Predating the drone age by several decades, fascinating pictures showing Poznań from the air have been revealed to the public for the first time ever.
Belonging to the private collection of Piotr Morszner, the stunning images have been released online via Cyryl, a Poznań-based virtual museum and digital repository.
As it stands, much mystery surrounds them, not least as no information exists as to why or who actually took them in the first place.
Danuta Bartkowiak of Cyryl says: “They came with no description on the back so we are unable to identify who the author is. What we do know is that obtaining a permit to fly over the city in that age was certainly not easy so we can assume that the photographer was working on the orders of someone quite significant.”
As such, a trio of possible candidates have emerged, including Janusz Korpal, a prolific local photographer best-known for his images of the city’s trade fair.
Another possibility is the award-winning Marian Sokołowski, a photojournalist employed by the CAF agency from 1953 to 1981.
Lastly, the name of Zbigniew Staszyszyn has also been mooted. Like Sokołowski, he worked for CAF during the PRL period, and was well recognized in foreign journalistic circles – his images of the Vietnam War were awarded at the World Press Photo of the Year competition.
However, whilst Staszyszyn even had past form for taking bird’s eye images of Poznań, it is unlikely he was taking aerial pictures during the 1950s.
Using their knowledge of the city’s post-war history, researchers have deduced that the images were most likely taken on a series of flights between 1958 and 1964.
“This can be determined by looking carefully at certain elements of the city’s urban space,” says Bartkowiak. “In the Rynek, you can see the reconstruction of the ‘Weigh House’, but it’s at a stage where the roof is only a skeleton.
“The original Weigh House was dismantled immediately after the war because of the damage it sustained, and it was rebuilt between 1958 and 1960. Comparing other photos we already have of the rebuilding process, we can make the presumption that the aerial shot was taken at the beginning of 1959.”
Other photos have also been dated by cross-referencing them with established fact. The former Royal Castle at Góra Przemysła, for instance, is still a hulking ruin in the pictures. Battered by artillery in 1945, it was only in 1959 that work began on its renovation.
“The fact that the first photos in the collection were taken at the end of the 1950s is further evidenced by the condition of the city’s squares,” continues Batkowiak. “When you look at Pl. Mickewicza, you can see that the statue of Adam Mickiewicz is missing – that was only added in 1960.
“On the other hand,” she adds, “the last flight could not have occurred after 1964 because that’s when work began on filling the Chwaliszewski river bend.”
The photographs – 138 in total – provide a spectacular glimpse at the breakneck work that must have been undertaken to physically restore the city after its mauling at the hands of the Red Army.
Although ruins can occasionally be spotted, as well as gaping urban voids that suggest widespread demolition, what impresses most is just how pristine the city appears.
Some photos depict the mighty sight of freshly completed Socialist Realist housing estates, others feature landmarks such as the Soviet Cemetery – and, close by, the Commonwealth Cemetery in which Allied airmen shot in “The Great Escape” were buried. Elsewhere, in the main market square, one sees construction of the hideously out-of-place Arsenał cultural institute.
Often described as “a pearl of Polish modernism”, other images show the city’s iconic Okrąglak, a towering rotunda that many view as being the city’s finest post-war building.
Such is the detail and clarity of the images, it is possible to decipher dozens of swimmers taking a summer dip at the outdoor pools at ul. Niezachowska; in another, crowds of ant-like people swarming the market stalls of Rynek Łazarski.
But perhaps most intriguing of all are the comparisons that naturally spring to mind when thinking of the city in its present day form. Little, it would seem, has changed where the trade fair is concerned, but its immediate surroundings present an entirely different world: the train station, now a sleek, space age looking structure, is unrecognizable.
Likewise, the traditional home of Warta Poznań, the July 22nd Stadium (later renamed Stadion Edmunda Szyca). Today derelict and abandoned to nature, in the pictures it is a sparkling arena befitting of the international football matches that it hosted during the times of the PRL.
A compelling journey through time, the poverty and desperation that must have reigned on the ground are lost from above (it is with certainty that many of the images must have been taken around about the time of the 1958 Uprising), and instead one sees a serene toy town looking boldly into the future.
To browse the full gallery, see: https://cyryl.poznan.pl/kolekcja/1279/poznan-z-lotu-ptaka-1958-1964-ze-zb-piotra-morsznera-i-grzegorza-radomskiego