A symbol of the New Europe

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"I get that question every day," he says wearily under a picture of himself shaking hands with Rudy Giuliani, a mayor looking for a promotion. "I am focusing on things here."

What he is focusing on today is landing the 2012 World's Fair. Wroclaw has been campaigning hard for the fair, which will attract some 90 countries and 4.5 million visitors.


The smart folks at the Convention Bureau of Wroclaw like to greet visitors with a sexy slide show of urban images and ask them to guess the city.

If it's canals and bridges, it must be Venice or St. Petersburg. If it's a market square and an opera house, Prague or Milan. If it's cafés and churches, Paris or Rome.

Of course, you're looking at Wroclaw, which has all these things. Of course, you didn't know that until you got here, and this cadre of civic troubadours -- all stylish, sophisticated, multilingual -- continue to press their case with a blizzard of figures and charts.

And that's before Mayor Rafal Dutkiewicz, one of the most dynamic politicians in Poland, wheels out his own heavy artillery in celebration of his kicking city of 640,000.

What you did know is this is a city with a past, a metropolis of such diversity historian Norman Davies called it "the flower of Europe." For more than two hundred years, up to 1945, Wroclaw was called Breslau, in Prussia. Breslau had wealth and power, several Nobel Laureates and a flourishing Jewish community.

Geography gave Wroclaw the Odra River, tributaries, canals, islands, strategic location; history gave it centuries of war, wealth, poverty, complexity. When the city once again became part of Poland after the Second World War, in which 70 percent was destroyed, the Germans left and the Poles arrived.

Like Poland, the largest country in central Europe, Wroclaw is trying to get beyond its recent past. And like Poland, it is embracing the future with a hard-edged ambition, which means finding every way to remake itself in a competitive continent.


If you're Mayor Dutkiewicz, you seek opportunity. You go to Warsaw and to the European Union looking for money to fix yourself up -- to restore monuments, re-open museums, renew Market Square, to put yourself out there.

You develop a plan for the imposing Centennial Hall, which was the largest reinforced concrete building in the world when it opened in 1913. In 2006, it was named a UNESCO site. Under the spirited leadership of Hana Cervinkova, an energetic Czech with a doctorate in anthropology, it is expanding and reinventing itself.

You find ways and means to restore your glittering 19th century Opera House, build new hotels, upgrade transportation. And when you have something to promote, you get a grant to establish a Convention Bureau.

Wherever possible, stress your comparative advantage -- location, a young population (there are some 135,000 students here), knowledge, the new economy. Soon, the companies come, by one count 3,000 with foreign capital, including Siemens and Google. Heavy industry, high technology -- Wroclaw doesn't care. Now it's going after the European Institute of Technology, an innovative research organization established by the European Union.

As business is coming here, so are trade shows, exhibitions, sports events, and summits. Then there are festivals -- dance, film, theatre, buskers. All this explains why unemployment has dropped from to six percent from 14 percent in four years.

If they're not calling this the Wroclaw Miracle, they are pushing the Mayor to run for president.

Sorry, this is the Ottawa Citizen story, and cannot be displayed in full on Wroclaw-online.eu.
Source: Ottawa Citizen

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