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Published: January 6th 2018
Hello my fellow travellers!
When I woke up this morning Joanna had already left for work so it was a good thing that we said our goodbyes last night. I didn't have much time before my plane would leave for home so my only plan was to walk around a bit in Gdańsk before catching the train to the airport. My aim was to take in the general atmosphere of the city even though I wouldn't have the opportunity to delve deeper into it.
The first sight of the city that I came to was the main train station itself, Gdańsk Główny Railway Station, built 1896–1900. It survived both world wars but was damaged by a fire in 1945, it has since been renovated and it's a really beautiful building well worth some attention.
As I exited the station I came upon a beautiful bronze sculpture called The Departure
which was erected here in 2009 and which commemorates the organised rescue effort called Kindertransport
(Children's Transport). Kindertransport managed to rescue 10,000 Jewish children from various Nazi occupied territories and bring them to safety in Great Britain. This was initiated as a result of the Kristallnacht
(Crystal Night) which
took place in November 1938 during which the SA paramilitary forces and German civilians smashed open the windows of Jewish stores and murdered innocent Jews. 124 of the children that was rescued came from Gdańsk and they were brought out in four Kindertransport efforts, one of these children that came from Gdańsk was Frank Meisler, the sculptor of this monument.
This is one in a series of four memorials, there is one in front of the Friedrichstraße station in Berlin called Trains to Life – Trains to Death
which was erected in 2008. There's one in the Hook of Holland called Crossing to Life
which was erected in 2011 and finally one at Liverpool Street station called Kindertransport – The Arrival
which was erected in 2006. Sadly both of Frank Meisler's parents were arrested only three days after his departure and both of them would later die in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
I started walking along the road towards the city centre and not far from the station I saw the small, but beautiful, St Elisabeth's Church. It dates back to a small chapel which was originally built here in 1393 as a shelter for the poor and
the sick until it was torn down and replaced by the current church in 1417. In 1557 it was taken over by the Protestants until it was transferred to the Prussian army in 1884 to service as a garrison church. It was severely damaged in World War II but was fully reconstructed in 1947–1949.
Continuing down the road I came to the New Town Hall, built 1898–1901, which has been used by both the Nazis, the Communists, the League of Nations and even student bodies over the years. It's been purposefully renovated and it now serves as the ceremonial Town Hall of the city.
Across from the New Town Hall stands the glorious John III Sobieski Monument. John III Sobieski (1629–1696) was the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania 1674–1696 and his reign was marked by repeated battles against the Ottoman Empire. The most famous of his battles was the Battle of Vienna in 1683 which ended the Ottoman invasion of Europe. It was the first time that the Christian forces of Europe managed to unify under a single banner and after the battle John III Sobieski was hailed as the saviour or Christendom. This battle
is known for having the largest ever recorded cavalry charge in history as John III Sobieski led his famous Winged Hussars at the head of a total force of 18,000 cavalry in a charge that broke the back of the Ottoman forces.
From there I walked past the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, to reach the Golden Gate, built 1612–1614, which stands along the Royal Way that begins at the Highland Gate just a little bit up the road. Between the two gates lies the old Prison Tower and Torture Chamber, originally it was built as a part of the city's fortifications in the second half of the 14th century. It was rebuilt 1593–1604 and was turned into a prison and torture chamber and it was here that executions were carried out until the 19th century. Today it houses the Amber and Torture Museums. I didn't go inside since it hadn't opened yet, although, I might not have entered if it was open due to my time constraints for today.
Next to them is the Court of the Brotherhood of St George, built 1487–1494 as a seat for the brotherhood after they left Artus Court. The brotherhood
dealt mainly with the organisation of tournaments, feasts, banquets and performances in the style of knightly duels, as well as charity activities. After the brotherhood was dissolved in 1798 the building became a property of the city. It was heavily damaged in 1945 but has since been restored and is today the used by the Association of Polish Architects.
The Royal Way is, as the name implies, the route that the king took when he travelled between Warsaw and Gdańsk. It stretches through Long Street
and Long Market until the Green Gate, built 1564–1568 as a residence for the Polish Kings, where it comes to an end. I followed the route the whole way and it really is a striking route with each house more lavishly decorated than the next one. There are tonnes of small statues and vivid paintings adorning the houses along the whole way, this is because the former rich men of Gdańsk competed with each other regarding who could afford the most lavish facade. One of these, Jerzy Hewel, was so rich that he personally funded 11 ships, the bulk of the Polish Navy at the time, for Władysław IV Vasa (1595–1648) who was King
of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania 1632–1648 as well as Tsar of Russia 1610–1612.
For me it felt like the main focal point in the Long Market was the Neptune's Fountain, which stands beautifully in front of Artus Court. I also took a look at the beautiful Gdańsk Main Town Hall which was built in 1346. This entire area is really wonderful to walk around in and it was quite nice to do so this early when there wasn't any crowds filling up the place. So far I find that Gdańsk has a really medieval aura about itself in a positive way, similar to what I felt when I visited Bruges a couple of years ago.
I left the Long Market by passing through the Green Gate and thereby completing the Royal Way. Close by I took a peek at the moored restaurant ship Czarna Perła
and 15th century St Mary's Gate. After that I continued across the river until I reached the impressive St Barbara's Church from 1387. On my way there I also passed by the beautiful Milk Can Gate, built in the early 14th century, it got it's current name due to it's resemblance
to a milk can.
With that I started heading back towards the station, passing the massive St Mary's Church built in 1379. It's currently one of the largest brick churches in the world but unfortunately it was covered in scaffolds so I couldn't really see much of it so I kept walking, otherwise I understand that it has a very illustrious history. After that I came to the exceptionally beautiful St Nicholas Church which is one of the oldest churches in Gdansk as it was built at the end of the 12th century. In 1227 the church was given to the Dominican monks by Swietopelk II (c.1195–1266), who was Duke of Pomerania 1215–1266. Since 2010 his statue stands outside the church in a small park named after him.
Before returning to the station I also took a peek at the St Hyacinth's Tower, an old tower belonging to the former fortifications of the city. It was built around 1400 and used to be called Kiek in de Kök
(lit "look into the kitchen") but it's name was changed in 1945. Not far from there I also took a look at the Podmurze Tower which was almost completely destroyed
in 1945 but has since been restored and it now houses the Maintenance Department of the Historical Museum of the City of Gdańsk.
I really wish that I had more time in Gdańsk because everything I saw was really beautiful and quite fascinating. It was like walking in a medieval town, as I said it's similar what I felt in Bruges. I will certainly return there again to really dive deeper into the history of Gdańsk and not just scratch the surface as I did this time, if nothing else go inside some of these magnificent old buildings and see what they are hiding on the inside.
At the moment I don't know where my next trip will be, I know I will return to Japan in August 2018 but I will most likely do another trip before that and at the moment I'm leaning towards a trip to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan but nothing is written in stone yet. I will most likely also need to change my job soon because my office is moving to Malmö, one hour and 40 minutes by train from where I live and I doubt I'll come along for such a
long daily commute.
Until next time I wish you all peace and happy travels!
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