Culture, food, sport, nightlife - Ed Leahy visits a city with something for everyone.
Poznan, like most central European cities, has a very interesting past. And there was a time when the inhabitants would have told you that story through song.
Speaking in local tongues was banned in Prussian-ruled Poznan and only German was permitted throughout the streets of this western Poland town.
The townsfolk imaginatively flouted the ban by conversing in verse. And as a result, Poznan has developed a prestigious choral reputation, with song remaining an integral part of the city's culture and heritage.
The city of Poznan dates back to the 10th century and actually pre-dates Poland, as it was here that the first Polish founders met. Its cathedral later became the resting place for Mieszko, the first ruler of the state.
Poznan's central European location on the merchant route resulted in the city becoming a major trade centre during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. Occupied by Swedes in the 17th century - and subsequently by Russians and Saxons - plague and floods eventually destroyed huge areas of the town and depleted the population.
Napoleon enjoyed a brief stay in the city before Prussia turned Poznan into a military stronghold throughout the 19th century. Two world wars and communist rule had a huge impact on the region until Poznan finally enjoyed freedom thanks to the Solidarnosc movement in 1989. This was over 30 years after 120,000 people attended protests in Poznan for "bread, truth and freedom", during which 76 people were killed by army tanks.
Rambling the city streets, the scars of that traumatic past remain, with monuments to the fallen workers sitting uneasily alongside some ugly communist-era tower blocks. Other parts of the town centre have thankfully retained their charm from the prosperity of the Middle Ages.
Poznan is home to Europe's youngest castle, which was built between 1905 and 1910 for the emperor Wilhelm II. Not quite the fairytale castle on the hill, this neo-Roman mansion was the last of its type to be built in Europe and then underwent another facelift during the Second World War by Hitler's architect, Albert Speer.
It is not known whether Hitler ever made it to Poznan to admire the work of his trusted designer, but it was believed that the Führer had planned to rule Eastern Europe from this Polish base, due to its proximity to the German border.
The castle is now home to cultural and art exhibitions and the tour includes a pleasant walk through its courtyards and pretty gardens.
Aesthetic Poznan is to be found in and around the Old Town's Market Square, which is surrounded by colourful and contrasting buildings dating back to the heady days of a thriving commercial Poznan.
Poznan is also a busy university town and the youthful population add to the city's character, offering a very European and cosmopolitan atmosphere throughout.
And the market area of the city is a hive of activity during the day with its museums, art galleries and shopping, while the city's nightlife also revolves around the square and its side streets.
Poznan is also blessed with the spectacular Lake Malta, just a short stroll from the Market Square. The lake offers an oasis within the city, especially throughout the summer months, and is flanked by many pubs, cafés and restaurants. Thermal baths, year-round dry ski slopes and other activities are all located in the vicinity of the lake.
Another city escape is the sprawling Citadel Park, located north of the town, where you can visit more museums and appreciate the many war memorials.
Back in the city centre, the Stary (Old) Brewery shopping centre is an architectural treat located on the site of the former Hugger's Brewery. The massive project regenerated a dilapidated part of Poznan and a couple of hours will be well-spent enjoying quality shopping and excellent interior and exterior views of the wonderful redbrick building.
St Martin is one of the main saints of Poznan and is celebrated every November with a parade on St Martin's Street. St Martin pastries are to be found in every cake shop and bakery around town and what better way to explore this interesting city than nibbling on this very substantial Poznan delicacy.
Eating Out – Nightlife
One of Poznan's main attractions is its nightlife. This vibrant city offers endless options for eating and drinking, while value for money is guaranteed, with top end restaurants costing no more than €30 per person. The price of a pint is a very modest €2.
Poznan is considered Poland's 'potato land', which will please any Irish tourist - most restaurants carry a range of specialty themed dishes to complement the other city favourites like duck and pork.
The old world atmosphere in the Gospoda Pod Koziolkami (At the Goat's Inn) restaurant offers one of the best dining options in the city, where you can taste a range of local pierogi (dumplings), while the gratin potato and bacon concoction is a meal in itself.
A great night out is to be had at the Brovaria bar and restaurant, located on the Market Square. The food and atmosphere are both enhanced by the in-house brewery that offers the most amazing honey and wheat beers, brewed only metres from where you are sitting.
Toga restaurant will give you an interesting insight into traditional Poznan gastronomy with all sorts of goose, venison, horse tartar, goats' cheese and pork options. A homemade traditional meat pie can be ordered for large groups, which is both a tasty and visual treat.
Fine dining options are also available in the city, which is gaining a strong culinary reputation. Vine Bridge restaurant is the city's smallest but offers excellent experimental cooking where the chef will cook to your own requirements and tastes. Located on the edge of the old town, the restaurant offers al fresco options, with tables arranged on the adjacent bridge beside the modern art museum. My favourite was the venison marinated in beer with pear, which was served with a refreshing glass of cola-flavoured beer from the nearby Fortuna micro brewery.
For a novel dining experience, check out the Dark Restaurant, where dinner is served in pitch black with the menu based on food that you want to experiment with. The waiters negotiate the tables with the aid of night vision goggles.
Poznan is a beer town. The Lech brewery offers beer walking tours and the city's many pubs combine to create an excellent nightlife. The Dubliner Bar is the town's best Irish bar and serves a very decent pint of Guinness, while communist style vodka bars are back en vogue, where you can enjoy a shot of flavoured vodka for just €1.
The best bar in Poznan is just off the beaten tourist trail and goes by the name The Dragon. The pub is spread across several floors with secret doors and outdoor terraces and doesn't appear to close - or object to loud off-key singing. The nightclub located in the Old Brewery is where the beautiful people of Poznan hang out at the weekend and will also see you into the early hours.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the very stylish, four-star Andersia Hotel, located on the edge of the old town. The slick, modern hotel sits opposite the Old Brewery and boasts a truly relaxing swimming pool and spa, while the bedrooms are very contemporary and offer great panoramic views of the city. The hotel bar, however, was the only place in the city where drink matched, and sometimes exceeded, Irish prices. www.andersiahotel.pl
Getting to Poznan
Ryanair flies direct to Poznan from Dublin, while a train journey from Berlin to Poznan takes less than three hours.
Poznan Euro 2012 Host City
Ireland are playing two matches in Poznan this summer as Giovanni Trapattoni's side will face Croatia and Italy. The stadium is home to Lech Poznan football club whose fans are renowned throughout Europe for creating the best atmosphere within the stadium doing 'The Poznan'. If you are travelling through Poznan during the regular domestic season, I would strongly recommend paying a visit to experience this unique Polish theatre firsthand.
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