the greenery nearby.
The heart of Poznan is its Stary Rynek (Old Market), in the Old Town. A huge square surrounded with multicolour façades houses from the 15th and 16th century, in Baroque and Neo-classic style, with Italian influence, it is a very pleasant spot to start the visit. First have a tea and some typical Polish pastry such as “sernik” (cheesecake), “makowiec” (poppy seeds cake) or “szarlotka” (“Little Charlotte”, an apple cake with icing sugar) on the terraces of cafés, under the old arches. Or walk to the nearby Swietoslawska street (“ulica“, in Polish), number 10, to Weranda Café. In its paper and flower décor, you will feel embarked on a fairy tale.
At the Crossroads
Then, go around the Old Town, with its deep history, dating back the 10th century when Poznan and its region were the cradle of the newly-born Polish State and King Mieszko the First had his residence there. Poznan has been a trade centre since the Middle Age, being situated at the crossroad of two main commercial routes: the West-East one, between the actual Germany and Russia, which could be then extended as far as Central Asia and India, for luxury goods such as spices and silk ; and the North-South route, between the Baltic sea and the Bohemia region, in today’s Czech Republic.
On the Old Market square, near the Old Town Hall, the Ratusz, you can still see the galleries where the merchants used to weigh their goods. The streets, converging at the Old Market square, used to be filled with craftsmen, some very skilled like jewellers or tanners. In the Ratusz, visit the Museum of the History of Poznan and don’t miss its famous big Renaissance vestibule, adorned with a richly decorated ceiling full of exotic themes, like lions and elephants. It is typical of the Poznan Renaissance craving for travel and knowledge. Also worth visiting is the Museum of musical instruments, resonating with old and weird models and boasting a grand piano used by the famous Franco-Polish romantic composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). Another curiosity: the Makieta Poznan Muzeum, which tells the town history with large sound and light models, in different eras.
At a short walk from the Old Square, enjoy Farny Church, one of the jewels of Baroque style in Poznan, with its pink façade. There you can listen to some organ concert every week. The old Jesuits college nearby is now a dance school. Have a drink in the trendy Café Misja, in this venerable décor.
A kilometre east from the Old Square discover the oldest part of Poznan, the Ostrow Tumski, Island of the cathedral, where the first fortifications were erected in the 9th century. It harbours the 15th century gothic Saint Peter-and- Paul cathedral. Inside, a golden chapel is worth admiring.
The German Influence
Walking around Poznan, you can also sense the Germanic influence in the architecture. The Avenue of the December 23, leading to the Old Town, has a typical end of 19th-beginning of 20th century “Mitteleuropa” (Central Europe, in German) flavour. Classical and plush bank buildings, luxury shops and glowing trams, you could feel sometimes a bit like in Germany or Austria.
But don’t venture to tell Poznanians, the habitants of Poznan, that they are “Germanic”. They have been occupied over a century by Prussia, from the end of Napoleonic era (1815), till the end of World War I, in 1918. Their city used to be called “Posen” (the German way) but its inhabitants resisted the century of “Germanisation”, setting up their own Polish banks, teaching Polish language and culture despite the occupant’s edicts. So, yes, they are sometimes considered by the rest of Poland hard working and even a bit too serious, like you would expect in Berlin, only 285 kilometres away, closer than Warsaw (310 kilometres), the Polish capital. But they have also a great sense of humour, full of irony and wit, and are proud of their industrious behaviour.
The economic dynamism of a city that has welcomed many foreigners and cultures like Italians, French, Jews, Africans and Asians, is still there. Poznan is a highly rated student city (more than 160.000 of them), with good technical institutes such as the Polytechnic School and many polyglot and skilled people. The agriculture makes the most of the rich plains of Great Poland and Pomerania. The industry and services, notably in the high tech industry, are diversified and well connected with the rest of Europe, and especially of course with Germany. In terms of infrastructures, Poznan has benefited a lot from the European Union funds and from the last European nations football Championship organized in 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
All around the year, Poznan is also a major Fair destination. The most famous one is the Poznan International Fair in June, where you meet businessmen from all around the world, including India, selling all kind of products and services. But every month a major trade event is organized, no wonder why the city is so lively in terms of night life.
Once again, to have a drink, a good dinner and a nice dance in a club, you can stick around the Old Market, the Stary Rynek. Indulge yourself with a great Polish meal at Restauracja Bamberka, near the nice fountain Bamberka. A little house with classical wooden furniture and some Art Déco stained glass in the basement. The Pork filet, the Bigos (cabbage and pork specialty) are famous. Or have some veg dishes such as the Pierogi (sort of ravioli), the soups or the delicious salads. The beer and the vodka are excellent and so are the fruit juices. Then, you can end up the night chatting at Proletaryat Klubokawiarnia, with its painting of Karl Marx in the pure Soviet style. Or have a concert at the container decorated KontenerArt, or a dance at Muchos Potatos (tropical and Latino music), Lizard King (rock), Cute and Van Diesel, the most trendy one. Poznan will then definitely show you a crazy side.
Poznan, June 1956: The first crack in the Communist wall
“The political police started shooting and the crowd took a dive on the ground. A man next to me had his back torn by machine gun bullets. His blood was still seething. But he was probably already dead”, remembers Antoni, who was then a student. It was June 28, 1956. Poznan experienced the first major uprising against the Communist system, still a Stalinist dictatorship managed from Moscow. A least 75 people died and more than 500 were wounded. They were protesting and asking for “Bread, law and freedom”.
It started with a strike in a Poznan locomotive factory, where workers asked for a premium, and ended with a general strike, where people expressed their thirst for freedom. The revolt was crushed in a bloodbath but it was never the same afterwards. Stalin was already dead and the Polish government agreed on a very small political liberalization. It was the first time the regime had made some concessions.
The workers of Gdansk would remember it in 1980 when they set up Solidarnosc (Solidarity), the first free trade union in the Soviet block and a major step leading to the whole Communist system collapse in 1989. One kilometre away from the Old Square, the Muzeum Poznan is dedicated to this 1956 uprising, with a big cross monument outside remembering it and other Polish fights for freedom.
How to reach
By Air: You can take an indirect flight with Air India from Delhi to Frankfurt in Germany and then another company flight to Poznan. Also, you can fly Lufthansa from Delhi to Poznan, with a connecting flight in Frankfurt.
By Train: The train from Warsaw will take you in three hours and half in Poznan.
Where to stay
Poznan offers many old hotels like Hotel Brovaria, NH Poznan and sweet boutique hotels such as Hotel Kolegiacki or genuine accommodations like Apartments Retro in the Poznan Old City.