European Capital Of Culture Bows Out On A High


Wroclaw's tenure as the European Capital Of Culture ended on a high last weekend following a slick closing ceremony and a record breaking silent disco at Hala Stulecia.

Aside from the disastrous Friendship Festival, the weekend's events passed without any mishaps – allowing Wroclaw 2016's organisers to give themselves a pat on the back following the conclusion of the closing ceremony on Saturday evening.

Unlike the highly criticised opening ceremony, which was plagued by delays and a lack of information, Saturday's finale at Hala Stulecia ran like clockwork. Titled 'Niebo' (translated as 'Sky' in English), the show featured terrific live classical music as well as numerous examples of daring gymnastics.

The spectacle unfolded in such a way so as to take in the various important historical events in the city. This included the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of WW2, the deportation of the German population, then later martial law and the fall of communism. During the segment focused on the latter, a huge applause broke out after the lead actress shouted "demokracja!" multiple times – words that were arguably amplified a few decibels following this weekend's events. At the end of the show, the arena announcer also proudly labeled Wroclaw as an "open minded and tolerant city".

The performance itself wasn't without its dull or bizarre moments, however this was nothing unusual for ceremonies of this nature. Yes, some of the outfits looked out of place, while it was difficult to guess the meaning behind some of the more quirky scenes. Overall though, this was a spectacle the performers and organisers have every right to be proud of. A lot of work goes into producing such a show and those behind the ceremony deserve a lot of credit for ensuring everything was 'alright on the night'. 

Arguably the greatest feat of the evening was nonetheless the silent disco, which somehow managed to attract 2,300 people to Hala Stulecia on Saturday night. Silent Discos have been held at BarBarbara throughout the year, and it seems their is still an insatiable appetite for them among Wroclaw's young party-goers.

Fairly lengthy queues gathered at the door at the opening of the event at 10.30, and by midnight the place was really beginning to fill up. At one point the organisers claimed the numbers actually broke their European record target of 2,300 participants. The photograph below certainly illustrates the fact – the arena floor was really packed with people dancing away to one of the various music streams available. 

There were plenty other Wroclaw 2016 events and performances held throughout the weekend of course, a lot which took place in populated public places such as the Rynek, Arkady or the main train station. The cold, damp weather (particularly on Sunday) did its best to turn things into a damp squib, but those taking part simply got on with the job – showing their desire to make the most of Wroclaw's final days in the European limelight. 

Things didn't all go to plan however, as one of the weekend's events flopped in spectacular style. The Friendship festival, held at the 3,000 capacity Hala Orbita, is said to have attracted as little as 100 concertgoers on Thursday night. Old favourites OCN and Happy Sad were the headliners, but they failed to prove enough of a draw for people to warrant people spending between 65-100zl a ticket. 

Local newspaper Gazeta Wroclawska received a letter from someone who attended the gig, which contained numerous digs at the festival organisers. According to the letter, the numbers were so low that the organisers had no choice but to dismantle the barrier for the so called "golden circle" at the front of the stage. This reportedly angered some who ended up unnecessarily splashing extra cash on front row tickets. 

Faced with an unbelievably embarrassing turnout, Wroclaw 2016's social media team only uploaded photos of the stage to make it look like the arena was bouncing. The comments on the Facebook event page also accuse Wroclaw 2016 of deleting comments that mention the poor attendance. 

Embarrassing – an almost entirely empty Hala Orbita at the Friendship Festival (© photo. Patricia Wites / Gazeta Wroclawska)

In a way, the contrast between the success of the closing ceremony and the failure of the Friendship Festival are rather representative of Wroclaw's year as the European Capital Of Culture.

In most cases the artists have excelled, the people have taken to the project and the city has made the most of its time in the spotlight. On the other hand however, there have been some shortcomings at an organisational level. This is particularly true regarding media promotion (especially in English), while arrogance and a heavy dose of group-think have also contributed to problems.

When it comes down to it though, this has been a great year for Wroclaw – let's hope there's another one just round the corner. 

Gregor Gowans

The founder and editor of Wroclaw Uncut, Gregor has been running the website since its inception in 2012. A Wroclawian for almost 10 years, Gregor writes on a wide variety of topics including, food & drink, nightlife, local news and politics. He is also a regular guest on Radio Ram's Sunday lunch programme.

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