Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Visitors, a Somber Site, a Spirited Gathering, a Trip, and Signs of Spring

Visitors, a Somber Site, a Spirited Gathering, a Trip, and Signs of Spring

Visitors from Charlotte

Good friends Dean and Leigh Williams from Charlotte, North Carolina, arrived recently to experience a bit of Poznan and Poland for themselves. As is often the case, even an ambitious schedule of activities permits only a cursory exploration of this great city and fascinating country. We began with a walking tour of Poznan under the guidance of friend and Poznan native Monika who provided detailed historical context for the many significant sites in the city. In fact, 5-6 hours of touring served only to whet our appetite to learn more.
Our guide, Monika, explains the architecture of Poznan's "Stary Rynek" (Old Market Square) to Dean and Leigh Williams, visiting from Charlotte, North Carolina. The model is actually intended for the blind so they can experience the beauty of the square around them through touch. Next to each building in the model is a Braille explanation of its significance.

We visited and paid our respects at one of Poznan's less frequented spots -- Fort VII. The fortification, built in the latter half of the 19th century, was one of a string of forts designed to defend the city from attack. Poznan was then part of Prussia. The site is far more prominent now because, tragically, from 1939-1944, Fort VII became a Nazi concentration camp. As a Gestapo prison, the fortress's name became "Security Police Prison and Correctional Labor Camp." Its informal name, though, was "a camp of bloody revenge." It became the largest Nazi camp for the extermination of Polish elites in the region. Prisoners/victims were largely the intelligentsia: professors and teachers; political and social leaders; veterans of several uprisings; anyone suspected of underground activitiy; and members of the clergy. The Nazis referred to this as "political cleansing." Jews were also interred here and were forced to dig up and burn bodies buried in mass graves around Poznan; this was to cover up Nazi crimes. As many as 40,000 prisoners were held here, and estimates are that 4,500 were murdered or died in prison. There is much more to say about this place of horror, but I will not dwell on it here. If you wish, you may learn more here: Fort VII Poznan.

The ominous description of Fort VII's notorious past.

Fort VII's network of bunkers and ramparts was originally used to support defensive gun emplacements.  
The entrance to a bunker, used by the Nazis to house prisoners.

A memorial in one of the prisoner cells notes the names of some of those murdered in Fort VII from 1939-1944. As many as 200 prisoners were housed in a single cell.
Sculptures memorialize the victims.

Against this wall, prisoners were shot to death. A few bullet holes are still visible at upper right, though a wooden wall was erected behind the condemned prisoners to prevent ricochets. 
Turning to more pleasant topics, we have put our visitors to work during their all-to-brief stay in Poznan. Dean provided a guest lecture to more than 50 students at the Poznan University of Economics. His topic was "Potential, Passion and Purpose - Finding a Fulfilling and Impactful Life." The overflow group of students learned from Dean techniques for finding a place in life that reflects the intersection of potential to excel, passion for vocation, and clear, transformative purpose. Dean also spoke to a gathering of university students from our church at our home one evening. The students represented a litany of countries: Belgium, the Bahamas, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Russia, Canada and the Netherlands. The students are united by their faith and meet regularly for discussion, study and recreation. We were honored to host this gathering.

Dean Williams about to speak to 50+ Polish students at the Poznan University of Economics.

Students were intently interested in Dean Williams' insights.

Dean employs a student volunteer to demonstrate the relationship between balance and focus.
A gathering in our Poznan apartment of university students from our church here. The nine people in the foreground represent nine countries. Robin and Leigh are in the background, left, preparing a buffet supper for the group.
Dean shared his advice and counsel with the students.
This upcoming Saturday, Leigh Williams will join my wife, Robin, in helping to lead a ladies' retreat planned and organized by our church here. The half-day retreat will be held in the cathedral in nearby Gniezno, Poland, the first capital of the country and the place where just over 1,000 years ago, Christianity was introduced to what was then a loose alliance of Polish tribes. 

Quick Trip to Malta

Robin and I recently took advantage of a few days' Easter break and inexpensive flights between Poznan and the Mediterranean island nation of Malta. The 3-hour flight took us to a country we had not previously visited. We were enthralled with the history of this important island, just 17 x 9 miles (27 x 14.5 km) and with a population under a half million. The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked here nearly 1,000 years ago (see Acts 28). Paul met with the Roman governor, and the Maltese credit that encounter with introducing Christianity to the island. Today, Malta is home to a vast collection of magnificent churches.

The view from our hotel balcony in Malta.

A twilight dinner on our first evening in Malta.
The famous Knights of Malta in the 16th century withstood a siege by the Ottoman Empire and continued to rule until defeated by Napoleon in 1798. The Knights, descendants of the Order of Saint John the Baptist, were "Hospitallers" and constructed a highly advanced hospital on Malta (Sacra Infermeria) around 1574 with a capacity of more than 600 beds. Exceptional for the time, the hospital accepted women, slaves and non-Catholics.

Beautiful but rugged coastline characterizes most of the island.
This 16th century hospital was ahead of its time in medical innovation. The former hospital now hosts receptions and is a popular tour destination.
A pleasant cafe in the Maltese capital of Valletta.

A narrow street in the Maltese capital.
During World War II, when Malta was part of the British Empire, the island's strategic importance led to destructive bombing by the Nazis, but its ports and airfields permitted the interdiction of German shipping to the North African theater of operations.

The weather was slightly cool and blustery, but the sun was warming and pleasant. It was a busy few days as there is much to see. It was a welcome break, but now I'm back to classes and other projects here in Poznan.

Signs of Spring

I will leave you with a few images of the promise of the season. A few warm days last week -- temperatures topped 70 degrees Fahrenheit one day (around 20 Celsius) -- introduced a welcome change following a long, dreary winter. The face of Poznan is changing dramatically with the turn in the weather. Temperatures have returned to more seasonable upper 50's (around 14 Celsius), but the citizens of Poznan are determined that winter is over. 

The outdoor cafes in the Stary Rynek appeared just in time to benefit from the unseasonably warm weather last week.
Picturesque skies and mild temperatures help showcase the beauty of Poznan.

A rare warm day in early spring brings out Poznanians to bask along the Warta River.
Valiant kayakers paddle against the flow of the Warta River that meanders through Poznan.

The automated bicycle rental stands are now fully stocked. It's my preferred means of transportation home from work.

That's enough for today. Thanks for your visit, and do widzenia.