Day 2 in Dobrzyn

March 9, 2023 • 8:15 am

I arrived in Dobrzyn Wednesday evening, had a lovely supper of chicken with coconut milk (not photographed), and went to bed early. The photos here show daily life, including a walk to the village from Andrzej and Malgorzata’s house, about 20 minutes away:

Here’s where I’m staying: Dobrzyń nad Wisłą (Dobrzyn on the Vistula River), a small town (population 2,025) with a long history and a long Wikipedia article for a village. It’s about two hours west of Warsaw by train:

Early history:

The settlement of Dobrzyń dates back to the Middle Ages. A stronghold existed at the site since 9th century, and later also a castle was erected. It became part of the emerging Polish state in the 10th century. The oldest known mention of Dobrzyń (as Dobrin) comes from 1065.

In the 11th century there was a castellan stronghold here. From 1228, Konrad I of Masovia allowed the military knights called the Dobrzyń brothers. The crusading Order of Dobrzyń was granted Dobrzyń as a base in 1228, although the knights were later incorporated into the Teutonic Order.

There is still a pile of rubble remaining from the Teutonic castle.

Jumping to modern history:

The town flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries thanks to grain trade with the major Polish city of Gdańsk. Polish Kings granted the town various privileges in 1580 and 1587. Dobrzyń suffered during the Swedish Deluge, when it was looted and burned.

A Jewish community was established in the town in about 1765, and Jews at one time made up one-third of the total population, but most left for Britain and the United States in the years around 1900, with none remaining today.

This is not true. There is exactly one “out” Jew in the town: Malgorzata.  There also may be closeted Jews, or those of Jewish ancestry, who do not mention it.

In 1793, Dobrzyń was annexed by Prussia in the Second Partition of Poland. In 1807, it was incorporated into the short-lived Polish Duchy of Warsaw, and in 1815 it became part of Congress Poland, later forcibly integrated into the Russian Empire. In 1864, the town faced repressions from the Russian authorities after the unsuccessful Polish January Uprising. The Franciscan monastery was closed and the Franciscans were deported. During World War I, from 1915 to 1918, the town was occupied by Germany. In 1918 Poland regained independence, and the town became automatically part of the reborn state.

During the Polish–Soviet War, in July 1920, a Jewish pro-Polish committee of the Council for State Protection (Rada Ochrony Państwa) was established, whose members were local wealthy Jews and rabbis, and also a Polish recruitment office was established. The town was captured by the Soviets on 14 August 1920, and occupied for several days.

During World War II, from 1939 to 1945, the town was under German occupation, and the Germans changed its name to Dobrin an der Weichsel. Poles and Jews were subjected to arrests, expulsions and murder. As part of the Intelligenzaktion, the Germans arrested and murdered Polish teachers, also in the Mauthausen concentration camp. Jews were expelled.

While it says that Jews were “expelled”, that’s incorrect. Every Jew in Dobrzyn was taken away by the Germans (their houses were given to other people), and most were slaughtered.

Click the pictures below to enlarge them.

Here’s where I’m staying: Andrzej and Malgozata have named their house Smultronstället, the original Swedish title of Bergman’s film “Wild Strawberries” (they lived in Sweden for several years before moving to London and then returning to Poland) My room has the left window on the first floor. The lodgers, Paulina and Mariusz, live on the second floor. The extensive cherry orchard runs down to the Vistula river on the right:

This is “second breakfast” (drugie śniadanie), which occurs around noon. It’s really lunch but there’s another meal occasion before dinner (coffee and a snack), then dinner at 5 or 6 p.m.. Then, later in the evening, there’s another snack. Polish people eat like hobbits: regularly and often.

Here are Andrzej and Malgorzata with second breakfast, featuring cheese, smoked ham, bread, butter, thin sausages (kabanos), and Swedish crackers (a concession to the couple’s time in Sweden):

Of course the cats are around, but sometimes hard to find as they creep behind the curtains, into the bed covers, or can be outside.

Here’s Szaron looking outside from his warm blanket on the window (there’s a heater just below). He was a feral cat who took weeks to be tamed, with Malgorzata finally luring him inside by making a trail of cat treats to the kitchen. Since then he’s been domesticated, and now is about the friendliest cat you could meet, often sleeping with me and rubbing his head on all parts of my body.

He is a dark gray tabby with a white undercoat and, curiously, white skin.

And of course the lovely Hili, now a dowager of ten. She’s chunky but very affectionate.

Hili making a blep:

This town is, like all Polish towns, deeply Catholic. As you turn off the main road to get to Smultronstället, there’s a festively decorated statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost or stolen things. You pray to him to get your stuff back:

The main square of the town; you can see how small it is. It used to be surrounded by small shops, but most have gone out of business, with most of the food shops replaced by the grocery store at left:

The square used to be surrounded by Jewish houses, as Jews were the local merchants. This is one of the few such houses remaining in town; it’s probably at least 100 years old.

In front of the local clinic (there’s no hospital), there’s a big heart where people put their plastic bottle caps. These are made into fabric that, in turn, is turned into vests. The money from selling the vests goes to buy wheelchairs for children.

This duplicitous sign lures Anglophones inside with the desire for pie, only to discover that “pies” means “dog” in Polish. There are many front yards containing dogs that bark loudly when you walk by.

This is the sign on the gate to the driveway of our house. It says “Danger! Dog.” But there is no dog here now, for poor Cyrus died since my last visit.

Beers in the local store. Note the Zubr in the second photo. There’s a huge variety of beers for such a small shop:

Dinner last night: a delicious layered casserole of potatoes, cheese, and ground beef, accompanied by a salad and a tall glass of Zubr (“bison”), my favorite local beer.

Hili photographed looking out at the cold landscape from the warm inside.

Hili snoozing in the warm blankets:

Szaron on the opposite side of the windowsill, looking out:

Szaron peeking around the bedroom curtains:

It’s a quiet life in Dobrzyn, and I am glad of the chance to relax!

25 thoughts on “Day 2 in Dobrzyn

  1. It all looks lovely, a real escape from the rat race. That casserole looks delicious. Any more details on how it’s made, like how the potatoes are included, or is the meat pre-cooked.

      1. I believe this is called beef Parmentier. I used to make it long ago, using the old great Gourmet cookbook that taught me how to cook. Did you look at the alcohol content in those beers? I’ve had Polish beer that was 9%, out in Riverhead NY where there is a large Polish community and a good Polish deli with six or more kinds of kielbasa.

  2. I thought that you were not a Tolkien fan? 😉 I am all in favour of second breakfast. We called it elevenses when we were children.

    You ought to see the bison in the wild! They are magnificent beasties…

  3. In the US, a town’s often considered “old” if it was established before 1850. Looks like a charming place for Hili, Szaron, and staff.

  4. Very interesting. Thank you for outlining the history of the town and for giving us a glimpse of the present.

  5. Thank you so much for including the history of the town and all the photos (naturally, of course, the cat photos and that of Andrzej and Malgorzata). I’m always intrigued by other cultures–the food people eat, the furnishings in their houses, and the appearance of their towns. Please do show more photos, maybe of the cherry orchard and the walk to the Vistula. I remember the photos of Andrzej on his walks to the river with Hili and Cyrus.

    1. Thank you Ruthann. Yes, Jerry, please “the cherry orchard and walk to the river”. I too remember “photos of Andrzej on his walk to the river with Hili and Cyrus” and would love to have some orientation as to how that walk looks. Is there a tall bank and narrow river or a broad valley and wide river. I had noticed what appeared to be river rock or gravel in some of the photos. Thanks for the history and photos of the town environs and the full on picture of the house.

  6. Thanks for the update – it’s great to see and learn more about where Hili, Szaron, Kulka, and their staff live. That shop certainly has an impressive selection of beers for such a small number place.

    1. I love this post and the history of Poland.
      Seeing the cats is wonderful and I’m so glad to hear a feral cat came around to a wonderful home.
      I’m wondering if Kulka is friendly or keeps her distance.
      The sign with the dog’s head and the word pie looks like he wants one and they could be selling pies.

    2. Kulka isn’t as visible as the other cats but I had a photo of her on yesterday’s post. She also mostly belongs to the upstairs lodgers and goes up there because Hili hates her and hisses at her.

  7. Pies = dog is a classic example of a false cognate (called “faux amis” or false friends in French), a word that looks like an English word, but is not.

    1. Yes, I taught English to a Spanish speaker who had learned the hard way that saying that you are going to “molest” someone has a different meaning in English.

  8. Thanks for the Day 2 post. What fun! Szaron is a striking cat. Well, they all are, but I loved the photo of him peeking out from behind the curtain.

    I looked up Zubr beer- strong stuff at 6% and introduced in 1768. Impressive. It gets 4 out of 5 stars on the Beer Advocate. Now I want to try. 🙂

    I learned that you’re 9 hours ahead. I guessed 10+. For whatever reason, I didn’t know Poland uses CET.

      1. Wow, that’s cheaper than Budweiser! My favorite beer is Pilsner Urquell and when it goes on sale, a single 11oz. bottle is $1.80, before tax. So more than double the Zubr! Send some home. 🙂

  9. I had a look around your town there and the nearest city you mentioned yesterday on google.maps. Nice little spots. There’s an ethnographic museum nearby I’d visit. And being Poland, the inevitable churches.
    I’m enjoying your trip, djenkuje.

  10. Thanks for the lovely stories and the family photos, Jerry. It’s so sweet to see Hili and Szaron cuddled up on the bed (in your other post). Too bad Hili has decided there can be only one dominatrix in Dobrzyn.

  11. Very nice to see a bit more of the estate, and the town. I would really like to try those beers! Just about every one.

    Fascinating to see a US craft beer on the shelf in a small store, in a small town, in Europe. The world has become quite small.

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