Thursday, 13 May 2021

Poland: Across Masuria from Olsztyn to Goldap

Although Olsztyn (Allenstein) had survived WW II relatively undamaged, it was destroyed by the Soviet Army, the German population was displaced. Nowadays most of the old city has been beautifully restored and enjoyed my sightseeing trip through the Allenstein's brick Gothic churches. The city caters mostly for German tourists: When I came to close the cathedral's altar, the alarm system sounded in form of a prerecorded announcement: "Don't step into the altar area" in Polish and in German ...

Even hiking out of Olsztyn was a delight: The E11 follows the river Lina with plenty of scenic paths and rest areas. (Alas it was too cold to rest ...) In the tiny village of Barkweda I encountered a big poster of Napoleon. A quick internet research revealed that Napoleon fought a battle here against the Prussians and Russians to cross the river. Napoleon won. 

The next days were a historical delight. I walked through Dobre Miasto (Guttstadt) and Lidbark Warminski (Heilsberg), both former German towns. Most of the old houses have been destroyed, but both places still sport huge brick cathedrals which stick out of modern communist housing blocks in a bizarre way. Heilsberg had another surprise in form of an WW I (!) PoW cemetery. 

In the tiny village of Schmolainen the E11 made a strange long detour. I briefly thought of shortcutting it - and luckily I didn't! The trail took me to the former sommer residence of the bishop of Ermland. After 1945 the former castle was used as an agricultural school, but is now being restored to its former glory. It is set in the middle of a beautiful park that could be the film set for a fairy tale movie. Old trees, overgrown hedges, small path and thick walls that can only be crosses through theses wrought-iron gates. I could have wandered around much longer but several stray dogs decided to chase me out of their domain ...

Cloister of Stoczek monastery
87% of Polish people are Catholic nowadays. Therefore it does not come as a surprise that several pilgrimage sites are located along the route. I had never heard of Stoczek (Springborn) before and the huge monastery plus church looks a bit like a UFO in the middle of the namesake village with only 300 inhabitants. Wandering around the big complex I even came across a pilgrimage hostel with its doors wide open - but nobody there to check me in! Because I expected the hostel to be closed due to Corona I did not dare to check me in myself. After half an hour of knocking on every door but getting no answer I left the place and frustatredly decided to camp.
Something similar happened in Swietka Lipa (Heiligelinde), a baroque gem with a world famous organ. I came right on time for evening service and could recharge my phone. But due to Corona public toilets and the pilgrimage hostel were closed, due to night frost water fountains still turned off. Again I had to wander through endless corridors until I found a water tap. When I left with my refilled bottles a monk was just about to close the monastery gate - I slipped out in the very last minute.

I arrived in Ketzryn (Rastenburg) on a Sunday morning - ideal for recharging my phone again because now all the churches would be open. They were open indeed but masses were scheduled every hour and people were even standing outside to attend. No way I could sneak in and look for an electrical outlet. After trying my luck at several churches I arrived at the brick Gothic cathedral just between two services. While my electronic devices were recharging I discovered paintings of Luther and Melanchthon on the pulpit - in a Catholic church! An information board (in Polish and German) gave me the solution: The majority of the former German population had been Protestant, therefore this Catholic cathedral had been Protestant until 1945. 
Next was a very unholy place: Hitler's Wolf's Lair which has been turned into a sort of historical amusement park. I had already visited this place on my bike trip through Poland several years ago. Back then you could still play paintball in General Jodl's bunker ...

This time I just walked past but even outside the fenced in pay area there were plenty of bunkers to see. 
Next day took me to the dilapidated castle of Steinort, where one of the members of the July 20th, 1944 attempt had lived and been arrested. Despite its historical importance the place is about to collapse and the park is completely overgrown. In front of the estate a huge modern marine overlooks Mamry, one of the biggest Masurian lakes. I recharged my phone in the public restrooms which were totally empty due to still freezing temperatures. 

Despite the cold this section along endless crystal clear lakes was a delight. This lake district is pretty flat but close to Goldap I passed a ski centre with several lifts! The highest "mountain" rose up to 274 meters ...
I had rented a holiday apartment in Goldap where the landlady greeted me with a bottle of champagne, fruit and cake! And that is not all: Next day she arrived at noon with a Schnitzel for lunch - for free! I most have looked very hungry. Because it was still so cold I went to the visitor information centre were the friendly English speaking staff made a dozen phone calls to find accommodation for me for the next section. 

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