The historic port of Gdansk, Poland has known its share of important events. As Danzig, it was part of Germany, and after World War II it was dominated by the Soviet Union. The first shots of the war were fired near here as Hitler's army poured into Poland in September 1939. In the 1980's, Gdansk witnessed the birth of the Solidarity trade union movement, a vital step on the road to the nation's freedom from Communist occupation.
I have already had the pleasure of visiting Krakow and Warsaw, so I jumped at the opportunity to go to Gdansk when my German friends (known informally as "The N'Awlins Gang" for reasons I won't bother to explain in this post) decided to make it a long weekend destination in August of 2012. The historic old town was cleaned up for the spring's Euro 2012 Football championships (co-hosted that year by Poland and Ukraine), the tourist infrastructure was ready for the influx of travelers like us, and I was assigned (er, by me) the vital task of researching the city's Beer possibilities.
Dzien dobry, Gdansk!
|Tourist Galleon and The Crane (at right)|
|Looking back at the Old City from my Galleon Tourboat|
|Greetings from atop the Town Hall!|
Most of the historic city center was destroyed during the Second World War, and a collection of dramatic photographs in the Town Hall's museum illustrate the extent of the damage. The Gdansk of today is very much rebuilt in the old style.
Of all the historic streets to stroll in the old town, perhaps the most delightful is Ulica Mariacka (St. Mary's Street), bookended by the Mariacka Gate by the river at one end and the enormous St. Mary's Church at the other. Almost every address features display tables with items for sale, with special attention to amber jewellery.
Gdansk will be forever associated with Lech Welesa and the birth of the Solidarity trade union movement that took on the USSR-back Polish government and won. The Lenin Shipyards where Welesa worked and where Solidarity first grabbed world headlines is closed and mostly quiet now. A museum is under construction, a monument is in place, and a temporary exhibit of the movement's birth and the times that followed is just down the street. It is a strange feeling to stand in an area that was once bursting with passion, anger, and danger. I came here after visiting the Solidarity exhibit, and felt very moved to stand in the inevitable rainy weather among perhaps a couple of dozen others and meditate upon what took place here.