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GoPoland!: Where to Go: Olsztyn : History

Wysoka Brama Olsztyn's history reads like that of most other towns in this region of Poland: once Prussian, now Polish. The formerly-titled 'Allenstein' commenced life as a fort upon the river Lyna. Like most promising settlements at that time, the fort gave way to a castle, and the castle paved the way for a town charter in 1353. At that time, the Teutonic Knights controlled this area, but not for long. After the bloody battle of Grunwald in 1410, the weakened Knights lost ground: Allenstein itself reverted to Polish hands in 1466. But the never-say-die Knights held on, attacking the town in the 1520's.

Town Square Luckily for Allenstein, its regional administrator returned to plan the defense of the town. Said administrator -- Mikolaj Kopernik -- proved as capable at this job as he was at others, and Allenstein successfully held off the Knights. But 200 or so years later, the town lost its Polishness when Prussia bit off this western hunk of Poland in the first Partition of 1772. Allenstein remained in Prussian hands until 1945, when it suffered from a badly timed attack by the Soviet Army. Basically, they burned the town -- after the war ended -- damaging 40% of it. Like most of Poland, the now-named Olsztyn rebuilt, but did not necessarily recreate. The town is a mix of old and new: the new buildings incorporate some aspects of the old, but are not reproductions. Some remnants of the German population remain, but the town is essentially populated by Poles displaced from the east at the end of the war. Olsztyn did well after the war, developing into an industrial center with a large and growing larger population.

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