Pole position

by Andrew Whittaker
May 23rd, 2012

The latest book in the Speak the Culture series has been published. Speak the Culture: Poland‘s release is timely, coming only days before Poland plays host to its first major international football tournament, the Euro 2012 Championships.

The Euros will throw the spotlight on Poland and its co-host, Ukraine, for a month. The major cities will find themselves occupied by foreign fans; their central squares suddenly bathed in red (Spain, holders, begin in Gdańsk) or green (Ireland start in Poznań). England, mystifyingly, are camped in Kraków even though their group games are over the border in Ukraine.

Each and every visiting fan will be touched by Polish culture in some way. Some will eat pierogi (ravioli-like dumplings); others might step inside the 11th century crypt of Kraków’s Wawel Castle in search of shade; almost all, surely, will down a shot of Żubrówka vodka (famously flavoured with bison grass).

Hopefully, visitors and TV spectators alike will take the time to explore Polish culture in more depth. Poland’s art, literature, music and so on are woven intimately around the nation’s history. From the late 18th century through to the end of the 20th, Poland (at one time the strongest power in central Europe) was partitioned and occupied almost continually. Its authors, painters and playwrights kept the ‘nation’ alive through their work, bequeathing a rich legacy of culture that runs, linked, all the way from Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz to the punk bands that helped undermine Soviet rule in the 1980s.

Five Polish facts to get the half-time banter moving

  • Poland had its equivalent to Bob Dylan: singer/songwriter Czesław Niemen was the first artist in the Eastern Bloc to really question the ruling Soviet authorities. He remains an iconic figure in Poland.
  • In Russia they had Tolstoy; in Britain, it was Dickens. The Polish author who did most to shape the nation’s 19th century outlook was Henryk Sienkiewicz, best remembered for Potop (1886) (The Deluge), recalling the Swedish occupation of Poland in the 17th century.
  • In 1939 Warsaw had a population of 1.3 million. By 1945, at the war’s end, 422,000 remained in the city.
  • With his father in Mauthausen Concentration Camp and his mother in Auschwitz, as a young boy Roman Polanski (now an Oscar-winning filmmaker) lived wild in the Polish countryside.
  • Poland harbours the biggest statue of Christ in the world. At 167ft high, Pomnik Chrystusa Króla (Christ the King) in Świebodzin, western Poland, erected in 2010, is 42ft taller than Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.

Buy Speak the Culture: Poland here

Comments (1)

Roy Hodgson should have a copy of this! He is, after all, a cultured man, by all accounts. And, if an England player misses a penalty, he can throw the book at them!

Posted by Neil Thomas • 23 May 2012, 14:22

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