History in Gdansk

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June 27th 2018
Published: June 28th 2018
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World War II and shipping history to be precise.

We’ve spent the last couple of days in Gdansk with Aidan and Nicholas and had a very interesting time. Although there is only so much of the grim realities of war that you can inflict on 11 and 12 year olds. So we skipped a bit and finished with a couple of real tanks, a US one and a Russian one.

The Museum we visited is the very new (opened last year) impressive Museum of WWII. The architecture is stunning with a large central glass and steel structure with a long low building following an actual street that was destroyed. The section for children is very well done following the fortunes of two children living in an apartment and showing what happened within and, using video projection through their hypothetical window, without on the streets of Gdansk.

Archival film of the German battleship Schleswig Holstein floating just offshore, pounding the Polish military post at Westerplatte thus marking the beginning of the war, was quite confronting. If you are ever in Gdansk it is well worth visiting. Gdansk of course is also the birthplace of the Solidarity Movement.

Arriving by train at about 4pm, after settling in to our, almost new two bedroom apartment on Spichlerze Island, we went for a wander over the river to the Old Town. What did the boys spy but small boats looking like a Noddy car? We just had to go! They were a bit disappointed when the guy in charge said “no kids drive” as I think they saw themselves wizzing around up and down the river. So Ian’s driving had to do, as we were in amongst other river traffic. This enabled us to get a good overview of the city, the associated shipyards and the new Museum which we visited the next day.

Most of the city has been painstakingly rebuilt after WWII. The wide main street, now called Dlugi Targ (Long Market) was the Royal Way where Polish kings traditionally paraded down on their occasional visits, thus it is lined with the city’s grandest facades. It is a lively thoroughfare full of street performers, chanting football fans and tourists. String musicians play under the arches of the gates to take advantage of the resonant acoustics. Ian and Nicholas walked up the 405 steps to the top of the clock tower in the town hall. Aidan and I stayed on the ground and had coffee and lody (ice cream). The most incredibly tall symmetrical ice creams are produced here, a real work of art. Delicious too!

Today we visited the many sections of the Maritime Museum where, in the first part, housed in the old granaries was a replica of the cannon deck of a sailing ship. Using x box-like technology, the boys could watch an enemy galleon approach and if they got their aim and timing right, they could sink it with their cannon. The interactive nature of this amused them for ages. At first they got sunk a few times and finally worked out their coordination. Nicholas on aiming the cannon and Aidan on lighting the fuse. (not a real one). I even managed to sink one - with Nicholas aiming and Aidan helping with the fuse. Another superb museum.

Next up was the ship-museum Soldek moored alongside. This was the first seagoing ship built in a Polish shipyard after WWII and was very interesting for the boys to see. I have to say I think I have aged 10 years keeping up with Nicholas as he raced up and down stairs/ladders, around the engine room exploring every nook and cranny at a great rate of knots without regard for risk or danger. It was really a giant jungle gym! Don’t worry, Ian or I were very close behind.

We had read on the map about this old crane on the waterfront but hadn’t worked out what it was, even with our boat/car ride up and down the river. It turns out what we thought was the granary was actually the crane. It looks nothing like a crane, housed as it is between two brick towers. Inside are two sets of, what looked like, in the boys’ words, giant hamster wheels, winding up huge ropes to load ships and set masts. It is the biggest and oldest, built in 1444, preserved port crane in Europe. Apparently human hamsters were used to operate it.

I think I have mentioned other famous Polish people such as Marie Curie and Copernicus, (did I mention him?) well here is another one to add to the list - Daniel Fahrenheit - born in 1686 in Gdansk. There is a very large thermometer on Dlugi Targ to commemorate him.
The Town Hall Clock TowerThe Town Hall Clock TowerThe Town Hall Clock Tower

Ian and Nicholas climbed to the top

A couple of other things - Gdansk is also famous for the rise of the Solidarity movement and in Medieval times was part of the Hanseatic League.

Tomorrow we head back to Rzepin by train. Two trains actually as we change halfway. The landscape along the way is very flat with numerous wheat fields. We have really enjoyed Gdansk and the company of Aidan and Nicholas. As they live in Savannah we don’t get to see them often.

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1st July 2018

It is all sounding so wonderful and what a little darling Elliott is. The boys will be enjoying having you to themselves while you all have aa amazing time seeing the sights. Fabulous commentaries.

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