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Of several possible stepping-off points for the lakes, Olsztyn is the biggest and the easiest to reach, and owing to the summertime tourist influx, it's well kitted out to deal with visitors. The town is surrounded by pleasant woodland, but as a result of wartime destruction – Soviet troops burnt the place down in 1945 after the fighting had ceased – much of the old centre has the usual residential postwar greyness. Among the concrete blocks and dusty main thoroughfares, however, quiet streets of neat brick houses built by the city's former German inhabitants remain, and there are relaxing tree-lined riverside walks around the Old Town.
The majority of the German-speaking population were expelled after World War II, to be replaced by Polish settlers from the eastern provinces annexed by the Soviet Union. Postwar development soon established Olsztyn as the region's major administrative and industrial centre, and it is now a prosperous and animated city of some 180,000 people.