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So Where Exactly Am I?

So Where Exactly Am I?Woodcut of "Bressla" from the Nuremburg Chronicle, 1493
As a city under constantly shifting rule, Wrocław has been known by many names throughout its history. In fact, the national status of Wrocław has changed more often than any other city in Europe. Passing hands from the Polish Piasts (1000-1335), to the Kingdom of Bohemia (1335-1526), to the Austrian Hapsburgs (1526-1741), to the Kingdom of Prussia (1741-1871), into the German Empire and Third Reich (1871-1945), and finally back to Poland (1945-today, and hopefully tomorrow as well), Wrocław cannot be claimed as the by-rights homeland of any one nation or people despite the past efforts of politically motivated revisionist historians to prove otherwise (the Recovered Territories Exhibition of 1948, for example). The city’s makeup has always been diverse culturally and religiously with Poles, Germans, Bohemians, Austrians and Jews all making significant contributions to Wrocław’s development. With so many influences and upheavals, Wrocław (as we know it today) has seen more than its fair share of names used in common parlance throughout the years, including Vratislava, Wrotizla, Wretslaw, Vraclav, Vretslav, Prezlav, Presslaw and Bresslau (to name a few).

It's not uncommon to still see and hear Wrocław referred to by its old German name, 'Breslau', particularly by and for the German nostalgia tourists who come here to seek their roots. The Polish name 'Wrocław' apparently predates the German name, and is thought to have been derived from the name of the Czech sovereign 'Vratislav'. Variants of the German name began appearing in documents shortly after Poland lost control of the region in 1335. Some sources claim that Frederick the Great changed the city’s name to Breslau in 1741, though this is subject to historical dispute. With the German population expelled in 1945, and Poland’s borders shifted westwards, post-war Wrocław was repopulated with citizens from what is now the Ukrainian city of Lviv (formerly Polish Lwów). The tens of thousands of migrants who arrived from the east not only changed the ethnic make-up of the city, but also its cultural life by bringing much of their former home’s cultural relics with them. Treasures taken from Lviv and moved to Wrocław include the Fredro statue in the main square, the library collection of the Ossolineum, and the epic painting the Racławice Panorama.

The problem of Wrocław’s complex titular nomenclature was a challenge historian Norman Davies encountered when writing his thorough history of the city; Davies eventually settled on ‘Microcosm’ as the title of his excellent book in acknowledgement of the city’s standing as a constant crossroads for Eastern European cultures and concerns, and the unfairness of putting such a wide-ranging study under a title with a limited representation of its history. And while the temptation to re-title this little tome ‘Microcosm In Your Pocket’ is ever-present, we’ve got enough connotative problems as it is…

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