Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Part C: Olawski Bridge

Since the aim is not merely to discuss the Olawski Bridge within the context of Wroclaw preparing itself to be European Capital of Culture in 2016, but to see as well what a poetic approach can bring about in terms of all kinds of personal and intercultural reflections (the group of students is of a diverse background), it is crucial to know the history, architecture, engineering concept etc. of the bridge. For only on such a basis something can be added, poetically speaking.


History of the Olawski Bridge – constant conflict between parish and private owners

The introductory text to the Olawski Bridge states already one interesting aspect, namely that there prevailed a conflict between two different interest groups. Whether or not this conflict has to be seen within the 'dialectic of securalization' process Poland has still to go through due to a predominant Catholic influence, remains to be seen. Nevertheless a determination of life through religion reveals components in a society which has been for centuries impoverished while an elite co-existed with the church with regards to dominating public life. The significance of the Olawski Bridge can be seen as a transition from a religious orientation to a Pantheism relying mainly on an obscure concept of nature. To this has to be added elements of Romanticism even though the philosopher Alfred Tarski brought into the discussions in the 1930s elements of analytic methods of inquiry. Karl Popper adopted his concept of 'truth'. After the Second World War, it was someone like Kolakowski who attempted to reconcile philosophy with the certainty of the senses. Yet he two would not last in the academic fields in Poland, and went to teach at Oxford. He represents best the discourse about the failure of both Marxism and Socialism in Poland. But to return to the reality of the Olawski Bridge, its history is being retold in following words.

„Most Oławski although one of the most beautiful in Wroclaw is one of the least known. Staying in direct walking distance of one of the most important bridges in the city - Bridge Grunwald did not become part of the route of old vehicular traffic or pedestrian or bicycle. This is in complete opposition to its historical nature, already in the Middle Ages, this tract was part of an important trade route, with such income, which caused constant conflict between the clergy of the parish of St. Maurice and private owners.“

Is this a matter of merely ownership when it comes to making use of a certain bridge? Should it be used only for meditative purposes as perhaps the clergy may have wanted in the past, or the private owners like to use the bridge, in order to expand their trade?

All this reminds of how the bridge in Augsburg was deliberately burned down by people from Munich. Their aim was to alter the salt route. It forced the shipments of salt coming from Salzburg to cross the Isar not in Augsburg as before, but now via Munich. Immediately Munich grew and became rich due to the money taken from the tolls.

Indeed the bridge and the toll make it into an interesting economic combination. There are also other conflicts in store. Where before Ferrymen earned a living by bringing people, vehicles and even animals over to the other side, once a bridge is built they are replaced. As a reminder of the times before the bridge was built, there is this poem by Meng Hao-jan:



On a northern peak among white clouds 
You have found your hermitage of peace; 
And now, as I climb this mountain to see you, 
High with the wild geese flies my heart. 
The quiet dusk might seem a little sad 
If this autumn weather were not so brisk and clear; 
I look down at the river bank, with homeward-bound villagers 
Resting on the sand till the ferry returns; 
There are trees at the horizon like a row of grasses 
And against the river's rim an island like the moon 
I hope that you will come and meet me, bringing a basket of wine -- 
And we'll celebrate together the Mountain Holiday. 1

How descriptive alone that one observations, when the poem describes how he looks down and sees the homeward-bound villagers resting on the sand till the ferry returns. There was always this waiting time linked to crossing a river by a ferry.

Once the ferrymen and their ships are replaced, a different life style begins to mark the entire landscape. It is as if everything in this age gives in once transportation is dedicated only to the use of the car with its possibility to cover great distances and to reach even outskirts and remote places. The transformation from Ferry service to use of a bridge is especially the case of the Rio bridge by Patras, Greece. There you pay 13 Euros to drive over within ten minutes. Such a bridge opens up other possibilities and alters the sense of being on a journey. It makes the hinterland all the more accessible. The impact is such that real estate values on the other side of the bridge will go up, that is the one which had been until then not so easily reachable.

As such bridges indicate as well another interesting aspect, namely the difference between natural and man-made routes. If you would follow only the flow of the river, then quite other connections would be established and sustain themselves, while the man-made routes can transgress natural borders like rivers and link up regions in quite a different way.

Needless to say this kind of transformation of cultural landscapes can be witnessed in many countries undergoing transitions. They are always accompanied by conflicts and adaptation problems to new transport systems altering the routes.

Greece is such an example of making huge transitions. Where before connections were made till recent times only by ship, so that each settlement was practically its own enclave or island, all that has changed with modern technology and new transport routes. New Highways and bridges are build, the most spectacular one being as of late the Rio Bridge by Patras.


          Driving over the Rio bridge by Patras, Greece

Once these infrastructures, including huge highways are constructed, the alienation from nature is more pronounced. Above all, these new public works tend to ignore the pre-existing cultural landscapes. A new highway can even cut through the ancient aqueduct as the case outside of Volos for now the connection is no longer made via the sea, but on land. The highway simply ignores the ancient ways of supplying the palace up on a hill with water from the nearby mountains, and instead cuts simply through the aqueduct.

By altering routes both 'memories of the place' (cultural heritage), including the graves of the ancestors, and nature shall experience a massive impact. This is when a cultural landscape is at risk especially once a constructive interaction of man with nature no longer prevails, and instead everything succumbs to a consumption of space. The latter has been prompted especially by use of the car as it furthers the arbitrary expansion of human settlements.

An existing cultural landscape is really a synthesis of man's activities with nature e.g. terrace farming.

The Olawski bridge can also symbolize efforts to match nature and man-made constructions by creating a special synthesis. Obviously industrial bridges distinguish themselves from those with artistic decorations and modern ones with a tendency to be highly functional. Still, those bridges which are much more in harmony with the natural surroundings, they set quite a different tone, especially if they blend into the surroundings rather than being a huge and alienating intervention of some kind. Of course, there have been build bridges which became over time tourist attractions due to their novel construction.

As for the two components, namely cultural heritage and cultural landscape, both are expressions of activities by mankind. They entail a society-nature relationship expressed best by one kind or another of a cultural synthesis. This 'cultural synthesis' is not given. Rather it has to be brought about at a level of reflection which allows technical innovation and design to become a unique cultural expression.

These expressions should be all a part of democracy, or as Karsten Xuereb, project manager of Valletta 2018 puts it, “democracy is really about synthesis, and not about people leading their lives separately from each other while guaranteeing rights with no interaction and sense of community.2

Often these kinds of synthesis in the making can be encountered well below any institutional level which have been set up to keep society from functioning as a viable unit. While the latter function precisely because of an analytical framework, the same does not apply to daily life. For what motivates people to interact, the quality difference if this happens on the basis of their humanity and empathy for one another. In brief, a cultural synthesis is a prerequisite that society can sustain itself and that Europe stays connected through culture. 3

If that is not the case, then the bridge can become very quickly a source of irritation and of conflict. If not resolved in time, it can even drag the entire region down and even be destroyed if not by war, but by neglect. This may be the case of the area around the Olawski Bridge since Kamila Kaminska describes it as an area which seems to be deprived, and therefore badly in need of some urban regeneration.

Deprivation and deterioration is the case once destruction spills over into nature. It begins once a beautiful natural spot becomes a rubbish dumb. Such a neglect is an indication that inner tensions of society are no longer containable. Likewise it is reflected in the uninhibited expansion of cities. They can over extend beyond their borders until they end up like Sao Paulo in Brazil, namely to run out of drinking water. As this intensifies the situation, tensions are no longer something which keep institutions alive like a body with muscles working, but become counter productive forces. It manifests itself as an urge to simply destroy (with Enzensberger in 'civil war' adding the characteristic that no distinction is made anymore between self destruction and destruction).

The institutional set-up of society must be able to resolve the kinds of problems for which they have been designed to function e.g. water management. Otherwise they can become easily over demanded and once people are no longer satisfied, they shall express themselves in forms of anger, even rage. It can easily produce many mishaps until overt and simple conflicts can no longer be resolved peacefully by using methods of mediation and negotiation. In the end such societies slide from mounting conflicts into war. Syria is nowadays a sad example of what happens once only extremist forces rule and no longer respect of human life prevails.

Bridge building is in fact mediation understood as cultural negotiations which can bridge differences while still able to uphold open communication i.e. dialogue with the other side.


The Olawski Bridge from a historical and engineering perspective


         Pillar of the Olawski Bridge

„A couple of centuries ago, it was just a modest wooden footbridge which lead onto the meadows surrounding the Odra and Oława rivers. It is said to have been used mostly by Walloon weavers who dwelled in the nearby Oławskie suburbs. This area was often called St. Moritz, due to the name of the patron of a local church. Hence, the name of the bridge first raised in this place – Most Maurycego (Mauritusbrücke, meaning Moritz’s Bridge).

It was raised between 1882 and 1883 according to the design by Aleksander Kaumann, and his collaborators, the engineers Eger and Reichelt. Its construction, which is evocative of bridges found in Rome and Paris, is based on arches, with stone and granite supports, as well as pillars and abutments. The bridge is decorated with balustrade railings and neobaroque sculptures which depict mythological figures connected to the realm of water. Those who promenade on the bridge walk in the light of gas street lamps, which were based on the original etched designs from the year 1885. One of the oldest ports of Wrocław, the Ujście Oławy, is located right by the bridge.“ 4


The associative link to Rome and Paris can imply many things. If we talk about arches and lines, our thoughts go immediately to what Klaus Heinrich in his lecture about Piranesi has stressed, namely „the fascination for the line“ to which every architect succumbs to sooner or later. For when designing a builing, or in this case a bridge, many magic like lines become invisible once the construction has been completed. Hence they prefer a half finished or half demolished ruin as this would make again these lines become visible.

Of great interest is here as well the concept of culture which prevails over centuries in Europe. Due to the vault being such a feat when in Ancient Greece temples were build in a way, which left inside a completely empty space, it was always a dream of architects to do likewise. They only succeeded, so the point made by architect Jürgen Eckhardt, once cement was invented and then once again large vaults could be constructed in imitation of Ancient Greek temples.

The only difference is the use of cement rather than marble. The materials used matter for they give further character to a building or bridge. Yet if there have been added as well a lot of decorative elements, that too says something about the aesthetics of those times. When passing through the Rococo period, it amounted, for example, to playful attempts by kings and noblemen to impress themselves. They sought to have something artificial and superfluous, but nevertheless to their sense of aesthetics something beautiful.


Making use of the bridge over time

Departing from such aesthetical reflections, some further observations can be made about the political nature of a bridge. It is best indicated how often the bridge is being used on a daily basis. That use can alter the thinking about what connections prevails between the one and the other side. It seems that over time, and especially as of late, the Olawski bridge has not really been used. The history of public transport in the form of a tram or street car seems to indicate that.

For one key remark about the use of the bridge states the following:

Bridge in addition to aesthetic also has an interesting history. Then in 1893 have driven your first electric tram; today, moreover, you can find before and after the bridge preserved fragments of the then tram tracks (after the war has already started the route by bridge Oławski).


In other words, a tram used to cross over the bridge, but no longer. Definitely technological developments will affect a bridge. It all depends how transportation modes alter over time. The Russian writer Nabakov believed around the 1920s that the tramway was a transport vehicle which would soon fade out of sight or even history. 5 He erred but then these dancers through the streets of cities have become elegant, silent and technical so efficient, that many prefer them to buses which consume gasoline and pollute the air. The notion of dancers through the streets and over bridges stems from the artists Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov who did an installation of the street car dancing through the streets of Berlin.


            Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov – installation mit Lutz Gelbert der diesen Straßenbahn Typus entworfen hat - design


Of course, some bridges may be used so much, that the city's fathers decide to rebuild the bridge by either widening it, or else by deciding to build an extra one to handle the traffic as has been the case in Dresden and despite the landscape being a UNESCO world heritage site. By constructing that bridge Dresden lost the status of that valley as a cultural landscape on the list of World Heritage Sites. The reason for the loss of that status has a lot to do with the aesthetical glance of a landscape which should not be spoiled by some human construction. It is like the building heights being stipulated, but often not observed, for constructions near or around the Acropolis in Athens. It is paramount that the Acropolis is not disturbed by an ugly building blocking the view.

Thus it is an interesting question, or rather a matter of anticipation, whether the Olawski bridge shall over time alter in use and then may be transformed so that future generations will not recognize any more how it looked like in 2015.


The Parmenides experience

Over the years Rakowiec, a former district forming part of the Suburbs Oława, was a place of recreation of Wroclaw, here also housed the open-air theater. Transformation lying today on the sidelines of the bridge in place of the cultural event will be a reminder of the tradition of the building.

Before entering that difficult terrain of 'tradition and modernity', or what should still be preserved in the present even as changes lick on the bridge like the water on its pillars, there has to be comprehended the term 'transformation'. The term was used explicity by the political scientist Johannes Agnoli who wrote about “The Transformation of Democracy” i.e. its constant erosion from within and from without. 6

Linked to that is a fragment of a poem called 'Being'. The poem was written by the Ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides' and is On Nature. It is about a young man being taken by goddess on a chariot out of town. As said already in the introduction, the 'chariot' can also be the 'soul' which takes you out into nature and into freedom. Yet in the fragment which remained of Parmenides ' poem, there is a curious stipulation. For before the young man can leave the city and step out into nature, he must use a special key to open the gate and then again close it after having passed through it. The key is called 'dike' or key of fate. Its special nature is that once you leave the city, you have to leave behind or forget all previously made experiences which shaped your perception of things.

One outstanding example of perception by Parmenides was in reality a scientific observation for once the wheels of the chariot started to turn, smoke rose from the wooden hole in which the axe was grinding away. It was a first observance that resistance matters, and thereby gave a clue as to what would become an innovative progress after the wheel was discovered. According to Thomas Kuhn who wrote 'Structure of Scientific Revolutions', by making such an observation a wheel can be improved upon so that a vehicle does move with greater ease.

As said already all these experiences made in the city have to be forgotten, if the young man is to step into nature. That prerequisite of forgetting is important. It allows for making a distinction between city related and therefore man made experiences and and experiences based on our senses once affected by natural surroundings. The difference makes itself felt when we allow nature to unify our senses rather than a concept. As a reminder, Kant formulated in his philosophy based on experiences being gained through experiments the need for an abstract 'unity of apperception' if differences between expectations and real happenings were to be noted as scientific evidence when testing a hypothesis. Simply said, when walking across the Olawski bridge, it may be an interesting model to reflect when are the city based experiences left behind and what difference does it make when we let nature do all the talking. Needless to say, Hegel denied the senses as much as poetry being 'a source of truth', but then that explains exactly the problem people feel and not really realize when they cannot bridge the gap between the conceptual level of society and what they see, hear, smell, taste and touch in their daily lives. By stepping out into nature, that trust in the senses can be partially restored. All the more of importance is to incorporate that difference in experience in any description of what is like when walking over the Olawski bridge.


Creation of a cultural synthesis between man and nature

Is the bridge an expression of a successful cultural synthesis between man and nature? We may come back to Monet when wishing to describe our first impression of the bridge. In German there exists an appropriate term for it: 'eine verwunsche Brücke' – an enchanted bridge.

It can go together with Martin Jay talking about „the Disenchantment of the eye“ as key experience of the 20th century. 7 It is still an open question what will mark this 21st century.

Disenchantment means having lost interest in the world. Everything is seen in merely black and white colour as if the beauty of nature and the zeal of life are no longer convincing, or for that matter a source of endless pleasure.

Disenchantment is like the downcast eyes of Mozart who made the sobering experience on his second trip to Paris that he was no longer a wonder child and therefore no more the desired object of admiration of upper society. The latter simply ignored the eighteen year old musician and composer but in so doing failed to recognize what genius of music he was to become. A film portraying his life showed that moment when Mozart walked back home after having experienced a disappointing evening. The film showed simply someone looking down while walking home all alone. The camera was solely directed towards the cobble stones he saw.

Rodin, when making sculptures of the thinker Balzac, he would always distinguish three positions when modelling him: deep in thought meant head down, having found some practical solution head upright with eyes looking straight ahead and when the head was held up high, then Balzac was inspired by a new idea, by a vision, by a glance into the future of mankind.

All these positions of the head can mean something and therefore be translated into what constitutes a bridge. Like the engineers would do it, the experience thereof might be that all three positions can be gone through while crossing over the bridge. That makes it into a unique location to get to know one's own thoughts best done by entering a personal dialogue with one's self.

So the real question is if such a bridge amounts to a viable cultural synthesis any community of man requires? If it does so, and although constantly ignored, the bridge will have its own language in need to be deciphered. Specifically about the Olawski Bridge, it will mean interpreting what this edifice long neglected says nevertheless about people being trapped in their urban fabrics, and therefore cut off from their senses. It may be due to the fact that they never find nor give themselves the time needed to step outside the city and into nature. If they do tht once in a while, in order to take another look at themselves and to breathe in some other air, it may not be enough to alter their own urban alienation.

The experience of the Olawski bridge may answer an open question about how people wish to live their lives in the 21st century. Over time, surely many ideas but also emotions shall be expressed on that subject matter. To this can be added in view of Wroclaw being European Capital of Culture in 2016, that 'culture is before anything else a search for truth!' That search can be brought about especially by poetry. Hence it would be important to notice just what comes into consciousness when approaching the bridge and what alters while walking over it. Does come up something unexpected like a poetic form of expression since a reflection of some deeper wish touched upon? We said the Olawski bridge is an enchanting one, a kind of secretive place where other wishes can be articulated in the form of a poem. Also once the other side has been reached, that difference to before and now will allow some other bridging of differences.

It may all come down to just using the bridge not in just any, but in a certain way. Definitely the experience differs if only used to rush over due to being late for work or an appointment. It is quite another experience made possible when on a contemplative walk as described in the novel 'Gehen' by Thomas Bernhard. The author would describe what happens to body and mind when letting thinking determine both speed and direction of once walk, especially once over the bridge and on the other side free to wander about in nature.

Still, there is the song of Simon and Garfunkel about the “bridge over troubled waters”. The song draws attention to the fact that there is something else to think about: the water running underneath the bridge. As a matter of fact it forms an intersection of two different time flows and therefore can be conceived like natural cross with the bridge being perpendicular to river flowing underneath. Already one experience may be that the look upon the water brings about a calmness unknown till then as long as one is absorb by the hectic pace in the city.


Something unusual happens on the bridge

Can there be imagined other uses? If yes, can they be introduced by initiating some cultural actions so that the bridge will play in the future life of the city of Wroclaw another role? Sometimes things can happen and then a bridge takes on suddenly another meaning. It may already be indicated when some darker sides of the bridge's history begin to reveal themselves.

A riddle or a puzzle like the following one may start innocently, but then quickly leave the trivial and enter the tragic level:

bone riddled puzzles of history

much has been said about throwing

off the bridge potato sacks filled with manure

but if dead corpses they make the river into a graveyard

which covers with silence what took place on that bridge


If something serious takes place on a bridge, then another meaning begins to form an existence beyond the believable. This is revealed, for example, in Milan Kundera's story about the “Apologizer”.


A woman steps out of her car

A small car moves along the road beside a river. The chilly morning air makes even more forlorn the charmless terrain, somewhere between the end of a suburb and open country, where houses grow scarce and no pedestrians are to be seen. The car stops at the side of the road; a woman gets out—young, quite beautiful. A strange thing: she pushes the door shut so negligently that the car must not be locked. What is the meaning of that negligence, so improbable these days with thieves about? Is the woman so distracted?

No, she doesn’t seem distracted; on the contrary, determination is visible on her face. This woman knows what she wants. This woman is pure will. She walks some hundred yards along the road, toward a bridge over the river, a rather high, narrow bridge, forbidden to vehicles. She steps onto it and heads toward the far bank. Several times she looks around, not like a woman expected by someone but to be sure that there is no one expecting her. Midway across the bridge, she stops. At first glance she appears to be hesitating, but, no, it’s not hesitation or a sudden flagging of determination; on the contrary, it’s a pause to sharpen her concentration, to make her will steelier yet. Her will? To be more precise: her hatred. Yes, the pause that looked like hesitation is actually an appeal to her hatred to stand by her, to support her, not to desert her for an instant.

She lifts a leg over the railing and flings herself into the void. At the end of her fall, she slams brutally against the hardness of the water’s surface and is paralyzed by the cold, but after a few long seconds she lifts her face, and since she is a good swimmer all her automatic responses surge forward against her will to die. She plunges her head under again, forces herself to inhale water, to block her breathing. Suddenly, she hears a shout. A shout from the far bank. Someone has seen her. She understands that dying will not be easy, and that her greatest enemy will be not her good swimmer’s irrepressible reflex but a person she had not figured on. She will have to fight. Fight to rescue her death.

She kills

She looks over toward the shout. Someone has leaped into the river. She considers: who will be quicker, she, in her resolve to stay underwater, to take in water, to drown herself, or he, the oncoming figure? When she is half-drowned, with water in her lungs and thus weakened, won’t she be all the easier prey for her savior? He will pull her toward the bank, lay her out on the ground, force the water out of her lungs, apply mouth-to-mouth, call the rescue squad, the police, and she will be saved and ridiculed forevermore.

“Stop! Stop!” the man shouts.

Everything has changed. Instead of diving down beneath the water, she raises her head and breathes deeply to collect her strength. He is already in front of her. It’s a young fellow, a teenager, who hopes to be famous, to have his picture in the papers. He just keeps repeating, “Stop! Stop!” He’s already reaching a hand toward her, and she, rather than evading it, grasps it, grips it tight, and pulls it (and him) down toward the depths of the river. Again he cries, “Stop!” as if it were the only word he can speak. But he will not speak it again. She holds on to his arm, draws him toward the bottom, then stretches the whole length of her body along the boy’s back to keep his head underwater. He fights back, he thrashes, he has already inhaled water, he tries to strike the woman, but she stays lying firmly on top of him; he cannot lift his head to get air, and after several long, very long, seconds he ceases to move. She holds him like that for a while; it is as if, exhausted and trembling, she were resting, laid out along him. Then, convinced that the man beneath her will not stir again, she lets go of him and turns away, toward the riverbank she came from, so as not to preserve within her even the shadow of what has just occurred.

But what’s going on? Has she forgotten her resolve? Why does she not drown herself, since the person who tried to rob her of her death is no longer alive? Why, now that she is free, does she no longer seek to die?

Life unexpectedly recovered has been a kind of shock that broke her determination; she has lost the strength to concentrate her energy on dying. She is shaking, suddenly stripped of any will, any vigor; mechanically, she swims toward the place where she abandoned the car.

She returns to the house

Little by little, she feels the water grow less deep, she touches her feet to the riverbed, she stands; she loses her shoes in the mud and hasn’t the strength to search for them; she leaves the water barefoot and climbs the bank to the road.

The rediscovered world has an inhospitable appearance, and suddenly anxiety seizes her: she hasn’t got the car key! Where is it? Her skirt has no pockets.

Heading for your death, you don’t worry about what you’ve dropped along the way. When she left the car, the future did not exist. She had nothing to hide. Whereas now, suddenly, she has to hide everything. Leave no trace. Her anxiety grows stronger and stronger: Where is the key? How to get home?

She reaches the car, she pulls at the door, and, to her astonishment, it opens. The key awaits her, abandoned on the dashboard. She sits at the wheel and sets her naked feet on the pedals. She is still shaking. Now she is shaking with cold as well. Her shirt, her skirt, are drenched, with dirty river water running everywhere. She turns the key and drives off.

The person who tried to impose life on her has died from drowning, and the person she was trying to kill in her belly is still alive. The idea of suicide is ruled out forever. No repeats. The young man is dead, the fetus is alive, and she will do all she can to keep anyone from discovering what has happened. She is shaking, and her will revives; she thinks of nothing but her immediate future: How to get out of the car without being seen? How to slip, unnoticed, in her dripping clothes, past the concierge’s window?

Alain felt a violent blow on his shoulder. “Watch out, you idiot!”

He turned and saw a girl passing him on the sidewalk with a rapid, energetic stride.

“Sorry!” he cried after her (in his frail voice).

Asshole!” she answered (in her strong voice) without turning around.” 8



If something like this happens, the bridge takes on quite another, indeed dramatic meaning. It can become a bridge of fate in both a negative and positive way. The positive aspect can be expressed by people saying, for example, “if you are going to cross over that bridge with one woman (or man), you will stay with that person forever!” That reminds as to what was said about that one drawing by Vincent Van Gogh when he depicted a man and woman in arms with one another walking towards that bridge in Arles. It may be interpreted as a strong wish of his to be united with a woman.

Is it superstition, or a belief in fate, or rather some practical wisdom to help young people unsure about themselves to make up their mind and finally decide to marry that other person, when such common expressions are used? It would give the bridge another metaphorical meaning, and mainly one linked to the romantic notion of being a match maker. It is something many people need nowadays as they are easily over demanded when having to make a choice of their life partner.

The negative meaning implies in fact, that if someone wishes to end his or her life by jumping off the bridge then things end there. There will be no interesting story to follow up to. That is why Kundera's twist is in reality that surprising element: the woman who wishes to drown herself survives while the young man who tries to come to her rescue dies in the process. Tragedy and comedy in life are usually complementary elements or even two sides of the same coin.

The story of Kundera underlines something else. It shows how the departure from one time line can be instigated by someone making a sudden and very unusual move. While others still continue to live, those who seek to drown themselves or to commit suicide in another way do so by entering another time sphere. The latter is hardly know since the door to enter that sphere is called death. That is why expressions like 'battle for life' or 'survival struggle' can be replicated in battles literally taking place on the bridge with neither side giving in till death implies what Böcklin had captured in his painting and why Gabriel Rosenstock call the bridge a 'human construction' linked to 'destruction' of all kinds, including self destruction possibilities.

Interestingly enough, the poet Glen Calleja would refute the term 'survival'. He rejects the notion that human beings would not live their lives, but have to earn the Right to stay alive, and this by struggling to survive. He answered Jael Uribe, poetess and organiser of 'Women Scream', when she described herself as survivor of cancer by asking why the use the term 'survival':

What you say about being 'survivors of life' is a bit of a challenging concept to me. I don't think I have a position about that statement but to me the word 'survivors' suggests that we are here when really we shouldn't be...which I find a little difficult to digest and accept...  Such words are also problematic in that they allow some organisations to exploit the fear they suggest for commercial, political and private reasons...but that is another argument altogether.“ 9

This false proposition can be shed off by walking over an enchanted bridge like the Olawski and discover that 'natural living self', free to breathe in fresh air and to think of oneself as being an integral part of life itself. Out of that follows 'love of life' and more so an exasperation when the other does not seem to grasp the most obvious difference between living your life and struggling to survive.



The word 'exasperation' captures best what a bridge can stand for. The term suggests a combination of provocation and irritation. It may have to do with being suddenly startled by what confronts once once one has reached the other side of the bridge. It may equally have to do with realizing suddenly one has been living for too long just one version of life, and never realized what else exists on the other shore. Moreover, this otherness seems suddenly more remote and unreachable even when standing on the bridge and much closer than ever before to that other side. Something struck home to bring about this feeling of being 'exasperated'.

If something cannot be reached somehow, then it is like the old fable of the grapes hanging just a bit too high so that they cannot be reached by whoever wishes to eat them. It could be a goat but also children wishing to snatch something from the vineyards before they are caught.

Most of the experiences of exasperation begin with some astonishing beauty, a beauty so strong and powerful, that it is hard to believe such a world exists. Often people catch a glimpse of it but because they do not believe it can exist, they sink back into normal reality.

It recalls Plato's cave analogy, and touches upon some of the deeper reasons as to why people are reluctant to step outside the maze of the city. Even it keeps them confined in negative images of what is possible, what not, they cannot really believe their eyes when they discover another world exists on the other side of the bridge.

That other world full of nature and all kinds of not noises, but sounds starting with what the water creates while flowing underneath the bridge, can startle. And even if the water flows quietly, that silence can startle. It says something about urban dwellers used to the honking of cars, the roaring of engines, the clattering of the rubbish collectors, the shouts of the children etc.

Even more exasperated can become anyone returning from such an experience when trying to convince the others that there is no need to glare always into the ugly side of life, into television, if there exists a real nature on the other side. Yet they cannot convince the others and fail to communicate that other sense of beauty. It reminds then of Pink Floyd's song about the 'dark side of the moon!' The contrast can remind about such beauty which is breath taking but which people do not believe it can exist in such a world as they are living in right now!

To discover beauty requires aesthetical reflections which are initiated by astonishment or as the Ancient Greeks would formulate it by 'wonder'. The latter is a positive disbelief that something so beautiful can exist. Wonder is an intellectual experience of something existing but which cannot be explained like the 'birth of the earth'. 10

Such a deep wonder (but not 'fascination') has something to do as well with a key concept of life, namely peace. Appropriate in that sense is that there are bridges of peace. They equal tranquillity and what is called by the German philosopher Ernst Bloch as being the difference between 'Ruhe' and 'silence of the cemetery'. While the latter is the outcome of demands by a repressive society which does not even wish to hear the noise of children playing in the streets, 'Stille' is a liveliness in its own terms for it allows thoughts to be heard just as it recognizes activities in the streets are in reality signs of life. Interestingly enough the artist Giacomo Sferlazzo from Lambedusa, Italy said during his presentation at a conference held in Valletta, Malta 2014 that Europe is at risk to forget its main capital: children playing bare footed football in the streets while an old man searches for shade to protect himself from the sun.11


       Bridge of peace


All this amounts then to understanding the real design of a constructed bridge which can only be constructed once two sides can be conjoined. Given the deadlock of negotiations between the Greek state and its creditors about the meaning of reform, it may be a matter of not having attained the same level of reflection so that both sides can question in a positive way the viewpoint held by the respective other side. It would be a novel undertaking to conceive the bridge as a method to question the world views held above all by powerful elites which have adopted within the global economy the neo-liberal attitude. Since they have become fixed upon such a policy making view, their thinking has succumbed to but one kind of 'Weltanschauung!' - way to view the world. By not allowing that to be questioned, communication becomes static, a sure sign that European society is heading into ever deeper trouble.

How the world is perceived, judged and even not appreciated at times, determines generally the drawing of conclusions as to what is possible. Apparent will become what may be desired but cannot be lived. Once denied in something, it may even lead to resentment against this kind of world. Once such negative appraisals and/or critical judgements are used to justify what one does, what not, life is continued as if on an automatic pilot, but negatively and mainly destructively. Routine and repeated denials of chances become in due time a mixed bag of hope and resignation. Such a mix of attitudes can prompt some illusionary hopes with the purpose to keep away the ugly sides of life but by not really living the resentment can sooner or later lead to first exasperations, and then to even violent explosions.

It seems hardly possible to develop some realistic attitude if such a negative mood prevails. Culture as a bridge is needed to make a difference. It is best done by giving inspiration to be realized investing anew in life, in others and in oneself, and this free from negative foregone conclusions that nothing works, nothing will succeed and only the corrupt and well connected shall prevail. To succeed in such a world shall not be easy, but it can be done, provided one does not succumb to those fake models of success. As one Polish man working for an international bank in Berlin, he is constantly only in his circle of people, and therefore hardly gets the chance to talk to artists and those who lead a different life not orientated towards making a career by being only business orientated. There is more to life than that!

Equally it is crucial to link up with a critical, equally imaginative viewpoint. The latter will allow the creation of new possibilities rather than stumbling on as if denial and self-denial have entered a coalition hardly to be undone in forthcoming times.

So if we do not wish to question negative world views, and this not only on a psychological level (here some misunderstanding of Sigmund Freud may have something to do with this), irrational tendencies in society have to be faced and overcome. These tendencies wish to mystify things by entering all sorts of spiritual trips, till more and more artificial means are added to counter the exasperation experienced in daily lives. It begins with taking drugs but does not end with general negative explanations e.g. 'people are always lazy!' as if nothing can be expected from them any more. On the contrary, by being excited and exhilarated, then standing on a bridge can become a real challenge. For will it give the 'self' a chance while crossing over that bridge another self understanding?


Writing poems about the Olawski bridge

“The practice of poetry is bigger than the ‘content’ it explores. This also applies to the most lyrical of poets. Writing and composing poetry is not about the words one uses but about how one composes them... so it is all about metre, rhythm, musicality, assonance, dissonance… along with a good deal of experimentation, risk, accident and magic.” 12

In an interview, Glen Calleja explains his method of writing poetry after he had listened to the stories told to him by persons with cancer. He ended up by writing a book of poetry about cancer.

„It was more of an ‘image-harvesting’ exercise than an adaptation of stories. Once I found images I could use I would de-contextualise them, mix them up with dissonant associations, test them in other scenarios, change subject’s gender, introduce fictional dialogues and take it from there. „ 13


His approach is quite refreshing as he is aware of clichés dominating wrongly so the public imagination about what is possible in life once affected by cancer. Due to a sentimentality which goes with these clichés, people are unable to come to terms with themselves. Too often the language of the doctors is full of jargons so they are not touched when addressed in that way as patients in their critical self understanding. Glen Calleja is equally critical of the media which reinforces but one sided stories as if of the greatest calamity when in fact cancer is being dealt with as just another practical problem in need of attention, but with many cases being curable or if not completely, then at the very least liveable with.

„The media always feeds us cancer with an indigestible side plate of misery and all the stuff that haunts the public imagination. As a writer, this suits me fine. It gives me a continuous flow of narratives to work with and an abundance of clichés to poke, to toy with and to test how true they are.„ 14


Likewise writing poems about the Olawski Bridge should amount to a harvesting of images which can come to one already by regarding this architectural feature as “eine verwunschene Brücke” / an enchanted bridge. Such a secretive place evokes special wishes. Of course, it can easily evoke romantic notions which can have negative consequences as Romanticism instead of embracing and following the path of love, can easily “displace the concept of love” and drive the person into social isolation. 15 The outcome would be an uncertainty on how to face life in reality, a reality whether now in the city or in nature.

But let us reconsider another advice when it comes to writing poetry by the Flemish poet Germain Droogenbroodt.


Writing poetry

To find the fragile balance
between silence and word
between the road
and the

between the nameless
and the nameable

to bridge
the deep abyss
between paper and pen.


Germain Droogenbroodt is a Flemish poet who lives in Spain, and there in a house called Ithaka with obvious reference to Odysseus. He speaks about the need to bridge the silence existing between the white sheet of paper someone wishes to write a poem on and the world one enters once an associative mind conjures up all kinds of images. One has to trust not merely words, but metaphors to do their duty and transport the meanings one wishes to bring across. It is about building bridges which one can cross over oneself.

To write poetry is to enter the dialectic between immediacy and mediation. These are two crucial terms in Hegel's philosophy but he uses them to negate the one through the other so that thought becomes suspended (aufgehoben), so as to give all the power to the abstraction and not to the real world as to be experienced by the senses. That is then the subtle difference and the challenge, namely to write poetry as expression of sense perception and not allow this expression to be easily denied by philosophy which claims poetry like the senses cannot be a source of truce.

Germain Droogenbroodt refutes that. He claims poets have always the finger on the pulse of time! If it is, therefore, a matter of trusting the senses when entering a special dialogue with the world by painting with words filled with sounds of life, what can be on the other side and which will make a difference as to how existence is perceived on this side of the river. As was described when interpreting a painting, it is a matter of freedom to let the dialogue of the imagination with the real world unfold in front of the eyes. It is to be perceived when writing down what comes spontaneously to the mind. By stepping into the words as they come up, there is created a memory track. Important is that the last sound of the last line recalls with what tone everything started. For poetry is listening as well to the music made by the 'inner voice' which becomes audible relation to the human language. For the human voice is not self understood. Usually language is used like a mask to conceal the inner most motives. But only that poetry which feeds like a tribute into the stream of humanity, then such a language will allow the sharing of meanings with others since it touches upon common meanings. It can be as simple as saying to each other: 'problem' as opposed to 'no problem!' to make free the way to go on.

In a short form, poetry and dialogue with reality requires the following: to listen to the 'inner voice', trust is a prerequisite for what can be conveyed by expressions using only few words. Of course, an epic poem ensures a long term legacy. Such a poem is needed which goes beyond the immediate sense impression and in which things, events, and persons have to be explained in an non poetic way in the form of an introduction. For instance, Brendan Kennelly wrote for his epic poem 'Judas' an introduction. It contains a most significant insight, since he states that “the most difficult thing to unlearn is learned hatred.” The epic poem itself shows what it means to educate children from day one at school to hate the traitor, namely Judas. Brendan Kennelly observes that they are taught this without them being aware by learning to hate Judas as traitor, they are betraying many of their own dreams about humanity. 16

To write within a specific topic as in this case is to think about the direction a poem should take in reference to the Olawski or for that matter to some other, including an imaginary bridge.

Always there is a search for a special location to open up. In Ancient Greece, this was called 'Topos' – the location where such openness can be experienced. That is why the rock formation on which the Acropolis in Athens stands is such a poetic ground. No wonder then that the Ancient Greeks constructed precisely at such locations a temple. They believed it these poetic grounds to be comparable with magnetic force fields which can attract and repulse likewise different thoughts and ideas.

Now in terms of location, it is possible to distinguish between being before the bridge, on the bridge, and after having stepped off the bridge, to be on the other side. This is especially the case if the one direction leads into the city, while the other brings one out into nature.

It is equally of importance to listen to the tunes many people make while walking across the bridge.

There is as well a need to think about all kinds of variations. Hence to describe the bridge when it rains, when it snows, when the winds blow, when no one is there but oneself, when all rush across to reach the other side...all these different settings should be like the different sketches and paintings Van Gogh made of the bridge in Arles. These variations reveal the different angles of perception but also allow quite another appreciation of the variations made possible through life itself.

At times, there is a snare in what one can imagine to be on the other side. It is important to respect that snare as a sign of resistance and rather than circumvent it by trying to ignore it, it is advisable to work with such resistance. For nothing in real life is ready made. Rather it is important to work on the expression about the bridge till the bodily work itself is felt as coming through the lines one writes.

A recording of different sounds can allow for another meditative approach to the bridge itself. Once familiar by certain sounds, the bridge may become recognizable even if blind folded.

Over time various transport modes reflect the changing times in the means used to cross over: street cars, cars, on foot but also the youngster on a skate board. There has to be clarified the distinction between now and what was before, back in time e.g. when did the street car stopped?

Always the distance to the past seems to grow as different time zones hovering over a bridge are absorbed. Especially once one steps out of main stream of experiences made readily available via Internet and social media, a side glance may become especially powerful if it allows the elongation of thoughts once the eyes follow the water as it flows downstream until the river disappears at a distance, around the next bend.

A bridge does remind of the old trick of putting a simple tree across the brook so as to be able to cross over, but then there are other places where there are no bridges and the river can only be crossed through if it is not the rainy season and therefore not a torrent, but just a small tribute.

There are many questions in need of an answer:


The fate of a bridge is something not of its own doing for there has to be added the human factor.

There is one significant saying: 'don't burn the bridges behind you!” In other words, keep open some ways to escape if there is no way to go forward. Arthur Koestler did burn his bridge when he put into the fire all his exam papers just before he was to sit on his final exam. He went instead to Israel where he joined a Kibbutz, but where lasted only three months. He returned soon thereafter to Europe but he never completed his studies. All his life that turned out to be an open wound which never healed. Consequently he was trying to be scientific when in fact he was a writer. Author of such books as 'Arrow in the Blue' and 'the Act of Creativity', he became especially known through his a book 'Darkness at Noon', for it shattered any belief which was left in the 1930s and the beginning reign of Stalin in Communism. It might be an idea to just imagine standing on the bridge and making there an interview with Arthur Koestler.

Another set of questions or learning hypothesis can be linked to the Parmenides paradigm:


If to give a sample of some intuitive associations, the following lines may show a way forward when it comes to formulating one's own poetic thoughts and observations:



it could not be remembered

what was forgotten


a glance back

leaves open the risk

to destroy what has been created


if only no one would plunge of the bridge

into the depth of the water below

since all what man has is one life


in a life time there are many bridges

in need to be crossed but few are realized

since to many bridges have been destroyed


In order to collect images of not only the Bridge Olawski, but also those retained in stories told by people who made some experiences in connection with the bridge. It is important to gauge what things people say about the bridge. Such stories need to be collected in order to find out some common meanings.

At the same time, it is necessary to stay realistic when describing the Olawski bridge. The descriptions should relate to the different sounds to be heard while walking over the bridge. These sounds can be compared to what sounds birds create when they take off the bridge. Sounds are important when painting with words which should not stay silent. By listening to the wind brushing through the heads of the nearby trees another association with this location can become a unique insight into what different sounds there exist at various locations. General impressions should be avoided for important is to describe in so many words what can be remembered after having made some experience while on the bridge. The poem to be written has to feel like some freshness in the face.

Not to be forgotten is the water underneath the bridge: does it flow past in an endless, tireless manner, always exposed to sun and ice, and therefore a kind of never ending murmuring to be head distinctively when water flows over stones and around edges of natural shore lines and therefore never a straight line. All this can and does create additional sounds in need to be in tune with if the natural surrounding is to be recorded.

There is the poem by the Indian poet Anjan Sen who lets the river call out to the traveller, why go to other lands when here you have here so much to learn, so just stay for a while and listen to what the river and the bridge have to say in their unique combination of man made edifice and nature.



Friends pass by
with swift eyes, or a mere twinkle,
we greet them as they pass by
on ships, trains,
or just on clouds we imagine
to be full of raindrops
ready to fall upon
this scorched earth, dry and old,
worn thin from the many feet
which have crossed over
many times before and still remain
magic bridges to cross over in peace


Hatto Fischer


1 Poems by Meng Hao-jan (also known as Meng Haoran A.D. 689 – 740)


2 Karsten Xuereb, Letter to Hatto Fischer, 3.10.2013.

3 Hatto Fischer, How Europe is connected through Culture. Speech given at the Sept. 2014 conference in Valletta, Malta. See http://poieinkaiprattein.org/conferences-symposiums-workshops/europe-and-mediterranean-valletta-sept-4-and-5-2014/how-europe-is-connected-through-culture-hatto-fischer/ as well as at http://ecoc.poieinkaiprattein.org/ecocs-contributions-to-europe-connected-through-culture/

4 Source: http://culture.pl/en/article/the-bridges-of-wroclaw-a-virtual-walk-across-the-venice-of-the-north

5 Nabakov, Berlin Diary, 1920. See as well the artist installation by the twins Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov. http://poieinkaiprattein.org/beyond-images/installations/maria-und-natalia-petschatnikov/

6 Johannes Agnoli, Transformation der Demokratie, Berlin:Voltaire Verlag, 1967 https://viewpointmag.com/2014/10/12/theses-on-the-transformation-of-democracy-and-on-the-extra-parliamentary-opposition/

For more about Johannes Agnoli, see „Die Umarmung will gelernt sein.“ http://poieinkaiprattein.org/philosophy/die-umarmung-will-gelernt-sein-in-erinnerung-an-johannes-agnoli/

7 Martin Jay, Down Cast Eyes. Berkeley University Press, 1993 See also http://poieinkaiprattein.org/philosophy/martin-jay/

8 Milan Kundera, The Apologizer. The New Yorker, May 4 2015 Issue.

9 Letter exchange between Glen Calleja and Jael Uribe, 5.May 2015. Glen Calleja expressed further his views about how to face 'cancer' in an interview called „Battling the clichés about cancer“http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/arts/books/40946/battling_the_clichs__glen_calleja#.VUgIffDZLIV

10 Zbiegniew Herbert, A Barbarian comes into the Garden.

11 Conference was organized by Valletta 2018, see http://www.poieinkaiprattein.org/conferences-symposiums-workshops/europe-and-mediterranean-valletta-sept-4-and-5-2014/


12 Battling the clichés about cancer | Glen Calleja http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/arts/books/40946/battling_the_clichs__glen_calleja#.VUgIffDZLIV

13 op. cit. Glen Callea

14 op. cit. Glen Calleja,

15 Schon, A. Donald (1963). Displacement of Concepts. London: Tavistock Publications

16 See http://www.poieinkaiprattein.org/poetry/brendan-kennelly/judas-by-brendan-kennelly/

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