Wrocław’s grandiose Neo-Gothic train station is one of the finest in the land
Wrocław Central Station is one of the oldest and architecturally most unique and interesting stations in Poland, with its renovation being one of the largest investments carried out by Polish State Railways in the 21st century.
With nearly 58,000 passengers a day, the station is also one of the busiest in Poland.
First built in the mid-19th century, the station owes its monumental character to a design put forward by Wilhelm Grapow in response to a huge demand for railway journeys in the 1850s.
The monumental building was designed in an English neo-gothic style more closely resembling a castle or palace than a public service building and was intended to showcase the power of the railways at a time when they were the fastest form of public transport.
As one of the largest stations in Europe at the time, its construction took two years, using an unprecedented amount of building materials and costing 449,000 Thalers.
There was only one platform under a roof and the higher floors of the building housed a representative Secession Hall and apartment for the director of the railway, located in the place of today’s station library.
The station gained its contemporary appearance at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, specifically the years 1899-1904, which was once again the result of increasing demand for railway travel. Rebuilding work was carried out by architect Bernard Klüsche.
It was at this time that the neo-gothic hall was demolished to be replaced by the new representative hall and the number of platforms increased to five. As part of the renovation, a monumental hall was raised to act as a roof for the newly built platforms and tunnels.
Everything was built in the fashionable secession style of the time. Today we can distinguish the two parts from different periods by the colour of the elevation, which was highlighted as part of the renovation carried out between 2010-2012 on the basis of conservator’s research. The neo-gothic style can be seen in orange whilst the secession style in lime green.
In the 1930s, new buildings were added in the vicinity of the station which would come to ignite the imaginations of treasure hunters and would become the subject of local legend; these were the shelter buildings.
There were three shelters and it was the largest of these, located underneath the station building and demolished as part of the renovation between 2010-2012, which became the subject of legends.
After the war, much was said about flooded floors of the shelter where many speculated works of art and even the famous Amber room were hidden. Some Wrocławians even claimed that the area underneath the station concealed a port used by German U-boats.
The basis for the legends was the fact that during WWII and the siege of Wrocław in the early winter months of 1945, the shelter was used as a hospital and local witness testimonies state that the location was used to help evacuate many valuable items.
However the 2010-2012 renovation led to a brutal ending to the legends when nothing was found during work to demolish the shelter under the station. Despite this, legends still abound about secret underground passages underneath the station which it is believed have not yet been discovered.
The modernisation of Wrocław Główny between 2010-2012 resulted in a station complex adapted to the current standards of service for passengers, but it also restored the historic beauty of the station and to this day, it remains the largest investment carried out by Polish State Railways on the renovation of a historic station, with a total investment cost of 323 million PLN.
As part of the works, the station forecourt was rebuilt, creating a square acting as a real public space uniting elements such as green islands of plants and trees with smaller architectural elements such as two colourful fountains, lighting and city furniture in the shape of chairs and benches.
Underneath the station, an underground parking was added with space for 217 cars as well as a new overground parking.
A thorough renovation was also carried out on the neo-gothic building, secession hall, tunnels and platform halls. From the street side, the South pavilion was erected. The station was also fully adapted to the needs of disabled passengers.
Many conservatorial discoveries were made at the station during the 2010-2012 renovation. As a historic building on the register of monuments since 1966, the station concealed many secrets which were uncovered during renovation works. The biggest of these was the discovery of an Imperial hall not previously known about.
The Imperial hall was probably prepared for the arrival of Kaiser Wilhelm II with his wife in 1906 for the ‘Royal Days’ celebrations. Original decorations were preserved including two black eagles of the Kingdom of Prussia which bear the initials FR on their breasts, a shortening of Fredericus Rex and an allusion to the King of Prussia, Frederick II, known as ‘the Great’.
Each of the eagles holds in its talons a coat of arms. One of them has the letter ‘W’ painted on a yellow background, an allusion to the historic name of Wrocław, ‘Wratislavia’. The second has a black eagle on a yellow background, a symbol of the Silesian province. The rest of the walls of the hall are adorned with coats of arms of Prussia weaved into a plant pattern.
Also notable is the ceiling of the Imperial Hall which has an ideological significance, showing the power of the Germanic Empire. The ceiling is ‘propped up’ on a central column on which four imperial eagles are painted. It then passes into a canopy made up of four parts.
On each part a fragment of the sun is shown in which angels are painted showing imperial insignia on red cushions: a crown, sword, sceptre and apple. They show the power of the Emperor, whose leadership radiates onto the whole of the empire. Centrally in each part of the canopy can be seen the coats of arms of different kingdoms: Saxony, Bavaria, Württemberg and Prussia. Adjoining them are the coats of arms of 16 duchies.
The Imperial Hall is one of the more interesting interiors in railway station buildings in Poland. Nevertheless, during the renovation, several smaller, equally interesting discoveries of the interiors were made. They include dragons integrated into the capitols of the columns which can be found in the main entrance hall and can be noticed by eagle eyed passengers.
Some discoveries will not be seen by passengers, such as adverts of the clothing company Bleyle, probably originating from the 1930s, which was restored and hidden from view and can be found above one of the arches on the route between the main entrance and station hall.
This article was sponsored by PKP.