When I first came to Boleslawiec the Voidovod, Piotr Roman, put me up in the Piast Hotel. Close to the main square, the Piast was and remains a piece of Communist history: plumbing, brown paint, service and all. It was here that I watched Andrzej Lepper come into the dining room for breakfast, saw the waitress double take, saw Lepper`s look of shock as he realised that no one else in the room recognised him, saw him withdraw only to try again with the same result. The explanation was simple. All the other guests were GI wives who had come on an excursion from Germany to buy Boleslawiec pottery. Lepper went without breakfast that day. Anonymity was too much to bear.
After a few visits to Boleslawiec I discovered the Shanghai. Chinsy and full of English furniture bought at house clearances in southern England, it was a 19th century German villa transformed into an uncomfortable cross between a better class Chinese restaurant and a Home Counties executive home. The owner was an Anglo-Pole called Stefan. The more I got to know Stefan the more I had my doubts about his provenence but on first encounter I was thrilled to have found him. When I told Roman about my discovery, a look of disapproval crossed his face. It took a little while to discover the reasons for this.
Stefan said that his Polish father had been with the RAF. I forget who his mother was. He had spent a lot of his time in Brighton. Though not the marrying kind, he had married an older woman who lived in Sussex Square and had some money. At some point, they moved to Henfield and owned a substantial Georgian house in the High Street from where he ran a building business. I seem to remember Stefan telling me that when his wife died there was some problem with her family over money and jewellery. Whatever the case, he came to Poland with enough to buy a number of historic houses which he wanted to convert into hotels. One was the Palac at Grodiez, a splendid early 18th century mansion a few miles from Boleslawiec, where Hitler planned his invasion of Russia. All these houses were in terrible condition and I suspect that the Shanghai was the only house he had the funds to restore to any sort of condition. Whatever the décor, it was infinitely preferable to the Piast. So, on my next visit I stayed there.