Day 3: Maslowiec to Trzebnica
Margaret, June 11, 2004


Friday was our day of exploration out into the suburbs and countryside. But first we headed off to the market hall on the northeast side of town to grab food for breakfast. We arrived at 8:00am, just as the hall was opening and vendors were still setting out their wares and arraying items into the most compelling arrangements. We walked through slowly, glancing at the offerings: fresh fruit and vegetables of all varieties, coffee and teas, breads, non-perishables, and flowers. So many flowers. In the Rynek, too, there had been stall after stall of flower sellers and they seemed to do good business.

We stopped at one stall to make our purchase. “Dzien dobry,” I began. The woman behind the counter smiled, echoed my greeting, and looked at me expectantly. I pointed to a loaf of bread, stumbling over the name printed below it. The woman gestured to the one I meant and asked a question, something like “this one?” I imagined. “Tak.” Yes. She took the loaf off the shelf. And… I pointed to a bunch of poppy-seed covered biscuits. “Dwa.” Two. I began to say the word printed there, but apparently painfully, as the woman cut me off and said it for me. I repeated it. She smiled, nodded, and put two of the pastries in a bag. And… “Sok.” Juice, too. The woman came out in front of the counter to see which one I meant. I wanted orange juice and attempted the word for it: “sok pomar…” I trailed off. The woman gripped my hands encouragingly. “Pomarancza,” she said. “Pomaran…” Almost. She said it again slower: “po – ma – ran – cha.” This time I got it: Pomarancza. She was delighted. And off I went with our breakfast and a mini Polish lesson to boot.

We went to the hostel to grab our belongings and I made a quick trip to the Rynek to see if the museum shop was open. It was 9:00 now and it should have been, but the lock on the door said otherwise. I was hoping I could get an old map of Trebnitz similar to the one of Breslau I already possessed. No luck. And it was raining.

We took a cab to the airport, with a friendly driver who chatted with us the whole way despite the fact he professed to only speak Polish and Russian. Somehow, though, he’d driven enough tourists to pick up some phrases from other languages, and showered us with such a muddled mixture of English, German, French, and Polish that we actually understood what he was saying most of the time: “My baby. Jetzt. Uniwersytet. Studient English. Very good.” At the airport he showed us the stand of taxis sitting hidden around the corner from the airport exit. “Good taxi,” he said, gesturing to them. Right at the airport exit itself, however, stood three more taxis. He pointed to them “Sehr…” and he rubbed his fingers together. “Expensive,” I offered. He nodded. Ah yes, special taxis licensed to pick up right at the door, like the one who had accosted us on our arrival, charging the unwary tourist probably twice as much as the regular taxis just out of sight.

We had gone to the airport because it’s the only place I could find that rented cars. After the requisite paperwork, we were driving off in our car-for-the-day, a Fiat Panda, standard transmission of course, with Ben at the helm. We quickly got lost in the confusing jumble of streets that led into and around the city, but then oriented ourselves and made our way over the river Odra, north towards Trzebnica. It was still raining.

“Where to first?” Ben asked as we drove along the main stretch. I studied the maps I had picked up at the airport and got out the paper on which I had written my German-Polish translations. I decided we’d start furthest out and work our way back. So we drove through Trzebnica and out along the main road towards Milicz (formerly Militsch). There they were on the map: the Hammers I had read about, now called Czeszow (Deutsch-Hammer), Skoroszow (Katholisch-Hammer), Kuzniczysko (Gross-Hammer), and Maslowiec (Masslisch-Hammer). “Very soon Maslowiec will be on the left,” I said. And there it was, a sign pointing off to the left. 0,5 kilometers. And at the corner sat a gas station. We parked there and made our way by foot along the road to Maslowiec.

The village was pretty much as described: a single straight street with houses and little farming plots lining it on both sides. Toward the main road (the former Chaussee), was a cluster of buildings set slightly away from the others – probably where the inn, blacksmith’s, and my great-great-grandfather’s general shop had been. At the other end, a millpond and mill stream (though no longer a mill), where my great-grandfather had set up his family. The buildings of the village itself varied from old and deserted to modern additions. Most were in-between – stuccoes brick that was clearly old, but was being maintained, and still served just fine. The village is still a poor agrarian one; as we walked through, the people were out working despite the rain. Men wheelbarrowed supplies from place to place, women stopped to talk with one another, kids rode by on bicycles to the small aluminum building in the middle of town that is the current village shop. Dogs barked at us. Chickens and ducks ignored us, as did a cat or two. In one farmyard, several men were busy at work butchering a cow. As we retraced our steps, we examined the stone slab posted at the entrance to the hamlet. Probably originally in German, it had been so badly damaged – intentionally or otherwise – that it was no longer legible. We hopped back in the car and drove just a couple kilometers down to Kuzniczysko (Gross-Hammer), on the other side of the former Chaussee.

Kuzniczysko was indeed quite a bit bigger than Maslowiec, with several roads branching off the main one and becoming dirt farm tracks. At the center of town we found the old parish church with its enormous logs, now deserted and surrounded by trees and shrubs. Further along the road a new Catholic church had been built. We also wandered down to the stream that crossed the town to see if we could discern where an old water mill might have been. Our only good clue was perched on the roof of one of the nearby buildings: a stork’s nest – and an old one by the look of it, double high as if a nest had been built on top of another nest. Perhaps the stork that sat there was a descendent of the ones from my grandmother’s time…

We hopped back in the car and headed for Maslow (formerly Massel), not too far distant. Massel had acted as the church center for Masslisch-Hammer, and at least one ancestor, my great-grandfather, was buried here. It was easy to spot the church on top of the hill as we drove in, and we parked nearby. The church was clearly still in use, though now Catholic, but the grounds had been mostly neglected. Broken and damaged stone slabs were propped against the church walls, their old engravings in German. One that was barely legible was about St. Hedwig. Behind the church, what had once been a cemetery was completely overgrown, stone pillars marking where a gate had once been. I wouldn’t find any legible gravestone there.

So it was back in the car and this time to Trzebnica, Trebnitz. The poor town had suffered over 75% destruction in WWII, I read, and the scars showed. It was a gray, dirty, drab, and depressing place, and the weather didn’t do much to help. We tried in vain to find the tourist office, then walked by the Trzebnica Historical Museum (open Saturdays only), and finally found a city map in a bookstore. We were hungry by then and so decided to find a place to eat lunch. Our choice was a weird twist of fate.

The only concrete address I had for the trip was in Trebnitz: Villenstraße 20. It was here that my grandmother’s family had moved so that she and her brother could get a decent education when she was ten. But without a translation for “Villenstraße” I was stuck. It could be the name for any of the streets in the city.

Well, food first. There was the restaurant near where we had parked, and the one up in the dismal Rynek, though it was closed to celebrate a four-day weekend. And our map suggested a third place, further back along the main road. “Let’s try that one,” Ben suggested. Okay, why not. So we walked over to it, found it open, and went inside. We were the only customers. We chose a window seat and I admired the watercolor of the local church above the table as I sat down. I got out the books and started to translate the menu. “Hey, can I see the picture?” Ben asked. One of the xeroxes I had with me showed a picture of the house at Villenstraße 20. Sure. It was a long menu. Okay, categories first, starting at the end with drinks…

“Hey, Margaret!” Ben called excitedly from across the restaurant. “Look at this!” He was holding my xerox up next to one of the pictures on the wall. And lo and behold, there it was: my grandmother’s house in a photograph on the wall. Unmistakable enough with its tower on the roof, the photograph also had a stamp in the upper left corner: “Villenstraße.”

A little later when our waiter had come back with our drinks, I showed him the match. We had already established that he spoke a little German, and my phrasebook had the word for grandmother. He nodded, interested, as I explained the significance. Ben got out the map and he pointed to where it had been. “But it’s not there anymore,” he conveyed in German. “The Russian soldiers shot it up.” Even more interesting was that Villenstraße was the street we were on now in the restaurant; the house had stood just a couple blocks from where we were eating! The waiter brought the picture over, along with another. “See, it’s here in this picture, too.” The unmistakable tower projected over the Trebnitz roofline. Wow. What a chance discovery.

While waiting for the food, I used the bathroom. When I returned Ben was sitting with an oversized folder of papers and maps on his lap. “What’s this?” Apparently it was a historical compendium of Trzebnica, which the waiter had brought, only just recently compiled in 2003. It was absolutely fascinating with text in both Polish and German, and map after map of the city from as far back as the 1400’s. We learned from one of these that Villenstraße and its neighboring streets were a planned suburb of the main town created to provide a nice nineteenth century residential expansion to the growing Trebnitz.

After eating (the food was quite good) and thanking the waiter for everything, we headed up Villenstraße (now called Kosciuszki). Sure enough, no house to match the picture, though it was easy to imagine how it would have fit in. Many of the houses along the street were original or restored as historical landmarks, we had learned from one of the modern maps in the Trzebnica portfolio.

We made one more stop in Trzebnica, at the church with its St. Hedwig’s chapel and old tympanum from the 1200’s. St. Hedwig had founded the first Cistercian convent in Poland there in the city and was interred inside the neighboring church. She became the patron saint of Silesia. My grandmother had gone to school in one of the monastery buildings, now probably reconstructed, and painted a cheery yellow that contracted with the rest of the town.

And then it was back to Wroclaw and the airport, passing stand after stand of strawberry sellers who huddled under umbrellas, hoping a driver or two might stop to buy. We got gas, returned the car, and took the bus to our new hostel (Uslugi Hotelarskie), further from the Rynek, but cheaper, with a sink in the room, and – Ben was delighted to discover – a coffee machine in the lobby. Dinner was at the next-door Chinese restaurant. It was still raining.