hidden europe 57

Faith and Fate in Wojnowo: Old Believers in Poland

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The annual photographic exhibition brings a dash of counterculture to the streets of Wojnowo (photo © hidden europe).

Summary

Join us to discover the Polish village of Wojnowo which was created from nothing almost 200 years ago. A community of devout Russians arrived on foot and settled on the reedy banks of the River Krutynia.

Travelling east on minor roads, we cross the former boundary of East Prussia and slowly the landscape changes. The village churches in this one-time German territory of Ostpreußen hardly differ from those we know so well in Berlin’s rural hinterland. There is a familiar mix of coniferous and deciduous woodland, interspersed here and there by lakes, their still waters often fringed by reed beds. Two deer stand by the side of the road, their knowing eyes monitoring the occasional passing tractor or car.

There are Prussian-style red brick barns and tumbledown houses constructed in brick and solid dark-brown wood. Our old map shows German place names that don’t feature on modern signposts. One-time Hohenstein changed to become Olsztynek, while German Ortelsburg has become Polish Szczytno.

We slip ever deeper into the forests. Mushroom gatherers sit patiently by the roadside, many looking in anticipation at us as we approach, always hopeful that we might stop and buy the rich pickings they have found in the forest. We pass the fierce fences which hide a remote military facility. In a nearby village, Stare Kiejkuty, locals talk of night-time comings and goings. “It was a clandestine CIA detention centre,” says one man. “Codename Quartz. The Americans might still be there for all I know. That’s where they rounded up suspects after 9/11,” mutters the man who doesn’t want to say more and settles down for a late afternoon beer by the side of the village pond.

These remote Polish borderlands are out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Edgelands that provide cover for those with something to hide and sanctuary for those who just want to escape from modernity. The latter was just what the Old Believers were looking for when they moved to the East Prussian village of Eckertsdorf in 1831.

Eckertsdorf to Wojnowo

Swinging off the main road, we follow the rutted tarmac north to Eckertsdorf, a village which straggles along a single road. Today it is known by the Polish name of Wojnowo. It is a neat place with well-tended gardens, trimmed grass verges and an evident sense of community.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 57.
Related articleFull text online

Monemvasía: the Greek Gibraltar

In the southern Peloponnese, the island citadel of Monemvasía once enjoyed a key strategic location on major Mediterranean shipping routes. No wonder, therefore, that many have sought to secure control of the rock that is often referred to as 'the Greek Gibraltar'.

Related articleFull text online

Where God grew stones: a Mani odyssey

Patrick Leigh Fermor's 1958 book on the Mani region of southern Greece helped put Mani on the map. Today it pulls the tourist crowds, yet it still retains a raw appeal. Guest contributor Duncan JD Smith dives deep into Mani to explore the otherworldly landscapes of this arid peninsula.