A Polish German Fusion: Poznań's Castle District Explored
default, A Polish German Fusion:
Poznań's Castle District Explored, The Imperial Castle in Poznań on a postcard, 1913-1917, photo: National Digital Library Polona, center, zamek_cesarski_poznan_polona.jpg
A city famously linked to the birth of Poland itself, Poznań also has some distinct German influences. One district in particular shares these dual identities, as seen in its striking architecture. Culture.pl’s Marek Kępa takes us on a tour of a unique urban landscape.
The Fortress of Poznań
Poznań is one of the biggest and oldest cities in Poland, with a history dating back to the 10th century. Alongside places like Gniezno and Ostrów Lednicki, it’s considered the birthplace of the Polish state. Today the city lies in central western Poland and is the capital of the Greater Poland Voivodeship, one of the 16 main administrative regions of Poland. You can find many interesting monuments in the city, like the picturesque Renaissance city hall standing in the Old Market Square or the impressive Royal Castle whose construction was started (most probably) in the 13th century by Przemysł II, a member of Poland’s royal Piast dynasty.
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After centuries of Polish identity, things changed toward the end of the 18th century. Poland was partitioned by its neighbours, and Poznań became a part of Prussia. The Prussians built a system of fortifications around the city to defend it against any Polish attempts at regaining independence or any other possible threats, such as from Russia. The city was so heavily guarded that it even gained the nickname Festung Posen which is German for ‘The Fortress of Poznań.’ But while the defences provided security they also hindered the city’s growth by squeezing it in a tight embrace – there wasn’t enough room for raising new buildings.
Toward the end of the 19th century, this started to be a problem for the Prussian administration which wanted to expand Prussian presence in the region. That’s why in 1902, after the German Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Poznań, the decision was made to tear down the fortifications and develop the city. That’s when, on the site of the former defensive structures to the west of the Old Market Square (which lies more or less in the city’s centre), the construction of the so-called Castle District began. Today this district is considered one of the most interesting sites in Poznań
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The Castle District in Poznań is a complex of representative edifices, a relic of architecture and urban planning that’s unique in Europe, a place that speaks about the history of the last century. Created in the early 20th century as a manifestation of the Prussian reign, today it is a seat of higher education and cultural institutions.
From the 2012 book ‘Poznań, Dzielnica Zamkowa’ by Zenon Pałat & Janusz Pazder, trans. MK
The Castle District was designed by German architects to promote Prussian interests in the region. But after Poland regained independence in 1918, the buildings here received new functions and gained new neighbours – buildings designed by Poles. As a result, a unique new urban identity was formed that fused both influences. Let’s go on a walk through this special neighbourhood and discover some of its most important sites.
Siegfried fighting the dragon
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The Adam Mickiewicz Park in the heart of the Castle District, photo: Sebastian Czopik / Reporter / East News
The general concept for the Castle District was created in 1903 by Joseph Stübben, an eminent German urban planner who had earlier been in charge of planning Cologne’s layout. He decided that the neighbourhood should consist of standalone representative edifices, located around a centrally positioned park which today is named after the celebrated Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz. The area was to be made complete by a few smaller buildings – a bank and villas. Stübben also designed an avenue encircling Poznań, called the Ring, which was to appear in place of the former fortifications.
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The Castle District was meant to show that Festung Posen was changing into Residenzstadt Posen (Residential City of Poznań), a place attractive for German settlers and also somewhat indifferent toward its Polish citizens. The Germanness of the new neighbourhood was reflected in the architecture of its buildings.
The biggest and most important building in the Castle District is the Imperial Castle and that’s where we’ll begin our tour. This huge neo-Romanesque edifice raised in the year 1910 stands to the west of Adam Mickiewicz Park. Originally it contained apartments for Wilhelm II and his family as well as representative chambers, like the throne room. Today it houses the ZAMEK Culture Centre:
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ZAMEK Culture Centre in Poznań is one of the largest cultural institutions in the country. Each year, the institution hosts 2,500 events which showcase and stimulate the development of the most interesting phenomena in culture. […] The programme relies both on tried and tested forms of expression (e.g. concerts, performances, exhibitions, soirees and literary meetings, film screenings) as well as on experimental artistic undertakings by embarking on new types of activities, often site-specific ones.
The building was designed by the famous German architect Franz Schwechten to resemble a mediaeval castle. Its form was to demonstrate Prussian reign over Poznań and the region around it.
An element that especially draws one’s attention is the massive tower that reaches 58 metres high (it used to be even taller but was badly damaged in World War II and never fully rebuilt). After taking a closer look at the building’s exterior you can find that it’s adorned with motifs taken from German sagas and fairy tales. For example, in the southern façade you can find a representation of Siegfried fighting the dragon. Also, in the capitals of the northern façade’s columns there are reliefs showing historical mediaeval fights between Germanic and Slavic peoples. It’s hard not to notice that the use of such scenes didn’t necessarily facilitate harmony among the Polish and German subjects of the Prussian state.
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Living at the post office
To the south from the Imperial Castle, across Święty Marcin Street, stand the edifices of the Loan Association and Post Headquarters. These were also designed by Franz Schwechten in a neo-Romanesque style and completed in 1910.
Originally the Loan Association provided banking services to Prussian landowners whereas the Post Headquarters, as the name suggests, housed a post office and postal bureaus. Today the building of the post still serves its initial purpose while the Loan Association houses bureaus of the Poznań Philharmonic (concerts are given in the building of the Royal Academy which also stands in the Castle District) and the Department of Information Technology of the Poznań University of Economics and Business.
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The architecture of these two edifices isn’t as imposing as that of the massive Imperial Castle. An eye-catching element is the corner tower of the Loan Association which acts as a counterpoint to the tower in the castle. An interesting embellishment of the Post Headquarters can be found in the building’s main portal, where there’s a figure believed to be a personification of the post. Curiously, in the old days these buildings had living quarters for their workers. The influential Polish writer Stanisław Przybyszewski even lived there, working as a translator in the years 1919-1920.
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The Ignacy Paderewski Academy of Music in Poznań, photo: press materials of the Academy of Music in Poznań
West of the Loan Association, across Niepodległości Avenue, stands the Evangelical House built in 1908. This shapely building referencing Renaissance and Empire architecture was designed by an architect from Charlottenburg by the surname of Johannes (his first name is hard to establish). It originally housed a hotel, meeting rooms and a small library. After World War II, the building became the seat of the Ignacy Paderewski Academy of Music. A modern expansion designed by Jerzy Gurawski was added in 1997, which plays with the shape of the original, such as by mimicking the shape of its gables. In 2006, Gurawski further expanded the building with a modernist, glass rotunda housing a concert hall, called Aula Nova.
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Since the Academy gained its own concert hall […] its artistic activity has greatly developed. Aside from doing didactic work it also started to serve as a cultural institution and is now one of the most important points on the musical map of Poznań. Aula Nova offers young performers many possibilities of artistic presentation.
Allegories of Science & Art
Across Święty Marcin Street from the Evangelical House, and next to the railroad tracks that line the Castle District from the west, stands the modestly-sized neo-Renaissance Raiffeisen Bank building. Raised in 1908 and designed by the Berlin company Hartmann & Schlenzig, it used to house a bank, as well as a restaurant and casino. Above the main entrance are reliefs showing rural motifs: ducks, chickens and sheafs of rye. These allude to the fact that the bank operating in the building was primarily interested in crediting agricultural projects. Today the Raiffeisen Bank houses the Faculty of Law and Administration of the Adam Mickiewicz University.
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Next to the Raiffeisen Bank is the much bigger Royal Academy building, designed by the valued German architect Edward Fürstenau and raised in 1909. This is another a neo-Renaissance structure in the district, one that has two distinct parts: the representative assembly hall in the corner of Święty Marcin and Wieniawskiego Streets and the school building that extends to the north. Especially the main façade of the assembly hall is impressive. It sports two towers on the sides, an ornate, renaissance gable at the top and two figures between the windows of the second storey: allegories of Science and Art.
The building used to be the seat of the Royal Academy – a higher education institution for young Germans (although the hall was also used for non-educational purposes such as public concerts). Today the school building houses the rectorate of the Adam Mickiewicz University while the massive assembly room is used for important university ceremonies as well as concerts given by the Poznań Philharmonic.
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Thanks to its fabulous acoustics, the assembly hall has become a permanent concert room for the Poznań Philharmonic. Numerous concerts, spectacles and musical events are held here, the most important of which is the International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition. The two-level hall can accommodate 860 people and is accessible for people with disabilities.
Villas & a modernist garden
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NOT Technician’s House designed by the Polish architects Henryk Jarosz, Jerzy Liśniewicz and Jan Wellenger, photo: Łukasz Cynalewski / AG
To the north from the Royal Academy stands the Hygiene Institute building, one of the few villas in the Castle District. Designed by the German architect Fritz Teubner, it was completed in the year 1912. Because of its modest size and simple, classic architecture this single-storey villa constitutes an interesting contrast to the large, representative edifice of the Royal Academy.
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The Prussian Hygiene Institute conducted research in the fields of hygiene and chemistry and ran tests on food. Today its former building is owned by the Karol Marcinkowski Medical University.
Further up Wieniawskiego Street there’s the NOT Technician’s House designed by the Polish architects Henryk Jarosz, Jerzy Liśniewicz and Jan Wellenger. This clearly modernist edifice was raised in 1963 in place of two villas from the original Castle District design, which burned down during World War II. The three-storey building has a pleasant modernist garden in the back and is used by various scientific and technical societies.
On the corner of Wieniawskiego Street and Fredry Street are two elegant villas. The Adolf Landsberg Villa was built in 1912 for the well-known lawyer Adolf Landsberg. Designed by the German architect Hans Uhl, the building references classicist architecture and has an eye-catching mansard roof. Today it houses the Wydawnictwo Poznańskie publishing house.
Next to the Adolf Landsberg Villa, by the railroad tracks, stands the German Covered Bond Bank building. Designed by German architects Otto Meister and August Raeder, the building harmonises with the shapes of the other villas in the district through the use of classic forms. It was built in 1914 to be the headquarters of a banking institution but nowadays is used by the computer science company ZETO.
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Pegasus, a lion & a panther
One of the most important buildings in the Castle District can be found to the east from the villas and across Fredry Street: the Municipal Theatre. Opened in 1910, it constituted a culmination of the space of the park which, as mentioned before, lies at the heart of the entire neighbourhood.
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The southern part of the three-hectare park consists of a large lawn lined with trees. In the northern part is a large fountain, across the street from which stands the theatre. So when you stand on the park’s southern edge and look to the north, you can see an impressive spatial axis which ends with the façade of the Municipal Theatre building.
The theatre was designed by the German architect Max Littman, who also created theatres in Munich and Stuttgart. The building has a monumental, classicist form, the massive portico draws one’s attention especially. On top of the tympanum supported by six Ionic columns, there’s a copper sculpture of Pegasus made by the Munich company Düll & Pezold. On the sides of the steps leading to the entrance are two other sculptures. The woman sitting on a lion was created by Constantin Starck and symbolises lyric poetry, while the man walking next to a panther was modelled by Georg Morin and symbolises drama. After Poland regained independence, the Municipal Theatre was turned into the Poznań Opera House:
In 1919 in the building under the Pegasus, the Opera House of the now Polish city of Poznań inaugurated its functioning with the premiere of Stanisław Moniuszko’s ‘Halka.’ Sound repertoire choices and high levels of performance quickly earned the Opera House an opinion as one of the leading operatic companies in the country, an opinion which still persists today
From the 2012 book ‘Poznań, Dzielnica Zamkowa’ by Zenon Pałat & Janusz Pazder, trans. MK
To the east from the theatre, across Niepodległości Avenue stands the massive Settlement Committee building erected in 1909. It was designed by an architect by the surname of Delius whose first name is unclear, in a style that references Baroque palace architecture. The building consists of five wings and in the centre is a semi circular avant-corps covered with an impressive dome. The committee that used to operate here was tasked with purchasing land from Poles and turning it over to German settlers. After Poland regained independence, the building began to serve educational purposes and today it houses the Faculty of Polish and Classical Philology of the Adam Mickiewicz University. In 2009, a neo-modernist library designed for the faculty by Jacek Bułat was added to the north side of the building.
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A Monument of History
To the south from the Settlement Committee, across Fredry Street, there’s the Imperial Palace again, or the garden located in its courtyard to be precise. Having reached the Kaiser’s residence once more, we’ve made a full circle around Adam Mickiewicz park and our journey through the Castle District comes to an end.
Of course, there are other things left to discover in the neighbourhood. Like, for example, the 1960 Adam Mickiewicz monument designed by Bazyli Wojtowicz and Czesław Woźniak which stands in a square located just outside the southern edge of Adam Mickiewicz Park. Or the 1932 University of Economics building designed by the Polish architect Adam Ballenstedt in a style referencing German modernism, which neighbours the Loan Association.
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The Castle District is a very special place, one that shows what’s best in early 20th architecture and reveals more about the often winding paths of Polish-German relations. Because of its amazing historic richness, it was declared a Monument of History by the President of Poland in 2008. As you will have read here, it’s an ideal place to visit for those interested in architecture, urban planning or simply lesser-known European history.
Author: Marek Kępa, Feb 2020
castle district in poznań
imperial castle in poznań
zamek culture centre
Based on the 2012 book ‘Poznań, Dzielnica Zamkowa’ by Zenon Pałat & Janusz Pazder, published by the Wydawnictwo Miejskie Posnania publishing house.