Reliving Poland's History; Malgorzata Rzepka on the Celebrations of the 1410 Victory over German C Rusaders

Article excerpt

Amid shrill battle cries, the clash of swords and beat of drums, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order fell in combat, his forces crushed on the Grunwald battlefield.

Several of Poland's increasingly popular "knights' brotherhoods" celebrated the 1410 victory of allied Polish and Lithuanian forces over powerful German crusaders by re-enacting one of medieval Europe's biggest battles.

About 400 warriors, armed with spears, bows and battle-axes, many wearing armour and helmets, turned up at the site near the village of Grunwald in northern Poland this month, as thousands of spectators looked on.

Some of the knights taking part said they hoped to reverse history.

"This time we will take revenge for Grunwald," 24-year-old Slawomir Rokita, whose detachment of Polish renegades fought on the Teutonic side, said before the battle.

Since the Polish forces were a bit lacking in the vocal department, a tape-recorded version of their medieval anthem was played before they rode into the fray.

Teutonic knights, wearing white cloaks emblazoned with huge black crosses and helmets adorned with peacock feathers, clashed with chain mailad Poles and Lithuanians in fur-lined jerkins.

Ancient cannons made the ground tremble and filled the air with the acrid smell of gunpowder as the battle reached fever pitch. Warriors went at each other on horseback as well as hand-to-hand and fell, only to rise again and resume combat.

"It was very difficult to win, but since Poland's recent democratic changes we have improved," joked a moustachioed Polish hetman (commander). Dressed in a picturesque green coat and a peacock-feathered hat, the hetman, Tadeusz Paginski, in real life is the coach of Poland's women's national foil fencing team.

The real Teutonic Knights were a crusading order which, following defeat by the Moslems in Palestine, moved back to Europe and were invited in the 13th century to help protect Christian Poland's northern borders against pagan tribes.

After subduing the pagans, they refused to leave and set up a hostile Germanic enclave which eventually became Prussia. …