Aug 30, 2010

Explore Detriot, Michigan's Hamtramck Neighborhood

On a recent trip to Detroit I took a tour of Hamtramck and learned about the city’s Polish heritage. The group tour started at 8 a.m. in the New Palace Bakery. The smell of the fresh baked goods filled the bakery. Vicky, the owner, offered us fresh pastries along with our morning coffee. A great way to start the day.

Thus fortified we headed down the street to St. Florian Roman Catholic Church. Amazing that such a small community could be responsible for such a beautiful church. The inside is like a cathedral. The stained glass windows dominated by the rose window are outstanding. The altar windows depict five famous Polish saints while the others illustrate the life and teachings of Christ. Our guide, Greg Kowalski, explained, “In 1910 the Dodge factory needed workers and the Polish people flooded in. St. Florian was completed in 1928 at a cost of $500,000.” He went on to say “No Polish person built a house unless they could see the steeple of the church.” Even today the steeple is visible from most points in Hamtramck helping it retain a small town ambiance. Kowalski went on to explain that today Hamtramck is like a little United Nations with people from all over the world living and working together.

At the Polish Art Center, the owner, Joan Bittner, taught us how to create wycinanki, intricate paper cuttings that are symmetrical designs cut from a single piece of colored paper that has been folded several times. They are then layered with brightly colored paper. The best that could be said was we that we tried and Joan was a patient teacher. Obviously it takes a great deal of skill, patience and practice to make a beautiful wycinankis.

Just as we were finishing up our wycinankis, Big Daddy arrived with his accordion and off we went down Joseph Campau Street to the Pope’s Park. He played the “La De Da” and “Beer Barrel Polka.” The sound of the accordion made the people we passed stop and smile. It is impossible not to feel upbeat when hearing accordion music. The Pope Park was dedicated in 1982 to celebrate the first Polish pope, John Paul II. In front of the wall mural depicting a town square in Krakow, Poland, the Wawel Folk Ensemble filled the park with a swirl of color and happy music as they demonstrated several typical Polish dances. It would have been a powerful end to a great tour but what is a Polish culture tour without food? So Big Daddy, like a pied piper, led us merrily down the street to Polonia, a restaurant hosted Anthony Bourdain of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations.”

Our group walked through the restaurant already filled with lunchtime customers to the kitchen where Janusz Zurowski, the owner, taught us to how to make Polonia’s Potato Noodles. Once we had mastered the technique – well sort of – we sat down to a lunch of Polish favorites that included red cabbage, stuffed cabbage, potato noodles, locally made sausage, and more. And what a wonderful lunch it was. My favorite was the stuffed cabbage. Truly a case of too much of a good thing! The tour of the Hamtramck was one of my favorite parts of our visit to Detroit.