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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
32 thoughts on “The gnomes of Wroclaw”
Love them! I would be so tempted to steal one to take home with me in my suitcase 🙂
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! 🙂
This is super weird and cute! Well done for writing a post on these gnomes! 🙂
I thought they deserved their own post. Glad you liked it, thanks! 🙂
Kinda freaky, I would hate to see one after leaving the bar late at night.
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!
Great story – I had no idea! Love it though. Very original.
Thanks. I always love it when you can find something a little bit weird and different about a city.
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:)
The horses sound amazing. Which city is that in? I’d love to get along and see them one day.
You should’ve take The Elton with you!
Ha ha. The Elton would be a great addition to Wroclaw. Perhaps we could sponsor a new statue in his honour 🙂
These little guys are so adorable! I’ll have to see them someday!
They add about 30 new ones every year so the longer you leave it, the more effort it will take to see them all! 🙂
Very interesting article, Michael.
Thanks, Sophie. By the way, I’ve enjoyed hanging out with Alexandra the past few days. We’ve had a great time!
Really interesting! Thanks for sharing the story behind the quirky gnomes!
My pleasure. I hope it inspires you to head to Wroclaw one day! 🙂
So cool! I’ve never heard anyone else mention these before, but it’s certainly a cool little fact about Wroclaw.
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!
It’s a great article. I like it very much. Let’s start the gnomes’ revolution:)
see you in Wroclaw
your Wroclaw guide
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! 🙂
I absolutely adore this example of how art can break through barriers, such as communism, and help people to overcome. The gnome/dwarves are cute too!
They are very cute. I’m sure that helped the cause!
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!
The gnomes are great, aren’t they? I wish I had seen more of them. If I ever go back, I’ll make it my mission to find every single one!! 🙂
Howdy would you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re using?
I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different browsers and I must say this
blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a reasonable price?
Thanks a lot, I appreciate it!
Do they sell copies of their little men? I’d love to buy a copy of some of their lovely dwarves.
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.
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
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 ?
We are constantly traveling and actually finding a location with gnomes is a bonus.
After reading your article, we must manage a trip to Wroclaw. Thanks for the inspiration.