Wziąchowo Wielkie

If you ask for “a small breakfast” at the hotel in Wziąchowo Wielkie you will find the following waiting downstairs for you on the table:

Fried eggs with fresh dill, sausages, ten slices of bread, a roll, ten cubes of butter, one bowl of strawberry jam, one bowl of cottage cheese, one bowl of mustard, one plate of vegetables, an assortment of cold meats and cheeses, one glass of juice, one jug of milk, one thermos of coffee and one thermos of black tea.

A cat stares from the door of the dining room. Every time you look back, a new one has taken its place. At intervals of five minutes, the Ukrainian cook, dressed in black, comes out of the kitchen wringing her white hands and smiling expectantly. You thank her every time and turn back to the task at hand: making the food disappear as not to hurt her feelings. If only the cats could come a little nearer so that you could slip them a sausage! But they are well trained, it seems. So you resort to slipping things in your coat pocket.

The owner enters. He is sixty or so, tall, handsome, carries himself like a Polish aristocrat. He tells you the history of the place: how it was a manor of some nobility, a spa, a school during the communist times, a ruin, and now his hotel. Have you enjoyed your stay? He asks (in perfect high German). Oh, you live in Bavaria? He has a friend, an old guest of his, some Von-Somebody who also lives in Bavaria and happens to be turning 100 this week. He really ought to visit one of these days…

After you’ve drunk your coffee and eaten what you can, you can take a stroll (only strolling, not walking, is appropriate here) around the large pond.  Only, every time you come to a bridge you find that it has collapsed. The grass is long, the elegant white benches are rotting, and tiny green frogs hop out of the gazebo when you come near. Nonetheless, it is charming here—  straight out of a Chekhov story. The sun shines mildly. The huge linden trees shake their leaves. A cat jumps up on your lap. In the nearby pine woods, people are walking along sandy roads in search of mushrooms. It is a perfect day. The news of Putin calling up hundreds of thousands of more soldiers seems as if it were happening in some other, far away world. But near the back door, the cook and her teenage son have their heads together and are whispering, and it’s clear that it’s happening here, in this one.