The first written record of Włocławek appears on a Papal Bull in 1148 (we Canadians just don't understand history in the same way). Located on both sides of the Wisła River, Włocławek seems to have made it's living from industry. In 1999 it lost it's role as the administrative centre for the Włocławek Region.
Situated approximately 500 kilometers east of Berlin, Germany, Włocławek sustained damage in both World Wars. During the Nazi occupation of World War II, Włocławek was renamed Leslau and would regain it's name following the cessation of the war. Włocławek had a thriving Jewish population who owned and operated many of the local industries. Being the first place in Europe to force Jews to wear the Yellow Star of David, the Jewish population was largely deported to the Łódź Ghetto and then onward to the Chelmno Concentration Camp.
In the fall of last year we were able to spend a few days in Włocławek as we were researching and praying through our options. Entering Włocławek by car we came through a large national park. We caught our first glimpses of the town as smokestacks peeked out from above the trees. We had been told that we'll never see a post card of Włocławek, and as we broke through the treeline we understood why. Most European towns are marked by steeples, but Włocławek's smokestacks rise higher than it's steeples.
As we drove through the forest we were surprised to see prostitutes standing on the side of the road (no real highway system in Poland yet) as early as 10am. Driving past we would see tents pitched in the forest. Upon arriving we decided to walk off our 10 hour drive. It was not hard to find drug and alcohol abuse as we walked through the town square. The formerly Jewish owned buildings are literally falling apart while the EU courts decide their future. Squatters have moved in and it was not uncommon to see port-a-potties outside these structures without power or water.
We spent a solid 48 hours walking A LOT, talking to people, praying and simply soaking in the surroundings. As we drove home to Nitra a few things were clear to us:
- there is a lot of good that can be done in Włocławek
- there are very few English speakers and our Slovak got us further than our English (gotta love Slavic languages)
- even though Włocławek is lacking infrastructure now (highway access, main shopping area etc.), there is change coming as the 3rd largest mall in Poland is under construction and the new highway will pass right by in 2012 - now is a great time to connect with a city in motion
- Nitra is more cosmopolitan (relatively speaking) than industrial Włocławek, but Włocławek pays attention to details with nice parks and gardens and we could have a good life there
For more information, you can visit Włocławek's webpage by clicking here.