Today’s guest blog is from Joel Vostok over at Reaper Feed, a site bringing you a bird’s eye view on global conflict and travel to warzones. As an expedition leader for Young Pioneer Tours, Joel has access to a vast plethora of off the beaten track destinations and, of course, their local street food.
A few years ago, we launched our first WW2 tour of Poland. Beginning in Krakow and ending near the Baltic Sea, the trip was a journey of discovery of Poland’s darkest days visiting places such as Auschwitz and Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair Bunker where the infamous bomb plot took place. Modern Poland is a young country whose territory has been passed from pillar to post over the centuries. Everybody from the Russians and Prussians to the Germans and French have controlled this country, making its borders very flexible. This means that wherever you are in Poland today, you are standing on the soil of what was formerly an empire of centuries past.
As we reached the midway part of our tour, we found ourselves in the city of Wroclaw, a name which looks simple but is actually very awkward to pronounce correctly. It’s a name that is fairly modern as for over 200 years before the city was called Wroclaw, it went under another name: Breslau. As one of the biggest cities in the region of Silesia, Breslau was populated by ethnic Germans
During the 1930s, Breslau was the largest city in Germany east of Berlin and one of the first cities to vote in the Nazis when they received their third highest total of votes in Germany. In the same year the Nazis came to power, Breslau became home to one of the first Nazi concentration camps called KZ Dürrgoy. The city’s loyalty to the Nazis didn’t go unnoticed and Hitler soon awarded it ‘special status’. Which was great when the going was good, but not so great in 1945. As the Russians closed in on Breslau, Hitler declared the city Festung Breslau or ‘fortress city’ meaning it would not be captured and everyone inside will die fighting.
Under their ruthless local Nazi leader Karl Hanke, citizens were subjected to an apolocyptic wave of fury from the red army and forced under gunpoint to build a runway in the centre of the city in temperatures as low as −20°C. The runway was lined with corpses hanging from lamposts to remind those who were thinking of deserting. In the end, only one plane left the runway and it was Hanke fleeing the doomed city as over 40,000 slaughtered civilians lay behind him.
Under Soviet and liberated Polish control, the surviving Germans were subject to a brutal reign of revenge before being violently expelled from the city. Stalin then handed Breslau to Poland, which became Wroclaw. German culture was gone, but when we visited the city, we went to track down its remains and culinary delights from centuries past.
Walking the streets of Wroclaw with our local guide, we were surprised to see the walls of many bullet riddled buildings still featured the ghostly remains of German advertisements from the 1940s as well as arrows leading into air raid shelters. The local film and WW2 museum is fittingly located in one of two former Nazi government bunkers. The other one is a public toilet.
Sensing our fascination with the remains of old Silesia, our guide asked us if we wanted to visit a restaurant that still served pre-war Silesian food. Of course we were! Soon sitting in a backstreet restaurant run by a very friendly Polish family that looked like a relic of the 1930s, we were treated to hearty portion of locally brewed beer from a brewery that was once Nazi controlled before falling under communism and subsequently capitalism.
When our array of Silesian food arrived, we didn’t waste any time on tucking in. I’d ordered a few dishes to truly sample this almost lost cuisine. First off was the traditional dish of Silesian heaven, or Schlesisches Himmelreich in German, it consists of tender smoked pork that is gently simmered with dried fruits such as pears, apples, and prunes. It’s traditionally accompanied by beautiful potato dumplings that are simmered in the same pot until they float on top that creates an incredible texture. Our dish was paired with fresh baked bread and tasty sauerkraut.
The combination of smoky meats and tart, sweet-sour fruits was beloved in the past with the early Silesian settlers, but nowadays the dish is made just occasionally in very few households and niche restaurants. There are a few variations on the dish as one uses stewed pie melon flavored with cinnamon, currants, and lemon rind instead of the stewed dried fruits, and another one served the pork with sweetened stewed quinces.
The next dish I had lined up was what is called Kaszanka in modern Poland, but was called the rather unromantic Grützwurst back in the old days when it was Germany. Grützwurst is a traditional blood sausage made of a mixture of pig’s blood, pork offal, and buckwheat stuffed in a pig intestine. It is usually flavored with onion, black pepper, and marjoram. As a Brit, it reminded me of Black Pudding (which I love) but with a hell of a lot more flavour.
For desert, we were treated to a Silesian dish that is usually exclusively reserved for Christmas Eve, but the restaurant had some in the kitchen. Mohnpielen is a traditional Silesian desert and is made from sweet poppy seed-based bread. It is also popular in other parts of Poland as well as in eastern Germany and in Hungary.
Full of German beer and a food from an empire that no longer exists, we walked back to our hotel through Wroclaw’s stunning city square which was reconstructed after the war. In the backstreets, we walked past an array of shrapnel damage and bullet holes from the gruesome Red Army siege. If only those walls could talk.
To visit Wroclaw on an in depth tour, following in the footsteps of the Nazi Reich and the Red Army and trying the food of bygone eras, check out the range of group and private tours offered by the European office of Young Pioneer tours at Soviet Wastelands.