Quirky little bronze sculptures are memorials to a Polish anti-communist resistance past.
Stroll down the roads and alleys of Wrocław, Poland and it may feel like someone is watching you. At your feet, spying from shop ledges or clinging to lamp posts – funny little figures “hide” in the wide open. These are the dwarfs of Wrocław. Krasnale in Polish. Over 600 of the little dwarfs (or gnomes if you prefer) adorn the city’s landscape. Doing everyday jobs and activities, each while wearing funny little hats and requisite pointy shoes. Blink and you could miss ’em. But once you take notice, it’s hard not to spot the little bronze sculptures all over town.
MINI MEMORIALS TO THE POLISH “ORANGE ALTERNATIVE” RESISTANCE
Adorable as they are, these Polish dwarfs have a slightly more profound legacy in this place. They are mini memorials to Poland’s Orange Alternative resistance – an underground anti-communist movement active in cities across Poland in the 1980s. Historical reminder – Poland fell under communist rule post-WWII, from 1945 to 1989. The Orange Alternative offered locals in Wrocław (pronounced VROHTZ-wahv) a sneaky but peaceful way to protest the oppressive ruling regime’s limiting of free speech at the time. With roots in Surrealism and Dadaism, the group staged intelligent but humourous demonstrations through art. One way was painting goofy little dwarfs in orange hats on walls and over government propaganda posters pasted up in their city.
The movement grew and people began advocating for “dwarfs rights,” dressing up in comical orange conical hats and marching – the largest demonstration in June 1988, pulling 10,000 members to the streets. Signs and chants claimed, “There is no freedom without dwarfs.” International news outlets would publish photos showing the absurd arrests of costumed gnomes. To outsiders, it seemed communism was unraveling.
Today, the city has embraced the draw of the dwarfs’ history and charm. In 2001, the first tribute – a large Papa Dwarf atop a fingertip sitting on the central street Świdnicka – commemorated a gathering spot for the resistance group. Four years later in 2005, local artist and sculptor Tomasz Moczek began creating some of the little critters you’ll find today. Now estimates put the total around 600 ready to charm and delight.
TEACHING LESSONS TO TOURISTS AND LOCALS | WROCŁOVE
Make your way to Wrocław’s Tumski Bridge over the Oder River and you’ll find two little dwarfs – one at each end. The closest to Salt Island (Wyspa Piasek) sits with a huge lock at his back. We watched as children delighted in connecting the attached key in an attempt to get it unlocked. Apparently that’s his job. At the opposite end, another dwarf threatens to cut off the locks holding some serious metal cutters. A sign above warns visitors not to show their love by affixing locks to this bridge. One of the oldest in the city.
Dwarfs and the truth about love
All around the world, bridges get cluttered with locks. What most people fail to realize is that nothing brings worse luck to their love than the act of locking it up in a little metal cage on a bridge. The rain and river moisture quickly cause the lock to corrode and, along with the corrosion of the lock, the hope that true love can survive will evaporate even faster.
Fortunately, our Wrocław dwarves know what happens to the locks on bridges and they’ve designated one of their brethren to protect the beloved. Day and night, this brave dwarf keeps his guard at the Tumski Bridge. He opens any locks that were hung unwisely, and he lets the ‘imprisoned’ love to regain its freedom.
He knows that true love exists between people.– www.Wrocław.pl
This poor chap had to carry seventeen and a half tonnes of corroded locks from the Tumski Bridge alone! How to help him? Nothing can be easier! Take the person you love and find the path to your true love right here – in Wrocław.
The sign and QR code direct lovers to walk a little further down the path to find the dwarf bench of love. Here you can snap photos and share sonnets or even a box of chocolates to show your “Wrocłove.” It’s pretty cute and the area definitely worth a walk.
HOW TO FIND THE DWARFS OF WROCŁAW, POLAND
Want to find your own? Tourist bureaus offer maps for purchase. There is also a free app from the city’s tourism bureau that can help. Download before you go. Personally, we found that just wandering and looking – the cheapest, easiest and best way. Want to deep dive into the resistance group’s background and activities? Read more at the virtual Orange Alternative Museum dedicated to the group online. For now, sharing a few of our favorites we found. Enjoy the dwarfs.