Adapting to my new home is an ongoing process and each day brings a little more comfort and self assurance that I haven’t jumped into the metaphorical deep end and forgotten how to swim. Wrocław is full of hidden gems, whether you’re looking for a quiet café, bustling nightlife, or a casual visit to the city zoo. Of all of the sights that the city of gnomes and bridges has to offer, however, my favorite has to be the Rynek. Translated literally, the term means “market” and to say that Wrocław is the only city in Poland that has a rynek district would be untrue, but here the Ryenk is so much more than just a market square; it’s a barometer of culture and community unity. The journey to my favorite Polish site begins by descending the front steps of Dwudziestoaltka, my student dormitory that my friends and I have resorted to calling “the one that starts with ‘d’,” as none of us have quite mastered its pronunciation. I then await the traffic light as the bustling traffic careens through the crowded “rondo Ronalda Reagana” (Ronald Reagan Roundabout). It is here I will board the tram that will take me away from whatever has been stressing me on any given day, so long as I board one that is taking the correct route, but that’s a story for another time.
When the silence of the train ride is finally broken by a disembodied voice bellowing, “Świdnicka!”signifying my stop, I disembark the tram in time to see the large weekend crowd begin to flood the cobblestone square that is my beloved Rynek. Some are students, making their way to the various pubs and discos that has come to symbolize Erasmus (the European equivalent of study abroad) life, while others are locals seeking a release from a long week. Performers begin to fill the street, attempting to captivate an audience long enough to earn a couple extra Złote. One man sings the Foo Fighter’s “Everlong” to those passing by, another juggles fire in the air precariously, and an elderly woman begins setting up her night market, consisting primarily of flowers, mushroom caps, and other seasonal goodies. It never ceases to amaze me how so many activities can be undertaken in the embrace of the Ryenk, surrounded by the pastel shaded baroque buildings, whose lights begin to flicker as night falls and the autumn temperatures plummet to a brisk 40 degrees. Plates piled high with Kielbasa sausages, pierogi, and other traditional Polish foods are delivered to diners eagerly awaiting their meals followed by the utterance of, “Smacznego!” (Bon Appetite).
Music from the discos and pubs fills the streets, some of which is surprisingly familiar. A band in the Irish pub across the square plays Johnny Cash, a popular student venue blares anything from the top American hits to Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny from the Block,” causing me to smirk to myself as I venture further into the methodical madness that is the Wrocław Rynek. Long after the chaos of the night has subsided, though, the Rynek demonstrates its calmer side as dawn breaks and the nightly regulars shuffle home and, in their place, the morning shift takes over. The cafes that had been shuttered for the evening again come alive offering croissants and espresso, usually to be enjoyed outside in the crisp morning air as the temperature now begins to make its gentle rise to the daily high of 65 degrees. Construction workers return to continue maintenance on this historic district and expand the jewel of Wrocław.
The Rynek takes many forms and moods, its versatility being one the characteristics I love so dearly about it. No matter your mood, you can find something here that suits you. For me, though, this place is so much more. It’s not simply a commercial district, but a place where I get to share memories and experiences with the people I met only weeks ago, and now couldn’t imagine my life without. It’s where I experienced my first meal in Poland, discussed cinema, politics, and cultural similarities with numerous acquaintances that grew into friends, and where celebrated my first birthday outside of the United States, will see my first Christmas markets, and take my family when they come to visit me in my home away from home. The Rynek is the heart of Wrocław and a piece of me will stay here long after my studies finish in June.