Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Bromberg/Bydgoszcz: The First Stop on the Road

It rained nearly the entire time I was in Bydgoszcz. The weather suited the mood of the nation – the Poles’ great hero, Pope John Paul 2, had died and his funeral was going to take place in a couple of days. Photos of him adorned almost every window and candles burned in the main square of the city.

Large crowds in the gathered in the
Old Market Square
to lay flowers, light more candles and to join in a communal sense of grief at their loss.

I had read a lot about Poland during the time of the partitions and during the German occupation when the country didn’t exist as such, so I knew that the Catholic Church had been very influential in keeping a Polish identity alive during those hard times. It was only natural, then that the Pope – the first international figure that the re-constituted Poland had produced – should be so important in the country’s consciousness.

Pope John Paul 2

The young future Pope after his first communion

While the nation mourned, I walked round the city trying to imagine it through the eyes of my young hero, Leo, in 1870 when it was known as Bromberg.

Bromberg inhabitants in 19th Century

I walked along the banks of the River Brda (the River Brahe in Leo’s time) and tried to picture Leo, the innocent from the country, dazzled and deafened by the sights and sounds of the city – the factories, the barges, the carriages, the wharfs and the timber mills. How noisy and overpowering it would have seemed to a young boy whose prior experience of crowds would have been the small market in Nakel.

The River Brahe

I walked up to the station and imagined the square in front of it crammed with soldiers waiting to take trains towards the border in readiness for the conflict with France which was beginning to seem inevitable during the first half of 1870. I saw the possibility of Leo making friends with one of the soldiers.

The station in Bromberg

I walked in the narrow streets in the oldest part of the town and I saw two young boys walking together, laughing and jostling each other. I suddenly realised that I wanted Leo to meet up with another boy. I saw how much it would add to the story if there was a kind of Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn quality to their relationship. So, I began to visualize a meeting with Tomasz in these streets.

The Old Market Square in Bromberg

Now I had another character to consider – what was he like? what was his back story? And why was he alone in the streets of Bromberg?

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