The gnomes of Wroclaw

Walking the streets of Wroclaw, you notice another gnome, then another. By the seventh one you’re almost expecting to see Snow White pop her head out.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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The gnomes in Wroclaw, Poland

It starts with just one of them. One little guy, all bronzed and steady, looking up at you from a pavement in Wroclaw.

He’s a blend between a gnome and a dwarf – for the sake of this conversation, let’s call him a gnome.

This guy isn’t your usual garden variety, though. He’s a symbol of a dark period of history in Poland and a peaceful campaign that helped bring it to an end.

The gnomes of Wroclaw, Poland
The gnomes of Wroclaw, Poland

Walking the streets of Wroclaw, you notice another gnome, then another.

By the seventh one you’re almost expecting to see Snow White pop her head out from a tavern. But the little guys just keep on coming.

There’s a gnome asleep on a bed, one locked up in jail, another reading a book and a couple on their way to fight a fire. They’ve each got their own identity, their own character and their own reason for being.

The gnomes of Wroclaw, Poland

This is no accident. Each of the gnomes has been sponsored by a business and has usually been placed in front of their office.

The company would have commissioned a local artist to sculpt them a character (and normally paid about 1200 euros). In most cases, his identity is related to the business… the gnome using a tiny cash machine outside a bank, for instance.

The gnomes of Wroclaw, Poland
The gnomes of Wroclaw, Poland

Where did the Wroclaw gnomes come from?

New gnomes arrive every year, gradually populating more and more streets in Wroclaw. But it all started with one.

It was put there to represent a protest movement in the 1980s that used humour and satire to oppose the communist regime at the time.

Called Orange Alternative, the group dressed up as gnomes or painted pictures of them over government propaganda.

It was peaceful, it was nonsensical, and it was extremely effective.

The leader of the movement, Waldemar Fydrych, is quoted as saying: “Can you treat a police officer seriously, when he is asking you the question – Why did you participate in an illegal meeting of dwarfs?”

The gnomes of Wroclaw, Poland

Today, the gnomes add a layer of fun to the city and spawn scavenger hunts for children and tourists keen to find them all. It’s important not to forget the reason they’re there, though.

Sometimes when the system oppressing you seems absurd, that’s the very weapon that is going to be the most effective. Fight fire with satire.

Time Travel Turtle travelled to Poland as a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

35 thoughts on “The gnomes of Wroclaw”

    • Don’t think I didn’t try! Sadly they’re stuck down pretty hard to the ground. I don’t know how you would’ve explained it at customs if you had managed to actually get one in your suitcase! 🙂

      Reply
    • Ha ha. Yeah, I can just imagine falling over in the street after a few drinks, looking up and having a gnome right in your face. That would wake you up quick smart!

      Reply
  1. Reminds me of a similar thing we have in my hometown. We are known as the “Horse capital of the world,” so we have all of these brilliantly painted horses around town. Nice to see the rest of the world has quirky things like us:)

    Reply
    • I guess it’s fairly easy to overlook but all you need to do is glance down to the pavement to see one of these guys and the natural inclination is to want to find out why they’re there!

      Reply
    • Ha ha. Thanks for introducing us all to the gnomes, Michal. I’ve still got a bit more to write about Wroclaw – so you’re not off the hook yet! 🙂

      Reply
  2. My husband & I just returned from Wroclaw to visit family some if which I haven’t seen in 37 years. What a great visit & the dwarfs were a special treat as we walked around the city to spot them & take pictures! I have an album dedicated to the gnomes. Will be returning next year!

    Reply
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    Reply
    • Oh yes, I’m sure you would be able to find some of these gnomes in the souvenir stores. A lot of the ones in this post were made specifically for the locations, but there are ome more general ones that you’ll be able to find around.

      Reply
  4. Some nice photos here and a quirky appeal. Despite spending so long in Poland, I have yet to backpack this one, will bear it in mind before the year is out. Safe travels. Jonny

    Reply
  5. Great fun … saw about 120 of the little fellows , but can’t identify some…
    1.a miner ?
    2. a girl eating ice cream with 2 little birds nearby?
    3. a man sitting on a window sill holding a walking stick?
    4. a lady looking through a magnifying glass at 3 little gnomes, one of them carrying a sack of gold(?) and the other 2 carrying a ladder ?
    5. a dwarf wearing a crown ..he was outside the Corona hotel
    6. priest dwarf outside a greek orthodox church
    7. town crier ?

    Reply

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