"ON THE SHORES OF THE ZALEW WISLANY" Suchacz by AsturArcadia

Suchacz Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 69 photos

Introduction

Until 1945 northeast Poland formed part of Ostpreussen, bordering the huge lagoon known in those days as the Frisches Haff, and re-christened the Zalew Wislany by the Poles forcibly resettled after the Potsdam Conference from parts of what are now Belarus and Ukraine. At the southern end of the Zalew is the city of Elblag (formerly Elbing); at the northern end is Kaliningrad (Königsberg), now the capital of the isolated Russian oblast of the same name.

The only natural exit to the sea from the Zalew lies within Russian territory at Baltijsk (formerly Pillau), and this is something of a bone of contention between Poland and Russia. Few large ships, either Polish- or foreign-registered, brave the Russian bureaucracy to visit Elblag nowadays, even though the city was once quite an important shipbuilding centre. Small craft can avoid traversing Russian territorial waters to access the Baltic via a canal running westwards from the southern end of the Zalew to the mouth of the Wisla near Mikoszewo - and they can even reach Gdansk by means of the inland waterway network. There are controversial proposals to build a 2 km canal across the neck of the Mierzeja Wislana, the 50 km long pine-clad sand spit that runs northeastwards from Sztutowo (Stutthof, the location of one of the most notorious concentration and extermination camps during the Second World War) to the natural channel at Baltijsk. The ecologists are not in favour, though such a waterway could serve as a useful 'overflow' and reduce the risk of flooding in Elblag when the waters of the Zalew are pushed down the lagoon during winter storms.

If you read my novel 'Cantabrian Summer, Baltic Winter', published by Lulu, you will learn quite a bit about the wartime history of this region. The events of the winter of 1944/5, when the Russians invaded Ostpreussen, have recently been documented in an epic German film, 'Die Flucht', which obtained incredibly high viewing ratings when televised in two parts early in 2007. Unfortunately, British history books, written from the point of view of the 'victors' (are there really 'victors' in any war . . .?) tend to play down or ignore certain aspects of the collapse of Germany's Eastern Front and the tragic consequences for the civilian population during the massacre which followed. A visit to this part of Warmia-Mazury province will leave you in no doubt that even in 2007 you are living 'among ghosts'. For the history of the region stopped dead in January and February 1945, and began afresh some months later, when the new arrivals started tearing down the war-damaged structures in the towns and larger villages, and raising their own communities on separate but adjacent sites. The bricks of buildings in Elblag, Braniewo and Pieniezno (and many other places as well) were duly 'exported' to Gdansk and Warszawa to recreate symbolic parts of the historic old quarters of these cities, which had suffered during the conflict. Today the overgrown foundations bear mute testimony to these wanton acts of destruction of what would have been a rich architectural heritage, on a par with that found in German Baltic ports such as Rostock, Wismar and Stralsund.

Smaller communities escaped relatively lightly, and it is in these that much of the charm of the region is still to be discovered. Many of the remaining old buildings are of great architectural value, as we shall see below during our virtual tour of the region. The pity is that occasionally they have to rub shoulders with post-war constructions - the occasional block of soulless flats, and - just as unfortunate - the pretentious monstrosities being erected by the nouveau riche new-Capitalist generation of the post-Communist era.

The rural areas are idyllic - superficially. Photographs taken on sunny summer days are unable to convey the often oppressive humidity that accompanies the high temperatures (an afternoon maximum in the mid-thirties is not uncommon at any time between May and early September). Nor can they offer the awesome sound of millions of mosquitoes humming away in the trees at dusk as if they were trying to transform themselves into a winged power station. The snow-clad winter landscapes are magical, but the opposite side of the coin is that driving conditions on roads which can be white for weeks at a stretch are a touch dicey, to say the least, especially on tree-lined thoroughfares shared with ancient lumbering Autosan school buses. Spring comes all at once in a pink and white burst of blossom towards the end of April. Autumn is usually a more prolonged process, characterised by dry, drawn-out draughts of deceptively balmy air blowing, so it seems, from the very heart of Asia.

The second part of Cantabrian Summer, Baltic Winter is set in the fictional village of Rybkowo, Fischberg in Ostpreussen times, about 20 km northeast of Elblag and right on the shore of the Zalew. Rybkowo, whose name might loosely be interpreted as 'the place of the fish', is in fact the village of Suchacz only lightly disguised. And since at one time the economy of Suchacz (formerly Succase) depended quite heavily on fishing (and on fruit farming), the fictional name seems quite appropriate.

Along the northwest-facing shore of the Zalew, between Kamionek and Frombork (of Copernicus fame) the land dips quite steeply to sea level from an undulating upland region - glacial deposits for the most part - with summits rising in places to close on 200 metres. This is a district of vast meadows and extensive deciduous woodlands, the home of countless deer, wild boar and red squirrels. The shore itself is low lying, with dense reedbeds (periodically harvested to supply the wickerwork industry) sheltering sandy beaches. In the annual ranking of Polish strands, published in journals like 'Polityka', these diminutive strips of sand, not without their modest charm, usually come near the bottom of the list, on account of their lack of recreational facilities. And we all know what sort of 'recreational facilities' twenty-first century beachgoers expect . . .

The Zalew and its shores are a nature-lover's paradise. Imagine having swans come visiting at the bottom of your garden to be fed (and to chase off the curiosity-filled cat . . .). Or watching the water offshore turn black as a great flight of duck or cormorants descends upon it. The pools concealed by the reedbeds are the home of countless frogs and toads, which croak in chorus in the spring. The eels that also dwell in the ponds do not advertise their presence by croaking, but are a renowned local delicacy and fetch a correspondingly high price per kilo. Storks, naturally, are quite commonplace throughout the district. As are swallows and house martens. The eaves of our house conceal nests built by both types of these most delightful and entertaining of summer visitors, who even fly in and out of the living room at times. There are a couple of less agreeable types of neighbour, too - various species of snake, both great and small, abound, as do thundering great hornets. The mosquitoes I have already commented upon . . . though they do of course provide a feast for the swallows!

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Good landscape, good food, good beer.
  • Cons:Mosquitoes in summer, 'white roads' in winter.
  • Last visit to Suchacz: Sep 2003
  • Intro Updated Jan 24, 2009
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Comments (1)

  • evaanna's Profile Photo
    Jan 26, 2009 at 3:03 PM

    This is a part of Poland that I still hope to explore, having been only once on Mierzeja Wislana and to Frombork. Thank you for this lovely virtual tour with a most interesting commentary.

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