Ostrzeszów is a town in the mid-south and west of Poland which has been extant since around the 1280s. In the 1300s King Kazimierz III The Great had a castle built in the town to serve in both a defensive and administrative role. The castle was essentially a rectangular brick enclosure, 27 metres by 39 meters with a defensive moat filled from the nearby Strzegowy River. On the southern wall of the castle a 23-metre-tall tower was erected, square at the bottom and changing to an octagonal section about a third of the way up.
In 1656 the castle was all but destroyed by the Swedes during the Swedish invasion of Poland.
Yes, the Swedish.
Who’d have thought it?
The castle was subsequently rebuilt but was never as grand as it had been. By the nineteenth century it had fallen into disrepair and was mostly demolished. Mostly, but not all. Some of the walls and the tower were left standing.
The town of Ostrzeszów itself, along with its castle, and the surrounding countryside has had an eventful career being at first in the Kingdom of Poland which was a much bigger entity than today’s modern Republic of Poland. Ostrzeszów has been part of Prussia then part of Poland again in short-lived Duchy of Warsaw, then it was reannexed by Prussia and later annexed by Germany; not the Germany we know today but the German Empire, the Kaiserreich or Second Reich if you prefer.
After the Great War in 1918 Ostrzeszów was returned to Polish hands in the newly created Republic of Poland, then in 1939 Ostrzeszów was annexed to Nazi Germany until liberated by the (invading) Soviet red Army after which it was part of the Polish People’s Republic as a satellite of the Soviet Union. After the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in1989, when The Wall came down – nothing to do with Pink Floyd – Ostrzeszów was, and indeed still is, part of The Republic of Poland.
Errors and omissions excepted; the history of Poland is labyrinthine in its complexity, fascinating but sometimes difficult to get your head around. For a long time, it simply didn’t exist, being carved up by the Habsburg Monarchy, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Russian Empire, except that what they carved up wasn’t just Poland, it was the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, an alliance of two countries ruled by a monarch who was not only King of Poland but also Grand Duke of Lithuania.
And yes, the Swedes invaded Poland in 1655…
No, I can’t believe it either, but there it is.
Anyway, back to Ostrzeszów, the remains of the castle these days serves as a venue for “cultural” events and exhibitions, concerts, cinema and so on.
I went there in 2019, before we had cheeky Chinkie Coronavirus freely available on every street corner. Chinkie, yes, that is probably inappropriate in today’s oh, so PC society, but that’s just the way I feel right now…
I went to Ostrzeszów to attend VII Festiwal Rocka Progresywnego Baszta ProgFest. The 7th edition of a small Prog Rock festival held in the castle, under the tower or baszta.
I’d arranged with some friends who live in Łódź to cadge a lift from Łódź to Ostrzeszów on the morning of Friday 21st so on the morning of Thursday 20th June 2019 I left home and set out for Stansted Airport to fly to Poznań, which is nowhere near Ostrzeszów, and even further from Łódź. it’s about 130 km from Łódź as the crow flies and about three and a quarter hours travel time as the PolRegio train rolls over the 251 km of the railway route.
I’d flown to Poznań because the flight to Łódź that I had planned to get, before I actually looked at the flight schedules, had been re-timed to stupid o’clock in the morning and even the first train out of Chesham would have had me missing the flight by the time I’d got to Stanstead and I’d no desire to spend the night at Stansted, so I went to Poznań on a flight that left at a much more civilised hour.
The flight landed at Poznań at just after 14:25 local time which was about six and a half hours after I’d left home; my plan being to travel by train from Poznań to Łódź. By the time I’d got through customs it was gone three and my train was scheduled to leave Poznań at 17:01 so I had a little time to fill.
With this in mind I’d arranged to meet my friend Marzena who lives in Poznań. I got a taxi from the airport to the railway station, being a convenient stopping-off point, and met Marzena at the end of the bridge that spans the railway just outside Poznań Główny. Inevitably I suppose we ended up in Fort Colomb, a pub built into the remains of part of a fortress built in the 1850s.
It was a hot day and the cold beer was very welcome. The conversation was only a little hampered by Marzena not being fluent in English and me not being fluent in Polish but we both had translator apps on our phones for when we got to a word or concept that we couldn’t quite find the appropriate words for.
I bade Marzena goodbye and boarded the 17:01 departure for Ostrów Wielkopolski some 115 route kilometres away. We arrived at Ostrów Wielkopolski more or less on time at 18:35 where I had to change trains and catch the 18:46 departure for Łódź, another 136 route kilometres further on. The railway lines between Poznań and Łódź are somewhat circuitous in their meanderings and if you draw a straight line between Poznań and Łódź, Ostrów Wielkopolski is nowhere near it.
Just after 21:00 the train rolled into Łódź Kaliska station, the sun, lost behind some low cloud, was making roseate shapes in the western sky over there, just behind and to the side of the curved dome of the Atlas Arena Stadium. I slung my bag over my shoulder and strode off towards ulica Piotrkowska and my hotel room.
I was going to get the tram part way but after sitting at the tram stop for far longer that I ought to have, even with it being evening, I decided that there was obviously a hiccough in the transport system and I left the other few intrepid travellers who had appeared and went by foot.
By the time I’d checked in and got back out onto the street, it was dark and I headed south, from ulica Piotrkowska 64 to ulica Piotrkowska 123, Chmielowa Dolina, a beer or two was definitely called for. It was a lovely warm evening and Piotrkowska was fairly buzzing with life. When I got to Chmielowa Dolina, a pub just in case you were wondering, I ordered a cold beer and went and sat in the outside seating area on the pavement in front of the place.
After a while, and another beer, I went and sat inside where I saw to my great delight that there was a rum barrel aged Imperial Baltic Porter on offer. I bought a bottle. I drank. It was delicious. I repeated the process. The beer was called Björn and it was 12.5% abv, part of a series of Scandinavian inspired namings by Browar Trzech Kumpli (The Three Buddies Brewery).
Björn was delicious, very drinkable, but as it was now getting late and I’d already had a few beers and let’s not mess around here, Björn was a hefty old percentage, I decided to call it a night.
The next day, after breakfast, I went out for my customary walk around the block, north along Piotrkowska, west onto Zielona, south onto al. Tadeusza Kościuszki, east onto ul. Andrzeja Struga and then north onto Piotrkowska. It’s not much of a march but it gets the blood flowing.
I was biding my time, waiting until the appointed pick-up time at the car parking spaces on Piłsudskiego. The time came, I walked south on Piotrkowska until it intersected al. Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego then east to the parking areas. The day had gone from being nice and sunny to hot and sunny.
A car entered the parking area and slowed, an arm waved from a window, it was my ride to Ostrzeszów. I opened the car door and got into the back with the two others already there, Ania and Krzych. In the front were Marian who was to be our driver for the day and Krzysiek. Five happy souls, we set out for the Tower at Ostrzeszów, a journey by road of about 150 km.
It was hot in the car, I was literally melting; a pee break at around the halfway mark was very welcome if only to get out of that hot metal box and stretch my legs. Ostrzeszów was reached in good time, the car was parked a little way from the castle and we went in search of Prog, and cold, cold beer. Not that we non-drivers hadn’t already has some beer, Krzysiek had laid on a supply of in-flight catering, beer-wise.
A portion of the “auditorium” was laid out with benches, facing the stage, which in turn faced the tower, there was already a decent crowd there, all turned-up early to grab a good seat, no doubt. No matter, the auditorium wasn’t very large and everywhere had a good view of the stage and there would be a lot more standing and honestly, after all the travel the day before and then the journey from Łódź, I could stand to do a little standing…
The first band on was a four piece instrumental group from Łódź; guitar, bass, keyboards and drums who describe their genre as a sort of progressive jazz rock fusion. Well, as you may know if you’ve read any of my other posts concerning music and concerts, I’m no great fan of pigeonholing but I do Know what I like and I like the sort of music they played and I do like a bit of jazz rock fusion.
Second on was proAge, a five piece from, somewhere, really must find out, but there were five of ’em; vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards and drums and at one point a guest vocalist appeared and joined them on stage. proAge play a slightly harder, more eclectic type of music. As they say on their website: “The ProAge team consistently creates music stylistically difficult to classify unambiguously.” Well, whatever it was, it was good.
And, in the warmth of the evening with a bottle of beer in my hand, in the shadow of the castle tower, it was a fine place to be and a great type of music to be listening to.
By now it was getting dark and clouds had bubbled up adding to the darkness, they were the sort of cloud that you might imagine would bring rain, if not thunder, but they didn’t.
Third on was Lebowski, a four piece who again seem quite coy about where they hail from but they played guitars, synths, bass and drums. I’d seen Lebowski a few times and I really do like their brand of instrumental progressive, jazz, rock. I’d seen then once in Łódź on an overnighter, fly in one day, fly out the next. I must be mad…
And that was it.
The concert finished, but just to list the three bands who were on does no justice at all to the great time that I certainly had and by the looks on faces and the applause after each band, everyone else there did too.
Of course, there had also been meetings with people I knew, conversations, broken Polish/English conversations including one with Maciej Janiszewski, one of the organisers of the event, who was very pleased to welcome a foreigner to the Baszta ProgFest. In the gap between the second and third bands, Maciej made an announcement on-stage that as “Tony Steel” was here, this edition of the festival had taken on an international flavour, not that my head grew any bigger or that people in the audience seemed to know or care, but it was a nice touch.
I also had a conversation with Wiesław Kaczmarek, a local photo journalist who writes articles about historical and cultural events in and around Ostrzeszów.
One of the meetings with people I “knew” and I write that in inverted commas because it was someone that I knew from Facebook but had never met, was with a lovely woman called Bogna. We’d taken a shine to each other’s photography, when shared on Facebook. Bogna arrived at the concert sometime after I had, and whilst I’d gone out of the castle to photograph the tower from the street.
As I went back into the castle I was met by a mutual acquaintance, Mirella, who upon seeing me, took me by the hand and forcefully led me into the castle grounds, through the crowd and then pushed me in front of Bogna, proclaiming “To jest Bogna!” We laughed, and in traditional manner, I took Bogna’s hand and kissed it, much to amusement of all concerned.
Trips to the bar and the inevitable trips to the loo both necessitated going down a shallow flight of steps into a vaulted cellar which I think must have been part of the re-built castle, you know, after the Swedes had trashed the place.
There are a couple of mature trees growing next to the tower and other trees around the site and they are all festooned with fairy lights, a fact that wasn’t apparent until dusk had descended and the lights were all turned on, lending a touch of faerie magic to proceedings. Anyway, all in all a very enjoyable afternoon/evening.
Then it was time to go back to Łódź so us five happy souls trooped back to Marian’s car. We stopped halfway back for “comfort break” which again was most welcome and we had hot dogs. Not the sort of hot dog you’d get in dear old Blighty, something uncontrollable in a sliced open bun, these were works of art, frankfurters inserted into specially bakes mini-baguette type rolls with a frankfurter sized hole drilled down the middle.
I was deposited in Łódź, close to my hotel, at somewhere around one in the morning. I toyed with the idea of finding an open bar, not a difficult prospect on Piotrkowska in the middle of summer, but I overcome that urge and went directly to my hotel room and to bed.
Small festivals then; not those grandiose, bloated, mud-covered things that you probably think of when you hear the word “festival”, but small and dare I say “intimate” festivals. That’s how I like to listen to live music, be they indoor events or in the open air as Baszta ProgFest was. And to top it all, and I’ve mentioned this before, the sound quality was excellent, as it usually seems to be in Poland, no overexcited roadies turning it up to 11 just because they can.
Last year the Baszta ProgFest was cancelled, as were most things; this year, in fact just last weekend, at the time of writing, they held the “Festiwal Rocka Progresywnego Baszta ProgFest SUPLEMENT”, Maciej Janiszewski invited me to go but as the Polish government would have insisted on me spending 10 days in quarantine when I got there, regardless of my vaccination status and dear old HMG would have insisted that I spend 10 more days in quarantine upon my return, not to mention that some government inspector somewhere would have been frowning at my decision to go to a country on the UK’s amber list in the first place.
Curious that we see only one side of the equation; where our government will allow us to travel… Actually, no, that’s not quite right, is it? It’s all down to personal responsibility these days, that’s how Boris and Co. want to handle it, they’ll say where’s good and where’s bad and trust us to “do the right thing” – yeah, like that’s gonna happen…
Fully vaccinated travellers from within the EU and the Schengen area can travel into Poland without the need for quarantine, us poor folk who were once part of the EU, have to undergo quarantine. No doubt just one more example of a Brexit Bonus.
Hopefully, next year will be different. I’m not going to say that things will be back to normal as so many seem to be saying, I don’t think normal will ever be normal again, but things will be different and part of that difference will be learning to live with the virus, as we do with so many others, and I’ll be able to travel almost seamlessly back to Poland and attend the Baszta ProgFest once more.
Below is a selection of photos of the event, some taken by me, some taken by my friends Krzysiek and Marian.
Dziękuję za to, że Marian nasz kierowca, dziękuję Krzysiek i Marian za zdjęcia , dziękuję Maciej na festiwal, i dziękuję wszystkim zespoły uczestniczące i wszystkim znajomym poznanym w Ostrzeszowie.
Specjalne podziękowania dla Ani i Krzycha, z którymi dzieliłem tylne siedzenie samochodu.