With Wrocław developing rapidly in the late 19th century it was determined that the city required an exhibition hall and the hundred year anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig (1813) was deemed a timely occasion for an expensive, over-the-top exhibition hall that would figuratively flex the architectural muscle of the German Nation. Max Berg, who had been appointed as official city architect in 1909, quickly set about designing his career-piece, and (what-do-ya-know?) his proposal was chosen over 42 others by city council despite abject objection from almost everyone who laid eyes on the design, which resembled a colossal concrete hatbox and would cost an enormous 1.9 million Reichsmarks.
Teaming with eminent architect Hans Poelzig, the two personally oversaw the project which was completed in 1913 and has become one of the most important architectural monuments of the early 20th century. With an inner diameter of 65 metres, a height of 42 metres and a 10,000 person capacity, the Jahrhunderthalle (as it was called) became the widest structure of its type in the world; that type being a gigantic multi-purpose structure of radial reinforced concrete ribs unlike anything the world had ever seen. Though routinely left off lists of the world’s most attractive buildings, one thing is undeniable: the Centennial Hall is an engineering marvel. Building a structure of such size out of steel and concrete was both revolutionary and extremely daring; in fact the workers that helped build the behemoth were afraid to go inside, so certain were they of its eventual collapse. On the contrary, the Centennial Hall has inexplicably survived two world wars and has in recent years hosted large scale events including monumental operas, sporting events and large concerts. It was here that Adolf Hitler held rallies and Pope John Paul II held services during his famous visit in 1997.
With the success of the Centennial Exhibition under its belt, the Jahrhunderthalle was to host an even more intriguing exhibition following World War II. Renamed 'Hala Ludowa' (the People’s Hall), the exhibition centre became the site of the People’s Republic of Poland’s ‘Recovered Territories Exhibition’. The most expensive and publicised propaganda event in the history of Poland, in the many decades following 1948’s Recovered Territories Exhibition and the coinciding International Congress of Intellectuals, the Centennial Hall complex continued to occasionally host large-scale events, but until recently hadn’t really lived up to its UNESCO-listed reputation for locals and tourists alike, with busloads of the latter often standing in front of the concrete monstrosity wondering how difficult it would be to get the pants they're wearing to qualification for the once exclusive list.
However, that’s no longer the case. Following a large-scale renovation, Centennial Hall's exterior has been scrubbed clean and the interior now features multimedia exhibits that transform the structure from a dubious photo-op to a bonafide tourist attraction. The new permanent exhibit involves lots of touch screen displays, interactive games and activities, and includes virtual reality headsets that allow you to fly above the building and neighbouring area (including the Iglica!). In addition to exhibits, the performance hall itself can also now be visited individually. Visit their website for more information.