During the Soviet times, the USSR was understandably not too popular (see Katyn) in Poland. People would often paint anti-Soviet graffiti all over the place. The militia would be called in and paint right over it. They couldn’t let those hurtful words be seen by the toiling proletariat could they? Eventually a couple of artists calling themselves the ‘Orange Alternative’ movement decided that instead of wasting everyone’s time with new graffiti that would be painted over within hours they would paint gnomes out of Polish folklore because folklore is awesome. Fight oppression with absurdity.
This went on for a while and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union Wroclaw sort of adopted the gnome as their town symbol. All around the city, not just the tourist sections, there are these gnome statues about a foot high. You’ll find them everywhere. On sidewalks near schools and businesses. Next to curbs for absolutely no reason. By government buildings because it’s entertaining. Many local businesses have caught the gnome fever and commission artists to make one specially for them, a tiny little advertising man. One of the gnomes is even special just for the Christmas Market; they bring him out on his pedestal and if you rub his hat you’re supposed to get what you want for the holidays.
I’ve read there are something like 200 of them around, I was only able to find about 40 during my time there. That wasn’t for lack of effort, I tried multiple times a week to get out and just walk around. I know I could have looked up the locations online, but that’s sort of like cheating.
It’s surprisingly entertaining, like a city wide scavenger hunt. It forced me to take so many side streets that I would normally ignore. Sometimes I would find a gnome secreted away in a hidden corner, sometimes I wouldn’t. But the thought that maybe there was something to be found made exploring Wroclaw far more entertaining than it could have been. I think more cities should introduce city-wide art work ideas.