If you are visiting the beautiful Western Polish town of Wrocław, you can’t miss all the little brass gnomes. They are everywhere. We didn’t know much about them, but during our last visit, we had great fun with the kids spotting Wrocław’s famous little residents while we were walking around the city. By the way, for English speakers, the word Wroclaw is pronounced “Vrotswav”)
But how did these hundreds of little statues come to Wrocław?
There are three versions of the origin of the gnomes. Two are more fairy-tale and romantic, and the third takes place in recent history – in the 1980’s.
Version 1 – The Odra River Imp
The first tells the story of the “Odrzański Chochlik” (the Odra River Imp), who arrived one day by raft having chosen Wrocław as the target of his jokes. There was no end to his pranks. He untied the town folks’ laces, added salt to their meals and so on. Eventually, the townspeople were fed up with the trickster. However, there wasn’t much they could do – the imp was small, smart, quick and extremely hard to catch. After some time, someone came up with the idea of asking the local gnomes for help. In the beginning the gnomes also had a hard time. The trickster scared them and played pranks on them too. In the end, however, they managed to catch the imp and force him to leave the city. In gratitude, and just in case the prankster was to return, the inhabitants allowed their little friends to settle in Wrocław for good.
Version 2 – Gnomes were always in Wrocław
The second story says that the gnomes have lived in Wrocław since the beginning, and their history is passed down from generation to generation. The first gnome to appear in the settlement was the well-known Papa Dwarf. He, along with his fellows, helped the first Wroclaw residents in their daily activities. The gnomes repaired everyday objects, worked in the fields, patched holes in people’s clothes, and helped raise children. In return, they received safety and shelter. Since then, they are considered as the town’s protective spirits. In the legends, it is said that where the gnomes live, prosperity and order reign. The symbiosis of people and Wrocław gnomes coexist to this day, and the little statues scattered throughout the city are here to remind you of it.
Version 3 – The Orange Rebellion
The third theory relates to the events of the early 1980s. It started with dissatisfaction with the political system prevailing at that time. The inhabitants of Wrocław decided to manifest their views in a peaceful and interesting way. The anti-communist protest movement took the name of the Orange Alternative. Why orange? The color was supposed to be a response to the red associated with the communist regime. Happenings were organised and signified by participants wearing orange pointed hats. During one such event, in August 1982 (when there was martial law in Poland), two dwarfs were created on a transformer in the Sępolno and on one of the buildings in Biskupin. Their author was Waldemar “Major” Fydrych. Since then, the gnome in an orange cap has become a symbol of Wrocław protests and the fight against the communist regime.
The Gnomes Nowadays
The first statuette erected in Wrocław was Papa Krasnal (Father Dwarf). The work was created in 2001 at Świdnicka Street. The monument was funded by the Agora company to commemorate the Orange Alternative. The next gnomes were created in 2005. There were five of them: Odra, Washer, Fencer, Butcher, and also Syzyfki. They were designed and created by an artist Tomasz Moczek, known as the Father of Wrocław’s Gnomes. The statuettes of Wroclaw Gnomes have increased ever since then in their image.
Today’s population numbers more than 500 and counting. They are the living tourist symbol of the city as shopkeepers and businesses invite more and more of them to represent their trades on the sidewalks in front of their premises. There are no special official requirements to make a new gnome – it is enough to have the consent of the owner of the area where you want to place it and pay for the sculptor’s work, and then you can register the little fellow with the town’s Gnome database. The gnomes characteristics generally represent their locations perhaps sleeping off one drink too many outside a bar, using a tiny ATM outside the bank or sitting on a hill of coins next to a currency exchange.
Wroclaw’s Gnomes even have their own holiday. Known as the International Dwarf Festival. It is organized around September.
Following the trail of Wrocław’s Gnomes
Wrocław Gnome Hunting is a great excuse for a city walk for kids and adults alike. They are located in different places – sometimes you can meet them on the lanterns, window sills, on the ground if you look carefully so as not to miss them.
I recommend buying a map (available in Polish and English) at the Dwarf Info Point or in numerous shops around Market Square. There are several maps to choose from, and everyone will find something for themself. We almost bought “On the trail of Wrocław’s Dwarfs”, where you have a choice of 36 dwarfs – gathered around the Old Town. For each dwarf, the child can paste the sticker attached to the set, and stamp a stamp at several points. Why “almost”? Because our girls wanted to find the gnomes on their own without any help. There is even a mobile app helping you with gnome-spotting. (on google play Go-Wroclaw-Krasnale)
Google maps with different Wroclaw Gnomes