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Chapter Twenty

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An Inspirational Polish Success Story

Hotel California, Paris

Hotel in Barcelona's Barrio Gothico

When I first leased Baszta in 2005, I searched for a name that I felt would best suit my new business in such a unique building. Prior to settling on “La luz,” I toyed with the title of the famous song “Hotel California,” by the rock group, the Eagles. The first reason for that pick was the absolute truth I found in the lyrics: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” No matter where I traveled, wherever there was a TV, there were the same car chases and familiar beach scenes shot in my own backyard of Los Angeles. The song itself is a timeless hit that is still often heard on the radio, and street musicians regularly perform it. I still recall a guitarist playing a rendition of the song in Krakow’s Market Square. In fact, there is a “Hotel California” on the Champs-Elysées in Paris and a “California Hotel” in the Barrio Gothico of Barcelona.

So, why not in the Wrocław Ghetto? 

Even though sleeping inside of the tower was not allowed due to the zoning of the property and contractual stipulations, I still contemplated whether this name might not attract famished adventurous travelers as soon as they came into town. Ultimately, I concluded that this would not have been a wise idea, since there was not enough space in the tower to temporarily store their luggage. Nor did I wish to be entertaining sweaty, exhausted travelers, so I axed the name.

Still, events have proven once again that I am kind of a clairvoyant…

Might it be that this ghost town has harbored a schizophrenic phobia of being discovered?

Just a ruse?

Thanks to an inside source, I found out that around two years after I left Poland, a major new development was underway, right in the heart of the Wrocław Ghetto! It seemed to suggest that a much larger plan – dwarfing my ambitions for Baszta alone – had been directly connected to the conspiratorial demise of Abrams’ Tower. And what a plan it was! Could it therefore be the plan for the 2016 European Culture Capital, to transform the Wrocław Ghetto into Disneyland, Wrocław? 

Whether this would result in the creation of a new Wrocław Ghetto Adventureland ride or a Meeting Place Fantasyland ride remained to be seen. Whichever land an E-Ticket holder might prefer to visit, the forsaken land in question had been plotted by the city to undergo a dramatic transformation.

A few months after civic funding was allocated to restore Baszta, the city, which owns the adjacent courtyard, held a meeting with the neighborhood community that for many years had rented the space from Town Hall. With Zbysiu serving bricks of dirt cheap sweet wine, city officials revealed big new plans and announced a major pending investment.

As my inside source revealed the latest news, pieces of this mystery of hidden agendas started to come together, when approval was granted by the Mayor of Wrocław, Rafał Dutkiewicz, for the construction of a new building in the courtyard. The stated purpose was to become the home of a new contemporary art museum, art studios and offices for cultural activities. Looking back now on why I first came to Poland, and why so many years later I left, I can think of nothing that would have been a more perfect compliment to the sense of purpose that had inspired me to dedicate 16 years of my life to Wrocław, Poland, Baszta, La luz and Abrams’ Tower than this grand new venture. What a perfect compliment to my intentions, plans and usage of Baszta…if only Mayor Dutkiewicz had talked to me about it when I was still there…

As in every other surprise that befell me in Poland, there is much more to this story as well.

The political shenanigans involved reveal how laws appeared to have been altered when convenient, while the media looked the other way. Unquestionably, many Polish laws that are remnants of the communist era were in dire need of change. In fact, the most recent World Bank Report on ease of doing business states that the amount of time it takes in Poland to obtain construction permits to build a warehouse, has been cut by one-half, from over 300 days when I started my business around 6 years ago. One must presume that this has something to do with the fact that major EU investment was allocated for such purposes as building new stadiums for the 2012 European Cup football matches, in preparation for Wrocław becoming the 2016 European Culture Capital and other grand plans in various phases of development.

One can see in the background full-screen slide show, the first brown and white illustration, which was printed on the invitation to a neighborhood meeting of October 6, 2012. It is eerily similar in concept to the background fantasy image of Baszta at the site of the Louvre in Paris that I co-designed in collaboration with another graphic artist. That same image is in the background of both this page and the introductory slide show of this story. It was reproduced in the April 5, 2011, edition of London’s Guardian newspaper that was published shortly before I was finally forced to close the doors for good.

Documents sent to me about the city’s big plans are quite entertaining. One clause states that no fences were to be erected in the courtyard. God forbid new investors would also become entrapped inside the bum-infested Wrocław Ghetto! From the city’s official website, a legal act was posted outlining the stated plan for this development, which can be seen by clicking here:

Legal Act, February 21, 2014

What was most shocking of all, is that my secret source expressed suspicions that the art museum plan may have been nothing but a ruse covering up much larger commercial ambitions, in other words, one more exploitation of culture and the arts for the sake of economic profit. I do not know if EU money was involved, however, from what I was told by my informant, who attended meetings with the neighborhood and city, the museum concept may have been nothing but a pretext for investment in a new hotel. This would have made perfect sense considering the then upcoming 2016 European Cultural Capital events due to a scarcity of quality accommodations.

I further learned that a letter protesting this clever idea was submitted to the developer. I was also told that another North American investor may have been behind this development.

Whatever was true, I couldn’t help but wonder whether another western sucker may have been unaware of becoming zasadzked by an invisible moat of ghosts and smiling sharks.


Wrocław had learned well how to hype itself for such opportunities, and I can say this from another sort of professional experience. As the English narrator of an official promotional film about the city, I played a small role in attempting to save Wrocław from itself in its feeble attempt to win the rights to host the 2010 World Expo. Not at all to my surprise, the city came in a distant last, eliminated in the first of four rounds. It taught me a lot about the starstruck complexes of an unknown small city harboring a big city complex. In preparing to narrate the documentary film about Wrocław that was submitted to the competition in Monaco, I voluntarily made on-the-spot grammatical corrections of a script that had been poorly translated. However, what I had no authority to alter was the sometimes embarrassing content. Most glaring of all was the glorification of a short walk street named Świdnicka (pronounced: Shveed-neets-kuh), which leads directly to the city center’s Market Square. The jurors must have rolled their eyes when the video presented it as “The Champs-Élysées of Wrocław,” for the pedestrian street’s only distinguishing features are a recently remodeled opera house and modernized department store.

A dismal analysis published in January 2014 by the European Parliament, entitled, “European Capital of Culture 2016: the ghost of defeat?” made known that the city continued since I escaped with its spooky ways:

A report was presented to members of the Panel indicating the preparations of Wrocław as host of the 2016 title.

Unfortunately the document shows a very grim picture concerning Wrocław’s readiness. It indicates lack of funds for the project, shortage of artistic personal (sic) and adequate staff that can see the implementation of the project. In plain words, it says Wrocław will fail realizing the project. The rest of the article is here:

In the summer of 2011, one of the key figures involved in winning the 2016 European Culture Capital award, confessed to me privately that the city did not plan on or even wish to be the victor in the competition. As in 2010, the real goal of entering these events was a hope to gain some recognition without having to assume the responsibility of meeting such lofty expectations. Might it be that this ghost town harbored a schizophrenic phobia of being discovered? After all, why was it so invested in helping cover up the identity of the owner of Baszta, a celebrated Polish writer, who had spent a good part of the past several years traveling the world?

Whereas Wrocław learned vital lessons from the 2010 debacle about presenting itself for the sake of such competitions, another article that was published in 2013 brazenly postulated that a potential disaster was in the making for the reason that ultimately forced me to leave Poland:

For some years the authorities of Wrocław, one of the biggest and most populated cities in Poland, have been building the image of this city as a “multicultural,” “open,” and “the meeting place.” Yet research conducted by Polish foundations fighting against racism suggests that this image is a false one and that the inhabitants of Wrocław are not free from xenophobia… The city authorities still haven’t elaborated a programme of fightback against the fascism amongst us and continue to produce more and more statements and declarations that lead to no action. Unfortunately all these symptoms could be the harbinger of real problems that could occur during the events that will take place in 2016. Will those many guests who plan to visit the European Capital of Culture, who have a skin colour other than white, or who speak a language other than Polish, be welcome at all. Click here for the full article:

Wrocław is afraid: an experiment in the European Capital of Culture 2016 – Open Democracy,” August 30, 2013

The German architects who conceived those historical buildings were no more responsible for the Holocaust than Polish architects were responsible for Stalinism.

One has to ponder, why would a city with such large cultural ambitions drive away someone from abroad, who gave so much since its liberation in 1989 to be of assistance for this purpose? Why would a Landlord, as I was so often asked, drive out a tenant who was committed to making so many investments and contributions to her property, while bringing it so much international recognition? Why would she hide from taking pride in this and fail to do everything within her power, making full use of her professional recognition in the name of self-worth and ideas for the future, to be supportive of its success?

All of my artistic achievements and the entire history of La luz/Abrams’ Tower had been effectively swept under the rug, as had been many of my contributions in other respects to Wrocław. I reflected on the time someone showed me an old tourist brochure of Wrocław from the 1970s, which cited some of its most famous architecture that was designed and built by Germans, but not one word was uttered giving Germans the credit. For understandable reasons, displaced Poles from Lithuania and Ukraine, who replaced Germans at the end of WWII, wished to wipe their traumatic memories of the Nazis off of the map. Nevertheless, the German architects who conceived those historical buildings, were no more responsible for the Holocaust than Polish architects were responsible for the concentration camps. Those same buildings are not just symbols of civic pride, but are essential tourist sites today. Never mind that prior to the end of WWII, Wrocław, then known as Breslau, was Germanys’ 4th largest city.

I was by no means alone in my predicament for I knew of others, who invested in the city’s rebirth, only to spend years fighting, and in some cases becoming casualties of immense cultural waste. One was a young Polish architect, who married an Asian woman. He was living and working part-time in London and bought a piece of land from the city. The city blocked his ability to build property on the land it had sold to him by changing its zoning. He had spent years battling this nightmare by the time I fled from Poland. Another was a former near daily customer at my restaurant, an English teacher, who became a Wrocław real estate investor. He came to Poland with big dreams, when “free enterprise” took hold. Like myself, he was a pioneer from abroad, who moved to Wrocław years before Poland had been admitted into the EU. Like others, he bought into the big hype about the open-spirited multicultural future of the city, the very reason I was invited in 1989 to Poland.

I have never before shown any of our taped conversations to anyone.

After he had spent many years of fighting off daily ghosts and demons, we found ourselves simultaneously coming to the same conclusions. We realized that we were not getting any younger and that we would continue to live in purgatory with every effort we made to invest in the Wrocław, Poland’s future. Shortly after I had quietly vanished from the country, he packed it in with his Polish fiancée and returned to live in Liverpool as a disillusioned, paranoid man. Not long before I was checkmated in court, we spent hours together as I videotaped our conversations. In so doing, he ranted like no one I had ever heard before, about the life of a foreigner in Poland. It was obvious to me that he was in dire need of a forum for the sake of catharsis. Sadly, as he still has business dealings in Wrocław, he lost a client, who saw a video clip of our interview that I had posted on Youtube, hence, at his request, I have agreed not to publish any of our recorded conversations.

I found that both of us would overreact at times because we both never knew when or where someone would attempt to sabotage us. I jokingly came up with a name for the affliction: PCSD (Post-Communist Stress Disorder). In fact, I have found a study published online in 1999 on the subject: “Post-Communist Syndrome.” It sometimes felt like living in a horror film, when one does not know which smiling face is a flesh-eating monster that has mutated into human form! The joke he recited in the video about the magic fish was the same joke I had once told him. Like my English friend, I frequently heard a shoulder-shrugging resignation, “To jest Polska” (That’s Poland), passively justifying that this is how it is, despite the country’s appearances of dramatic growth.


Perhaps the greatest disappointment of all was the result of taking my case to the Mayor of Wrocław. In 2009, after the entrance to the tower had become blocked and the local media turned its back, with nowhere left to turn I wrote a letter to Mayor Dutkiewicz. I described the relentless obstruction to operating a multicultural restaurant and a “Meeting Place” for cultural activities inside an important historical building in ruinous condition, without any supportive cooperation from my Landlord. Further, the city was directly implicated because the land outside the tower is city-owned, as is the medieval wall connected to it. I explained that the Landlord’s failure to respond to the conservatory’s demands, one and a half years earlier, was catastrophic to my business. It was my hope that if nothing else, he would value the necessity of doing something to overcome the nightmare being regularly experienced by visitors from abroad, who could not feel safe entering the tower, if they could even find it. 

Weeks passed, and one day I received a letter from the Mayor’s office concerning issues that implicated the tower’s surrounding neighborhood, that in no way addressed my complaint. My lawyer then told me that the city was attempting to impose on the poor neighborhood community an outrageous one thousand percent rental increase for use of the courtyard land surrounding tenement apartments. It is also where my summer garden, that became trapped inside of that courtyard, had existed, for which I also had to pay the neighborhood community monthly rent. Speculation swirled over what were the city’s ulterior motives, as a lawsuit had ensued between the city and neighborhood association, that oversaw usage of the courtyard. It was at this time that the zoning of Baszta had been secretly changed for my Landlord so that it could become residential.

Around one year later, only a few months after the lawsuit that my Landlord filed in court was served, I came upon an opportunity to talk to Mayor Dutkiewicz directly at a gala celebration party in City Hall, following the opening ceremonies of the city’s just restored synagogue. Upon approaching him and introducing myself, in turn he introduced me to his young assistant, who handed me his business card and told me to call him the next day. As with the local media, this only resulted in another impolite brush-off.

Unknown to me, like so many other unknowns, was the extent of behind-the-scenes nepotism involving Baszta and the surrounding neighborhood, as at once I became, a bizarre sci-fi hybrid of a naively exploited cash cow investor and a sacrificial lamb. Later, I privately learned from two different individuals with high-profile positions in the city hierarchy, that the literary reputation of Baszta’s owner had been largely built by the powers-that-be of Wrocław, and that who they were supporting had already been decided. Their grand plans were already in the making. The kangaroo court verdict appeared to be the final confirmation. The two individuals who had high positions in the city’s hierarchy, and who had revealed to me the truth of what was happening, did not have their jobs for long. 

Ultimately, it was all for naught as the neighborhood was able to block the city from delivering on their dubious lofty plans for the courtyard. However, the entrance through the medieval fortification wall was completed. Activity at Baszta today is reportedly thriving as a mainly local student’s cafe. Meanwhile, far away, the international meeting place, Abrams’ Tower West, has risen 6 miles from the Santa Monica beach.

Click here for the Conclusion: From Prisoners to Prison Guards