Kudowa-Zdrój is a border town between the Czech Republic and Poland. Traditionally over the centuries, the area has been a spa town for convalescence, attracting visitors from all parts of Central Europe who come to enjoy the abundant mineral springs and fresh mountain air. There are beautiful landscaped walks through forest and woodland here.
As the Polish Bear and I discovered on our travels, in the summer this pretty town is nestled in a valley. So it’s far cooler here compared to other low-land parts of Poland which can reach temperatures in the mid 30’s. By contrast it only got to the low 20’s each day here. Majestic parks and man-made lakes where you can fish for your own ‘ryba’ make it a great place for a weekend getaway in south western Poland.
The Muzeum Zabawek (Toy Museum) in Kudowa-Zdrój is a wonderfully surprising place to visit. It has a comprehensive variety of toys from all over the world and from all eras and decades. Opened in 2002, the Muzeum Zabawek has received tens of thousands of donations for toys and childhood accessories, mostly from Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia but also from as far afield as America.
The collection is so comprehensive that no matter what part of the world you’re from, or how old you are – you should be able to identify at least a handful of toys from your own childhood. I managed to locate a selection of finger puppets made to replicate characters from the 80’s film Labirynth, which were given to kids as a part of their Pizza Hut meal in Australia.
The place is filled to the brim with nostalgia and quotes about childhood from famous Polish writers. Each glass cabinet is filled with the mournful and emotive faces of artfully places relics from childhood. It’s a melancholic and sweet place.
The blankly staring faces of greatly loved dolls, bears, puppets and stuff toys are the ghostly remnants of people’s childhoods. Many or perhaps most of these invisible people have moved into adulthood and then eventually died. These items are sadly forgotten and appear forlorn because of it, like Winnie the Pooh, abandoned after Christopher Robin’s inevitable exodus into adulthood.
These ghosts from childhood are never far away though. At the Muzeum Zabawek it’s as though you are entering into an amazing twilight world of tenderness and youth. A time where everything is simpler in your own life, more hopeful, exciting and wholesome.
During the interwar periods when materials for toys were scarce, it’s clear how much ingenuity went into ensuring that kids still had access to toys that were special and magical. Even while bombs rained down on countries, or people were being relocated or attacked and killed – all of the ugliness created in the adult world.
At the top floor there was a mock class room, decorated with retro Polish maps, an old wireless, a blackboard and wooden desks. The Polish Bear’s mum is a recently retired primary school teacher. She proceeded to write on the blackboard and the Polish Bear’s dad took photos of her. Then she sat down on the teachers desk with a look of glee.
A group of school children were going on a tour through the museum. As his mum sat at the teacher’s desk, the kids all rushed in with a cacophony of chatter and high spirits. They all sat down on the wooden desks and faced her. She shed a few tears then and said that she missed being a teacher.