Monday, 31 January 2011

The Map of the Road

Now that I had the geographical location of my grandfather’s birthplace and early home, I spent a lot of time looking at maps of that area and of the whole of Poland. Which way had he gone? It was unlikely that he would have walked westward to the North Sea, especially as, from the beginning of 1870, the Prussian army had been massed along the border with France and then the Franco-Prussian War had broken out. There was, I guessed, very little likelihood that he would have made his way through the battlefields of that brief but bloody war. Of course, it was tempting to suggest that he did – it would be quite some story. But though, in the absence of any firm facts about his journey, I had full licence to make up what I wanted for the purposes of the book, I did want it to be credible and to follow, as far as possible, the likely route he had taken.

So the most probable thing he would have done is to have headed north to the Baltic Sea. And the nearest big port was Danzig (modern Gdansk). The more I looked at the map, the more convinced I was that Danzig had been his destination.

Click on map to enlarge it

So how would an 11/12 year old peasant boy have found his way there? The answer was obvious. He would have followed a river, certain that it would eventually bring him to the sea. And there was only one real contender for the river he would have followed. It is a river known at the time by its Prussian name, the River Weichsel, though more commonly to the rest of the world as the Vistula, although its proper Polish name is the River Wisła. It is the longest river in Poland, flowing out of the Silesian Beskids, the mountains on the western end of the Carpathian mountains. It runs from the south of Poland, 651 miles across the country to the north coast where it flows out into the Baltic Sea near Gdansk

And in order to get to the river, I saw quite clearly on the map, he would have left his home in Wilhelmsdorf, walked the few miles to Nakel (nowadays Nakło nad Notecia), then followed the Bromberg Canal eastwards  to Bromberg (now known as Bydgoszcz) and thence on to the river to make the journey north to Danzig.

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