Dawna apteka „Pod Murzynem”. Fot. Szczecinolog, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pharmacy “Under the Blackbird” – avant-garde modernism from the Oder River

The “Pod Murzynem” (German: Mohrenapotheke) pharmacy is one of the most characteristic buildings in Wrocław built in the spirit of modernism. The office and service building stands in the northern frontage of Solny Square at number 2/3. It was built on the site of two older bourgeois houses, one of which housed a pharmacy operating since the Middle Ages. Today, the building is, among other things, the headquarters of the Wrocław branch of “Gazeta Wyborcza”.

In the place of the current, avant-garde building, two tenement houses have stood since the Middle Ages. In one of them, at least from the second half of the 15th century, there was a pharmacy. From the beginning, it was called the “Mohren-Apotheke”, i.e. the pharmacy “Under the Negro”. The house emblem with the image of a black man’s head and at the same time the pharmacy’s name associated with exoticism were very popular at the time. At the end of the 19th century, a life-size statue of a Negro was made to decorate the façade at first-floor level.

The former pharmacy “Under the Negro”. Photo by Szczecinolog, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The owner of the tenement house, Doris Leschnitzer, commissioned its modernisation in 1924 to a respected Wrocław architect, Adolf Rading. The man carried out a reconstruction project in the spirit of modernism, while preserving the building’s original shape. In the course of the work, all historicist details were removed from the façade and it became geometrised. On its white-painted façade, dark horizontal strips were added along the lower and upper edges of the window openings on each storey and on the dormer wall in contrast to the light plaster.

The “Pod Murzynem” pharmacy and the neighbouring Oppenheim tenement house in 1936 and 2022. Source: Digital Library of the University of Wrocław and Szczecinolog, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The ground floor storey, where the pharmacy was still located, was covered with ceramic tiles and the shop window was enlarged. Even more interesting was its interior, covered with variously coloured rectangular tiles and mirrors optically enlarging the space of the room. Rectangular lamps with frosted glass completed the look. The pharmacy tenement only existed in this form for a little over two years, as the Leschnitzer family soon came into possession of the neighbouring building number 2. The reconstruction of the building by connecting it to the newly purchased building was also entrusted to Rading. As part of the work, the smaller building was demolished and replaced with a reinforced concrete frame structure.

The northern and western frontages of Solny Square in the early 20th century and today. Source: Architecture Atlas of Wrocław and Google Maps

Its outbuilding was also demolished so that the courtyard could be built on. The attic of the old building was also removed and two additional storeys were erected in its place. The façade was clad in light grey opaque glass panels, contrasted by black strips of window openings with black glass panels inserted between them. This was complemented by rounded balcony balustrades and a balustrade on the top floor terrace. The newly built building once again housed private practices and offices, as well as rental flats, a conference room, an inhalatorium and an X-ray room. Well-known and respected doctors from Wroclaw rented their surgeries here. The pharmacy, which continued to operate, was very successful and, in addition to medicines, also sold cosmetics bearing the trademark with the head of the Negro.

The night-time setting of the building in a photo from 1929 and today. Photo: Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/form1929/0375 Die Form Jg. 1929 and Neo[EZN]/photopolska.eu, Licence: CC-BY-SA 3.0

In the 1930s, after the Nazis took power, there were difficult times for the Leschnitzer family. As Jews, they became the subject of harassment by Nazi propaganda. In 1939, the pharmacy and the entire building with the doctors’ offices finally changed hands. The tenement was damaged during the siege of the city and was rebuilt in the post-war years, but in a slightly different shape to the original. A pharmacy continued to operate on the ground floor, while the upper floors were fitted out as flats. In 1993, the building was entered in the register of historical monuments. At the end of the 1990s, the Żywiec Investment Group acquired the building with the intention of redeveloping it. The project largely involved a return to the form designed by Rading with the restoration of the glass covering of the façade and other details.

The northern frontage of Salt Square today. Photographer: mamik/photopolska.eu, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0

Contrary to the investor’s earlier announcements, after the renovation carried out in 1998, not a pharmacy but a bank branch was opened on the ground floor of the building. It now houses a catering establishment. Thus, the more than 500-year history of the pharmacy “Pod Murzynem” came to an end. The black window woodwork was also abandoned during the renovation. Instead, the night-time light fittings were recreated in the form of two neon signs – a vertical one on the right-hand side and a horizontal one on the ground floor – and four horizontal fluorescent tubes placed under the window sills. The final element in the renovation of the building was the restoration of the Negro figure adorning the façade. This task was undertaken in 2000 by Stanisław Wysocki, a sculptor from Wrocław.

Currently, the rented office premises on the upper floors house, among others, the editorial office of Gazeta Wyborcza in Wrocław.

Source: wikiwand.com

Read also: Modernism | Architecture in Poland | Monument | History | Wrocław

Latest content on the site

Beauty is all around you