Stepping out in Śródka: where past and present collide

One of National Geographic's "seven wonders of the world:” the Śródka mural covers 350 square metres. TFN

Wearing clogs and a cloth cap, the local butcher strikes an all too familiar pose: displaying the full, epic glory of his extravagant whiskers and sagging gut, he leans against his storefront looking content with the world. In his position, who wouldn’t, for living upstairs is a buxom blond damsel; flinging her apartment windows open – perhaps to berate the top-hatted trumpeter tooting from the rooftop – her generous, curvy features appear amplified by the crisp September sunshine. Oblivious to the commotion down below, a black cat sneaks with stealth across the tenement’s red tiles.

Even in a nation filled with stunning, large format wall murals, there’s something utterly captivating about this one in Poznań. Titled “A Śródka Tale with a Trumpeter on the Roof and a Cat in the Background,” it’s an enchanting work depicting a fairy tale streetscape in 3D form.

Covering 350 sq/m, and completed in 2015, it’s become a much-loved element of this corner of Poznań, a cultural anchor once touted as one of the “seven wonders of Poland” by National Geographic. Inspired by a 1920s image of the area, and regarded as one of the city’s most photographed objects, it’s done much to place Śródka on the map – after all, nothing cries out cool like some XXL wall art.

And have no doubt, cool is exactly what Śródka has become. Simmering with life, it’s a micro-district now mined with quirky hangouts and alternative cafes: the design-forward Dom Na Śródce is a case in point with a holistic vibe that feels effortlessly hip. So too Hum Hum, a Lebanese eatery popular with bearded creatives and yoga mums, while even the local pierogi joint, Na Winklu, has acquired a cult reputation among young aficionados – finding seats is now a cutthroat affair.

 Dom Na Śródce: it has a holistic vibe that feels effortlessly hip.TFN

But to really feel the spirit of the area, one must head first to La Ruina and Raj, neighbouring venues with interiors cluttered to overflowing with trinkets and treasures from the owners’ world travels. Looking raw and ramshackle, there’s something about both that immediately engages – and if you’re in luck, find cerebral arthouse films playing inside a 22-seater cinema set out back where once the bread oven stood.

Despite the buzz, Śródka’s ascent has been relatively recent. Thought to have been founded in the 13th century, and so named after a weekly market that occurred each Wednesday (Środa: Wednesday), it functioned as a small independent town up until 1800 when it was absorbed into Poznań. Heavily damaged during WWII, it faced further devastation at the hands of Communist town planners: their decision to build a highway running down the area’s southern flank saw numerous buildings pancaked in favour of a multi-lane road. Physically cut off from the rest of the city, Śródka was left to fester as a rotting reminder of the distant past.

The evening sun casts long shadows on the bridge to Poznań’s Cathedral Island.TFN

But with the new millennium came new seeds of hope. Opened in 2006, and constructed from 450 tons of scrap metal, the arcing Biskupa Jordana bridge did more than just link Śródka to the Cathedral Island set to its left. Instantly installed as one of the city’s more romantic walks, it sucked strollers straight into an area that had been all but forgotten. To this day, the number of lovelocks clamped to the railings are a tribute to its lingering popularity among soppy, young couples.

Yet if that marked Stage I of Śródka’s renaissance, then Stage II arrived with the 2014 launch of Porta Posnania. Set within a magnificent white cube, this “interactive heritage centre” (“This is NOT a museum,” shouts the PR bumf), regales the story of the Cathedral Island through the use of multimedia displays, audio guides and interactive exhibits. If the subject matter feels weighty, then the execution isn’t. Light hearted, engaging and easy to absorb, the experience is made all the better by a stunning design that includes a top floor observation deck and cross-river skywalk. Staring out towards the soaring spires of the Cathedral, it’s as if centuries of history have been magically joined.

Don’t call it a museum: Porta Posnania has been at the forefront of Śródka’s renaissance.TFN

An area of intense contrasts, Śródka finds itself at a unique crossroads in history: on the one hand, peeling pre-war tenements cast long shadows across cracked, broken streets and damp, shaded courtyards. On the other, construction units work doggedly to pimp up battered old buildings to meet the demands of a new generation. As locals file obediently to worship inside the indulgent interiors of St. Margaret’s Church at the district’s heart, they do so past badly parked jeeps and blacked-out Porsches. Change is in the air and so too the inevitable tsunami that is gentrification: with one foot in the past and the other in the future, Śródka feels at a special point in time.