• December 12, 2014
  • 196

Journey around Vilnius streets: by Młynowa Wilenka river flows

On Młynowa Street (Malūnų), there used to be mills by Wilenka but presently they survived only in the name of the street. In the 19th century, its name was changed several times. There was Bernardine II and Castle alleys, Zarzeczna Street, Bernardine Street (next to it, there is St. Francis and St. Bernardine church, called Bernardine).

If today, the great Polish poet Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, whose 110th birthday anniversary we will celebrate soon, had lived on Młynowa Street, as a person valuing his freedom and independence, he would have been glad that his street belongs to autonomous Republic of Zarzecze. It has its constitution written in several languages, including Polish. In the document written by the local Bohemia, who, in the last two decades, took particular like to Zarzecze region, we can read that “A man has the right to live by Wilenka and Wilenka has the right to flow by a man; a man has the right to laziness; he has the right to love a cat and take care of it, but a cat does not have to love its master, although it should help him in hard times”.

K. I. Gałczyński came from Warsaw to Vilnius in January, 1934 and he spent there almost 2,5 years. Gałczyński got post in Polish Radio broadcaster. He was offered to a weekly column “A quarter for the morose”. At the beginning, he lived by Młynowa 2 Street, afterwards he moved to the nearby Połocka Street, where his only daughter was born: “Kira, my little daughter,/ Kira, my swarthy daughter”. In the selection of his poems, Gałczyński makes reference to Vilnius atmosphere and the traces left there by Adam Mickiewicz. In 1936, the Gałczyński came back to Warsaw.

We are on Młynowa Street – it is awkward as its left side, when walking towards Zarzeczna Street, is constructed of one 132-meter long house marked with no. 3. It used to belong to Bernardine nunnery and, in the mid-war period, it was taken over by the country and intended for flats for the clerks. One of them belonged to Felicja and Marcin Stecewicz. Before war, Marcin was the chief of Department for Administration and Exploitation of Vilnius Directorate of Posts and Telegraphs. After war, he was a telegraph clerk.

Felicja graduated from the Department of Nature Sciences and Mathematics at Stefan Batory University in Vilnius. After war, she was a teacher in the famous Five at Antokol, which is presently under the name of Joachim Lelewel. One of the Stecewicz’s sons, stillborn Renard, was a great scientists in the field of radio-electric engineering. The younger one, Zbigniew, similarly to his mother, after graduation became a teacher of physics in Vilnius High School no. 5, which both he and Renard graduated form. Zbigniew Stecewicz and his family still live on Młynowa 3 Street. He is the only one who was born there as the rest of the tenants are foreign residents.

To come back to K. I. Gałczyński. In the beautifully published book entitled “Silver Natalia” by Kira Gałczyńska, there is a passage of Kira’s mother, Natalia, memories: “I remember when he sent me a poem (later named “On Vilnius street”) on a postcard as an “invitation to the journey”. And I was still postponing the trip. I didn’t feel like going to Vilnius (…). Then, I was flooded by letters and cablegrams from Vilnius. I remember how Cat (from the author: the way K.I.G. Was called by his family) wrote: Did you forget that we have to have a daughter resembling you, with eyes as cherries?”. I left on March 15th.

In Warsaw, there had already been buds on the trees. In Vilnius, there was winter, snow and Konstanty was waiting on the railway station in a sheepskin coat (…). As in a dream, I saw the pavements high above the cobblestone, snow, little Wilenka river flowing despite of frost, a bridge. The cabin stopped behind the bridge. We passed the thick gate in “Bernardine wall”, garden, apple trees covered with snow and we stayed in front of the house covered with snow as on a Christmas card. And this is how I entered Vilnius – quite, peaceful, good as any other city – Vilnius”. “In this Vilnius you will be a rose, in this Vilnius you will become a mother…/ Hey, the coachman, stop your horses!/ I know the house: door on the street and windows on the garden, and in the garden two apple trees grow”. This is how Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński wrote about the happiness in Vilnius.

…Młynowa Street teems with contemporary life. On the right side, the houses which used to be totally neglected, now are gaining new life. By “Gałczyński house”, at the small square by Wilenka, just next to the bridge and across from Bernardine church, in the summer, somebody organises the café under umbrellas called “Green goose” – the name of the Theatre “Green goose” created by K.I. Gałczyński presented by the Cracovia “Profile”.

Walking around this picturesque nook of Vilnius old town, it is worth taking an insight into Republic of Zarzecze. At the outlet of Młynowa Street, there is a little square. In 2002, they situated there an 8-meter high statue of Angel-Zarzecze’s patron. The author of Angel cast in bronze is Lithuanian sculptor, Romas Vilčiauskas.

Zarzecze quarter (Užupis) is an unusual part of Vilnius. It is separated from the Old Town by Wilenka river (that is where the name “Zarzecze” comes from). The first records about Zarzecze come from the 16th century. Originally, it was Vilnius suburb inhabited mostly by weavers, millers and clerks of lower range. Before the WWII, it was the place where the famous Vilnius painter, Ferdynand Ruszczyc and Polish opera singer, Bernard Ładysz, lived.

In the Soviet times, it was one of the most neglected places in Vilnius. Many houses did not have neither electricity nor sanitary equipment. Zarzecze was considered to be a dangerous area. In the 90s’ of previous century, the quarter started to change its appearance. It was mainly thanks to the entrepreneurship of the mayor of the town, Artūrasa Zuokasa, who lives there with his family. Some cheap, neglected houses started to be inhabited by the artists. Zarzecze started to be called Vilnius Montmartre.

In 1997, the citizens of Vilnius Montmartre proclaimed the autonomous Republic of Zarzecze. On the April Fool’s Day, they celebrate their Independence Day – there is a big parade in the quarter. While passing the river on April 1st, one has to show a passport and the “border guard” gives a stamp with the sign „Užupis”.
Zarzecze is one of the most expensive Vilnius quarters. It is a place where a lot of events is organised: alternative fashion festivals, concerts, exhibitions, poetic evenings, original parties as the White Tablecloth Day celebrated on Ester Monday. That day all the citizens of the quarter bring food for a common table and celebrate together.

Zarzecze is full of magic places: beautiful tenement houses next to hovels and houses on the walls of which there are paintings. There is also a bridge festooned with padlocks of different sizes and colours with the names of loving couples inscribed in them. There are galleries, cosy shops and cafés.

Translated by Aneta Gębska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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