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Some Curious Details about Poznan
Friday, 04 December 2009 02:00
Legends about the Origin of Poznan’s Name
The first legend – the one most often and eagerly recalled – has it that at  the Cybina river, the ancestors of the three former Slavic tribes that gave rise to three countries (Lech – Poland, Czech – Bohemia, and Rus – Russia), were due to meet one day. As they approached the river from different directions, they shouted out Poznaję! (I recognize!). In order to commemorate their meeting, they decided to establish a fortified town by the river and call it “Poznan”.
Another legend says that the people living in that town were the first to learn about Christianity, and so in Polish, ‘to learn’ is poznać. Most historians agree though, that the city’s name was most probably derived from the name of its founder, Posthumus – Późny – which means ‘the Latter’.

The First Clock with Poznan Goats
The clock hanging on the city hall’s tower is one of the most well-known symbols of Poznan. Every day, at high noon, two butting goats trudge out to chime the hour. The clock was made in the middle of the 16th century, and its creation is linked with a legend. At the time that  Bratłomiej the craftsman was supposed to have presented the clock he had been commissioned to make by the city’s councillors, their cook carelessly burnt a whole deer haunch. In order to make up for his mistake, the cook decided to steal two goats that were grazing in a nearby meadow and roast them on a spit. But the goats escaped from the kitchen to the city hall’s roof and started fighting. The governor was so amused by all of this, that he pardoned the cook and told Bartłomiej the craftsman to add a pair of clockwork goats to the clock. This clock lasted all the way through to the second half of the 17th century before being destroyed in a fire.

Poznan’s First Taxies
The first taxies appeared in Poznan in 1905. They were scarce at first, and until 1914 there weren’t even ten of them – they posed no threat to the 140 horse-driven cabs circulating around the city. The car industry didn’t really develop until the interwar years when, by 1937, there were as many as 155 taxis and only 35 horse-driven cabs. The last carriages disappeared from Poznan’s streets after 1945. In 1965, there were 848 taxis, including 712 private ones, circulating in the city. Today in Poznan there are almost 3 thousand passenger taxis and over a dozen luggage-vans, all of which belonging to private operators or firms.

The First Horse-driven Tram
In 1880 the first horse-driven tram hit the streets of Poznan for the first time. It operated a line from the central train station, through the city centre, to the Old Market Square, and the people’s huge interest in this mean of mass transport influenced the development of the tram lines in the city. In subsequent years, lines connecting the city centre with the suburbs were created, and the horse-driven trams were finally eliminated in 1898 when the first electric tram took to the city’s roads.

Bamber Roots
It is estimated that every fourth citizen of Poznan might have German roots. German settlers from Bamberg arrived in Poznan in the second half of the 18th century. The city and nearby cottages didn’t have enough people to work, and the new settlers inhabited several cottages. After the countryside was incorporated into the city, the newcomers, that already spoke Polish, moved from farming to trading and crafting. The presence of the Bambers gave some colour to the city; they celebrated their own customs, e.g. the cult of Saint Martin, they wore decorative folk costumes which graced the religious ceremonies in Poznan. Today, the descendants of the Bamberg settlers organise their own Bamber holiday.

The Oldest Polish Cinema
Poznan’s Muza cinema is the oldest working cinema in Poland. This cinema, located on ul. Św. Marcin near St. Martin’s church, was built in 1908. Over the next 100 years, the cinema changed its name several times. At first it was called the ‘Theatre Apollo”. In 1910 the name was changed to ‘Coliseum ’, in 1934 to ‘Europa’, in 1935 to ‘Świt’, and then in 1940 to ‘Zentral Lichtspiele’, and in 1945, the ‘Wolność’. The cinema has been known by its present name since the 1950s. Today the cinema has 204 seats located in an air-conditioned room with a Dolby Stereo Surround system.

Venetians in Poznan
Venetian settlers, especially merchants and craftsmen, arrived in Poznan in the 17th century. They inhabited the small village of Chwaliszewo, located between Poznan’s Old Town and the island on which the cathedral was built. Until today, ul. Wenecjańska (Venetian street), where the new settlers established their wax figure workshops, reminds us of this fact. What is interesting is that, apart from the Venetians, a group of Armenians and Greeks from Lwów also lived there. The little village of Chwaliszewo gained its town privileges in the middle of the 15th century. It functioned independently from Poznan until the beginning of the 19th century. Until then, as many as 1,500 people were living there.

The Golem’s Creator in Poznan
In the middle of the 16th century, Poznan’s resident rabbi was Jehuda Löw ben Becalel, born between 1512 and 1520, probably in Poznan or Worms. He was a rabbi not only in Poznan, but also in Prague in 1573, where he later died in 1609. He became famous as one of the “deepest wells of erudition of his times”, deeply concerned with maths, physics and astronomy. But he is even more famous as being the creator of a terrible monster – the Golem. Legend has it that Rudolf II (emperor of the Habsburg dynasty from 1576 and patron of scholars and charlatans, who after moving the capital to Prague made that city a centre of hermetic art in Europe), commissioned Becalel to mould a human-like figure from clay to whom he gave life. The creature was supposed to help its creator, but it went out of control and returned to Prague, which it visited regularly every 33 years.

Poznan was also home to a famous traveller, Gaspar da Gamma, who made himself known by meeting Vasco da Gamma in India and joining him in his attempts to find a way to India under a new name (it is unknown what name he was using before being baptized). Vasco da Gamma even became his godfather. Gaspar da Gamma knew the waters of the Indian Ocean very well, was a great navigator and, thanks to his almost 30-year long journeys in the East, he was able to help the Portuguese enter the far eastern trade markets. For this service he was paid by the king of Portugal, Manuel I the Fortunate, with the title of  Lower Knight.

The Enigma Code
The famous Enigma code, used by the German army during World War II, was broken by graduates from the University of Poznan. Marian Rejewski was the boss of the team of mathematicians working on it, and it was he who in 1932 finally broke the Enigma code. Apart from him, the team consisted of Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. Just before the outbreak of the war, the machine was shown to representatives of the French and British armies and thanks to that, the Allies had access to the enemy’s most secret information throughout their campaigns. The monument standing behind the former emperor’s castle, in the very centre of the city, commemorates the three mathematicians from Poznan.