Poland wasn't somewhere I'd ever thought of going. At the time I worked for a museum and the trip was an exchange program between my museum and a sister one in Lodz. My gracious hosts took me all over the country in those two weeks. I saw castles, historical sailing ships and some of the most beautiful chapels in existence. I also saw the gnomes of Wroclaw.
Much of Poland's history is laced with sadness and oppression. The people of Wroclaw, however, found a way to lighten that burden through humor. The original gnomes were the work of the Orange Alternative Movement of the 1980s. Its members painted bright orange gnomes on buildings as a way of protesting the absurdity of the communist edicts they were forced to live under. The silliness of the paintings were a way to help the people of the city cope with their oppressors.
In 2003, the Wroclaw city council commissioned local artist Tomasz Moczek to create a memorial to the original gnomes. Moczek sculpted a series of gnomes which were then placed all over the city. They are quite popular and tourists are given a map of their locations so they can enjoy them as they stroll through the city. To me they are also a testament to the strength and endurance of the Polish people. In spite of all the tragedy they have endured as a country, they have the gnomes to put a smile on their faces.
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