Those that know me know I’m not really one for cutesy or kitsch things. So taking a tour of city that focuses solely on gnomes in a range of cute poses really shouldn’t be up my alley. But travel is often about doing things you normally wouldn’t at home. I have to admit I was pretty curious when I came across Free Walking Tour’s Dwarfs of Wroclaw. This tour turned out to be about far more than just some small metal gnomes and was a really great way to learn more about the city. …And see plenty of small, metal gnomes.
So what are the Dwarfs of Wroclaw? Simply put, they are small bronze gnomes known as “Krasnal” in Polish, that are scattered throughout the city of Wrocław in Poland’s west. Generally about a foot high, each dwarf is unique and is depicted doing a different activity, from withdrawing money from an ATM, to eating an ice-cream, to delivering a pizza. Think Snow White but taken to extreme lengths. The Dwarfs of Wroclaw, while a recent phenomenon, have become a symbol of Wrocław and to date there are well over 300 found throughout the city.
The story behind the dwarfs is actually quite an unusual one, starting with Poland’s communist past. Ok, so I may get a little too into the history so if you’re not that interested, here’s the short version:
Orange dwarfs were a symbol of a protest movement against the communist government in the 1980s. A recent memorial to this movement inspired a popular initiative of dwarf statues found throughout Wrocław. [Skip to photos below]
During the 1980s, a movement known as the Orange Alternative arose in Wrocław to rebel against the Communist regime. Their tactics were always a little unorthodox and tended towards mockery and absurdity to ridicule the government in protest. One of their popular acts was to respond to the covering up of anti-government graffiti by the regime, by painting over the fresh paint with pictures of gnomes/dwarfs. Soon their were thousands of dwarfs being graffitied all over the place. This forced the regime to perform the rather absurd act of covering up pictures of gnomes throughout the city. The symbol of the movement would become the Orange Dwarf.
By finding creative ways to incorporate others into their protests, they regularly made a mockery of the police and establishment. My favourite perhaps is when the Orange Alternative distributed single sheets of toilet paper to people – a scarcity at the time – and in turn forcing the authorities to go around actively searching for and confiscating toilet paper from people. Another act, seemingly inspired by diehard spots fan, was that groups would print a slogan in single letters across their collective shirts that either spelt out “Away with the heat”, or alternatively “Away with the truncheons” with the addition of a single “u”.
In 2001 a memorial to the Orange Alternative was unveiled, a statue of a single bronze dwarf. Years later, in 2005 a local artist crafted 5 more gnome-like statues that were placed throughout the city. Over the next few years, more and more slowly popped up, but there seems to have been a dwarf explosion in recent times and with it, the dwarf became the modern symbol of the city of Wrocław.
While there were only a few at first, there are now 163 official dwarfs found throughout the city of Wrocław. But you may be asking why I said there were over 300 dwarfs earlier? That’s because, in the words of my tour leader, there are many “illegal dwarfs” popping up about Wrocław. Yes, illegal dwarfs. Apparently, there is an official process required by the city in order for people or a business to have their dwarf, but not everyone is willing to go through it.
The reason why people are so keen to have their own dwarfs is that they’re seen as a fantastic advertising tool. For example, people are for more likely to visit your ice cream parlour if they’re coming by to see the “Ice-cream Dwarf”. They’re a great way to drive foot traffic and particularly tourists to your business, so I can see why some are so eager to join the fray.
Cynicism aside, financial gain isn’t the only reason the dwarfs have been created, with non-profit organisations like Wrocław Without Barriers introducing three handicapped dwarfs as part of their campaign. Others like the tourist dwarf or the water fountain dwarf are just there to indicate nearby services available to the public. Often a gendered sort of thing, there’s no call for alarm. Yes, there are even female dwarfs, sans beard of course, like the below pharmacist dwarf. Female dwarfs were in fact among the first real wave of dwarfs positioned around the city.
The diversity and creativity of the dwarfs has meant that they’ve become an increasingly popular tourist attraction in their own right and a novel way to encourage to explore more of Wroclaw. The love of the dwarfs knows no bounds it seems, as there is even a Dwarf Festival that takes place every year in September.
Dwarfs, Dwarfs and More Dwarfs
With all that history and explanation out of the way, sit back and look through a bunch more photos of these funny little guys and gals. In the last one, see if you can spot the little guy all the way up there.
There you have it, the Dwarfs of Wroclaw. If you want to read my general, dwarf-free post on what to see in Wrocław, head this way.
Have you seen the Dwarfs of Wroclaw? What other small art installations can you think of that give you insight into a place’s culture or history? Please share in the comments below.
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