Lakeside Holidays in 1950s Poland
#travel in poland
#language & literature
default, Lakeside Holidays
in 1950s Poland, Still from ‘Knife in the Water’, directed by Roman Polański, 1961, photo: Studio Filmowe Kadr / Filmoteka Narodowa/www.fototeka.fn.org.pl, noz_w_wodzie_fn_1.jpg
Before the war, Polish beaches hosted royal families and emperors. After the war, artists and intellectuals chose the region of Mazury – the land of a thousand lakes – to be in solitude, write, compose, relax and experience the great outdoors.
A poet and his muse
Warmia and Masuria returned to Poland after World War II. The poet Konstanty Gałczyński was one of the artists who shortly started re-exploring the long-lost territory after the war. He first wrote about it in 1952. A small house in the middle of the forest quickly became his second home – a place of seclusion and peace, which he yearned for in his life and poetry.
In his biography (titled Niebezpieczny Poeta), Anna Arno focuses on Gałczyński's poetic fascination with the Mazury lakes, which started with the poet's meeting with Ziemowit Fedecki. A forester's lodge called Pranie in Pisz Forest next to the Nidzkie lake was the answer to Gałczyński's deteriorating health. Fedecki and Gałczyński spent the entire season there. The wild nature inspired the poet. He began to compose cheerful poems, lyrical songs and passionate erotic verses.
When autumn arrived, Gałczyński completed the existential poem Niobe, a work which he considered one of the his most important pieces. The poet remained enchanted with Mazury till the end of his life.
An enclave for writers
The village of Zgon on the Mokre Lake had its most important inhabitant: the writer Igor Newerly. He moved in to one of the pre-war wooden houses in 1958 and spent all his summers and autumns there. The wooden table which he made himself served as a linchpin to his most famous pieces: Leśne Morze (Forest Sea), Zostało z Uczty Bogów (Left from the Feast of the Gods), Wzgórze Błękitnego Snu (Blue Dream Hill). Newerly liked to entertain. Amongst his guests were the American Nobel-prize winner John Steinbeck, Kazimierz Orłoś and Ryszard Matuszewski.
Zgon became a destination for other free-spirited minds like the members of the Student Theatre of Satirists. They were always guided by Karol Małłek, a local activist, folklorist and publicist called the greatest connoisseur of the Mazury. Greeting all his tours with a merry ‘pip-pip-hurra!’, he would guide them through the ‘holy river Ganges’ (which was what he called the River Krutynia) for hours-long boat tours passing through small islands and arriving at remote villages.
Songwriters’ soothing place
Krzyże, a small village on the Nidzkie lake, lured artists, writers and filmmakers from all over the country in the 1950s. On the porches of small houses, the young intellectuals and actors from the Student Theatre of Satirists would discuss politics and literature. The surrounding landscape inspired poems and stories. ‘The Mazury Lake District was the discovery of our generation’, says the poet, director and journalist Agnieszka Osiecka. Against the green background, Osiecka wrote one of her best songs, Na Całych Jeziorach Ty (On All the Lakes, You), which she dedicated to Jeremi Przybora.
Krzyże wooed them all – Wojciech Młynarski, Daniel Olbrychski, Olga Lipińska. Hanna Bakuła marvelled at the remoteness of the place in the summer of 1980:
I had heard a lot of legends about Krzyże. I was driving a small Fiat with a friend of Agnieszka Osiecka from the Student Theatre of Satirists who had rented rooms for us. The roads were empty and the small Fiat was just as fast as a Honda. We're driving through woods and mushrooms, and I'm childishly imaging a health resort with villas on the lakeside. Bridges, sail boats, a pool, like at the Zalew Zegrzyński. Cosy fish and chips shops, cafés [...]. We took a turn behind a spruce, on the sandy road, and in clouds of dust, we passed a cross, a shop and a couple of fenced wooden homes. We should be nearing Krzyże. After the left turn, after a small bridge over a stream, I saw a lopsided hut made of fibreboard and Agnieszka standing on the tiny porch, in front of which stood her typewriter.
Reporting from the deck of a boat
Melchior Wańkowicz, the writer and journalist, is remembered for his work on the battle of Monte Cassino and his reports from the Polish Armed forces during World War II. But he also wrote about the Krutynia river and health resort.
‘Umbrella-covered gondolas drifting on the river, guests from Berlin were having a splendid time at a local dance venue’ – the world of the book Na Tropach Smętka (On the Trail of Smętek) is no longer alive, but it brings back memories of Krutynia as a once-popular health resort.
Wańkowicz discovered the Mazury lakes in 1935 from a canoe, accompanied by his 14-year-old daughter, Marta. From the Uplickie, Mokre and Nidzkie lakes, he saw different cities (Ełk, Giżycko, Mikołajki, Pisz) and wrote colourful political and historical stories about the complicated fate of the inhabitants of the lands: the Poles, the Masurians and the Germans. His work unveils a pre-war East Prussian world and attempts to settle matters of identity and culture. How did the exodus of thousands of authentic Masurians and Warmians at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries affect the place?
His reportages about Warmia and Masuria are a category of their own. As Robert Traba reminds us in the introduction to the book, his writing has forever influenced the way the territory is viewed.
Years later, the Land of the Thousand lakes got another lead role – this time not in a reportage, but in a film. Roman Polański shot the Oscar-nominated film Knife in the Water on lake Śniardwy. Shooting took place in two touristic cities, Mikołajki and Giżycko, and the protagonists sailed across the Śniardwy, Jagodne and Kisajno lakes.
Originally written in Polish by Anna Legierska, translated by MJ, 12 Aug 2014
knife in the water
konstanty ildefons gałczyński
tourist attractions poland
Sources: ‘Lwy STS-u’ by Jarosław Abramow-Nerwerly, ‘Niebezpieczny poeta’ by Anna Arno, ‘Zielony Konstanty’ by Kira Gałczyńska, ‘ Na Wolności: Dziennik dla Adama’ by Agnieszka Osiecka, ‘Na Tropach Smętka’ by Melchior Wańkowicz, Fundacja Okularnicy, Hanna Bakuła blog, Moje Mazury.pl