The moment finally arrives for the clock to strike twelve — p.m., that is. But rather than coming to an end, the fairytale is just beginning.
I am standing in the charming cobble stone square that lies at the heart of Poznan, Poland, in the quaint Stary Rynek (Old Market Square) about to witness the age-old spectacle that occurs in the clock tower of the Renaissance Town Hall, remembering and reliving the excitement I felt coming here as a little girl. At precisely noon each day, a pair of mechanical tin goats (Koziolki) make their way out from behind a wooden door above the clock’s face and engage in a ritualistic head-butting battle; their rhythmic blows sync to the chiming of the hour before they retreat and await the next rematch.
While the Koziolki date back to 1551, Poznan’s historical roots — not to mention its importance to Poland’s past — reach much further. Located along the Warta River in the western-central region of the country, Poznan is cozily situated on the route from Berlin to Warsaw and is Poland’s fifth largest city, home to almost 600,000 inhabitants. It is also the capital of the Wielkopolska (Great-Poland) region, a province that has played a pivotal role in Poland’s political and cultural development. But the fact most likely to be appreciated by history buffs is that, in 1025, Poland’s first king — Boleslaw the Brave — was crowned in Poznan, creating the original kingdom of Poland.
Stary Rynek is a good starting point for exploring what Poznan has to offer. Framed by enchanting, colorful architecture, this central location boasts a wide variety of restaurants, cafes and pubs that are sure to satisfy the grumbling stomachs of those who have just watched the famous goats perform. Whether you’re looking for a traditional plate of Polish pierogi dumplings coupled with a cold pint of Zywiec (a traditional Polish beer) or simply a cappuccino, you won’t be let down.
The bustling square is also a prime location for people watching and, as Poznan is a university town, the population is generally young and vibrant.
Those with an interest in music will be pleasantly surprised to find small artisan booths set up and live music. Stary Rynek also houses the Museum of Musical Instruments, where visitors can see a striking collection of old and rare instrumentals from all over the world.
If museum-hopping is more your thing, Poznan offers many options, such as the National Museum, the Museum of Ethnography, the Museum of Arms and multiple art and literature museums.
A short walk from the square, through cobblestone alleys, can take you to the site of Poland’s very origins: the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul on the bank of the Warta River. Built in the second half of the 10th century, it is Poland’s oldest cathedral. It was here that Boleslaw was crowned king, and also where his father, Mieszko I, was baptized in 966 A.D. Both historical figures are buried in Poznan.
If by now you’re ready to take a brief hiatus from sight seeing, Lake Malta is the ideal destination. Also only a few miles from Stary Rynek, this manmade lake and surrounding grounds are alive with visitors boating and sunbathing in the summertime and skiing and ice-skating on an artificial slope and ice-rink in the winter. The location also hosts musical and cultural events, and Poznan’s zoo is located close by.
If you’re looking to do some shopping, check out the Stary Browar (Old Brewery), and receive some unique art and architecture free of charge. The brewery was converted into an award-winning shopping mall, where you can find boutiques, shops, cafes and contemporary art exhibitions in place of developing ales and fermenting yeasts. It is also home to the nightclub SQ, a hotspot for Polish nightlife and an electronic music scene that regularly hosts international disc jockeys.
In general, there is much to see and do in this rich city tucked away in the heart of Poland. It is Wielkopolska’s charming secret, though not for long. Tourism to the city has been on the rise and, this past December, Poznan hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which attracted scientists and activists from across the globe.
So, while it may not be first on the list of typical travel itineraries, Poznan is easily accessible by train for those heading east from Berlin, who wish to wander Poznan’s fairytale streets.
Poland National Tourist Office