I first went to Boleslawiec 10 years ago. Before that I had never heard of the place despite the worldwide reputation of its pottery. The town and its potteries were given to Poland in 1945. Until then it had been the prosperous industrial town of Bunslau, the name that still appears on German road signs. How I came to know about Bunslau was thanks to a change of government in Poland. In 2001 my cousin called me to the Ministry of Culture. It was clear the government would fall and there was money still in the coffers waiting to be spent. The man in charge of music asked me if I could come up with a project for Boleslawiec: there was an unused theatre which needed to be used. He could give me 50.000 pln. I suggested an opera project for children. He signed. Thus, for two years I went there quite frequently and fell in love with the town, the countryside and the extraordinary historical legacy of that part of the world. Before my return last week I had had a hankering desire to return there.
The taxi took me to Wroclaw Glowny and left me at the temporary entrance. The magnificent 1850s structure is undergoing a long awaited and much deserved renovation thanks to EU funding. The huge glass canopies and the palatial neo-gothic main building were in the most appalling state. Although they must have sustained considerable damage during the war and especially during the Russian siege of the city, they gave the impression that nothing had been done to them since the Germans pulled out. The physical and moral squalor of the place nine years ago was such that I once saw a drunk copiously urinate in the main hall without anyone blinking an eyelid.
The train ride to Boleslawiec took longer than I remembered. The 50 miles or so took 90 minutes, painfully slow even though we stopped at every halt on the line. The train was uncomfortable and there were no lavatories. However, the ticket only cost 15pln which is almost a bus ride in London. From the windows it is clear that improvements have come to the villages. Many houses have been decorated even though a surprising number of fine buildings remain in ruins. The smallest of stations has been refurbished, though at some the refurbishment has been too much for the local vandals to stomach. Already platform benches have been wrecked and new fences broken. Agreed, none of the renovations look as if they will stand the test of time for long but the accelerated process is regrettable. What will happen the usual ravages of time have taken their toll?
The last flat and boring stretch of the journey to Boleslawiec, from the splendid town of Legnica, which the Russians did their best to ruin with post war blocks of flats and offices, seemed interminable. But slowly signs Boleslawiec came into view. As we drew into the station I was surprised to see how little had changed. The 19th century factory opposite remains in partial ruins though the excessively long platform has been renovated. So too has the station building, an average sized neo-classical building, repainted in a sensible uniform shade of beige. I was most anxious to see the ticket hall which I remembered was decorated with sea-green coloured tiles defaced by generations of graffiti. I could only imagine the original effect. For some reason in my mind I found it alluring, mysterious and unforgettable.