From Gniewkowo to Toruń

The distance from Gniewkowo to Toruń is about 21 km, around 13 miles in old money, the difference between Gniewkowo and Toruń is however quite marked.
Toruń is one of Poland’s flagship historic towns, if I may describe it thus; one of the “10 places in Poland you must visit”. Toruń sits on the River Vistula and sports a beautiful walled “Old Town” with a castle and many other historic buildings; it is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Toruń by night

Park Wolnosći.

Gniewkowo is a much smaller, plainer, unremarkable affair; parts of the town have seen better days. On the outskirts of Gniewkowo there is a public green space called Freedom Park (Park Wolnosći), in the park there are the remains of a Lido; some abandoned changing rooms and a sad concrete depression full of leaves, empty drinks cans and broken bottles.

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Remains of the Lido

Park Wolnosći is not a big park and for the most part, except where the lido used to be, it is wooded, but in a small clearing in the trees there is a tarmacked area with a raised concrete stage and a metal canopy, a purpose built area for outdoor performances, there are even rows of benches facing the stage, not a lot I must admit but enough so that if you wanted a bit of a sit-down you could usually squeeze in with somebody and squat your bot somewhere.

When I first visited in 2014 it seemed a magical place, full of music and people having a good time. I was there in 2014 for a free concert, a two day festival of Progressive Rock in Park Wolnosći, Gniewkowo, organised by “Stowarzyszenie Inicjatyw Niezależnych Progres” or “SIN Progres” for short, a body who focus on, amongst other things, the promotion and support of progressive rock music. This was the 8th edition of the festival and I enjoyed it so much that in 2015 I went back for the 9th edition.

IX Festiwal.

The 9th edition of the festival was held on the 4th and 5th of July 2015, the full title of the event was: “IX Festiwal Rocka Progresywnego w Gniewkowie im. Tomasza Beksińskiego”, the last bit, “im. Tomasza Beksińskiego” means that it is named in honour of Tomasz Beksiński who, in the late 1970’s was a music journalist and then later in 1982 became a radio presenter, probably analogous to John Peel, although don’t fall into the trap of making direct comparisons, the culture and society of Poland at the time was very different to that of the UK. Suffice to say that Beksiński promoted new and up and coming Polish bands and artistes particularly in the “progressive” genre.

The beginning of July in Poland was hot, very hot. I had been down to Silesia to meet a friend who had invited me to stay at her place for a few days, also taking in a concert in “Spodek”, the wonderfully flying saucer shaped concert venue in Katowice. She and I were both going to the festival and on The Friday morning we both pitched up at Katowice Bus Station. At the bus station we met another traveller who had come up from further south and all three of us were travelling together, six hours on the bus to Toruń, Toruń being the nearest place to Gniewkowo where PolskiBus route P12 stops.

Arriving at Toruń in the early twilight the three of us got a taxi to Gniewkowo and having procured some cans of cold beer we visited Park Wolnosći where preparations were being made for the next day’s concert. Good natured introductions and greetings ensued, beer was drunk and I was interviewed for a radio station. Well, you know, mad Englishman visits Poland sort of thing. No, I don’t know how these things happen either but it had happened the previous year too when I had attended the 8th edition of the festival in 2014. That was only my second time in Poland and even though I already knew a lot of people who were going to be at that concert, I only “knew” them through Facebook so I was really in at the deep end. Anyway, back to the 9th edition, it was late and before long we went to our various sleeping quarters.

Arriving back at Park Wolnosći the next day the magic began to have its effect, so many people I knew all saying hello, some in English, some in Polish, some saying more than just “hello” and in Polish which I hadn’t much of a hope of understanding but everybody in anticipation of the music starting. Once the concert was underway we were all speaking the same language, music. I said earlier that the park seemed like a magical place and later in the evening with the stage lights playing on the trees, the music, the crowd, the atmosphere, yes, it was a magical place. Ranged around the “seating area”, were many small stalls selling LPs, CDs, t-shirts etc. and also some trailers from which it was possible to buy food and beer and in the heat of the evening, cold beer was most welcome. Several times I wondered off into the park, away from the stage and then around to the rear of the audience just to take-in the sights and sounds.

On Sunday morning a small group of us went back into Toruń for the morning to do a bit of sightseeing, Sunday seemed even hotter than Saturday, there were water sprays set-up in the market square, children were running through and playing in the fine mist which the sprays produced, so were some of the adults. Later in the afternoon, back in Park Wolnosći part two of the concert got underway and it was just as magical as the preceding day, at the end of the evening there were many tired but happy people.

This was festival No, 9 and for the previous 8 years the festival has been held in Gniewkowo, Initially in the town square but as it grew the location moved to the park. The Gniewkowo town authorities though for reasons best known to themselves have not seemed to be in favour of the event, they haven’t actively blocked it but neither have they actively supported it.

We’re all in the same moat.

In 2016 for the 10th edition of the festival the event moved to nearby Toruń where the town authorities were in favour of the event and did offer to help and the festival was extended into a three day event, 1st, 2nd and 3rd July. In Toruń there is a Teutonic Castle, not a complete castle but there are impressive remains. The 10th festival was held in an area that once upon a time was part of a defensive moat around the castle. In the intervening years the remains of the castle have been added to and built upon but it was an impressive venue, a long stretch of land some, maybe 15 to 20 feet lower than the surrounding ground level between high walls with the stage set-up in front of some of the remaining castle buildings.

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I arrived in Toruń by train from Warsaw on the Friday afternoon, checked into my hotel and made my way to the castle, which sits near the River Vistula. I’d walked along the river embankment until I got to the castle, a band was already playing and the music gradually got louder as I approached. Turning up an alleyway I eventually found the entrance to the “auditorium”, unlike Gniewkowo there was no seating, unlike Gniewkowo there were no food and beer vendors. Access to the “auditorium” was either through the building at the back of the stage, which was in any case given over to the bands or down flights of steps so the small vans and trailers selling food and beer that had been set-up in Park Wolnosći couldn’t have access. Not a great problem as five minutes’ walk up the street and you are in the middle Toruń and there are shops aplenty, but no food and drink on-site as it were.

The bands playing at the 10th festival were all good, some I had seen before, others were new to me and one of the highlights was on Saturday evening when the British band Karnataka was the special guest. I can’t really fault the choice of music at the festival (“AnVision”, “Brain Connect”, “Karnataka” and “Keep Rockin'” being four bands that I particularly like) and the castle is right there in the old town, there were so many superlatives associated with this festival but somehow a little bit of the magic had gone, things weren’t the same in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I took to wandering off into the town, finding small bars for a few minutes sit-down and a crafty sup of beer. In Gniewkowo I had been wondering around pinching myself to see that it was all real, in Toruń, maybe it’s just my age, but in Toruń, I wanted somewhere to sit, and not on the ground.

Looking forward to 11.

This year, 2017, the 11th Festival is again being held in Toruń but at a different venue; this year it is being held in the outdoor amphitheatre of Toruń’s Museum of Ethnography, which is also located in the old town. I’m going to go to the 11th festival, I’ll fly into Poznań for an overnighter, Poznań being the closest airport to Toruń, well, I do like Poznań, and then get the train to Toruń the next day, well, I do like trains. And even though last year’s festival was a bit of a mixed blessing I have to say that I am looking forward to this year’s event, not just because there is the promise of some good music, not just because in the amphitheatre there are seats, lots of seats and not just because there will be food and drink on-site but mostly because of the wonderful, crazy, beautiful group of people I have met who go such a long way towards making it such a magical event.

So, if you have some free time over the weekend of 8th and 9th of July, why not come along to Toruń? It’s a free festival and we’d love to see you there.

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