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Published: December 5th 2018
After the frustrations on the visit that never was to Westerplatte, we were back on the WW2 trail this morning on our final day. Fortunately the geography was much simpler this time and it was a mere 5-10 minute walk from the hotel. We stored our bags after check out and set off. A few spots of rain fell and threatened to dampen the mood, but it soon blew over. When the Free City of Danzig was formed under the Treaty of Versailles, a postal base was established for the new Polish nation. It was considered extraterritorial Polish land. The building used on Hevelius Square was originally built as a German Military Hospital, but grom 1930 the main section became the Polish Post Office. It employed about 100 people, although a number of those were part of a riflemen’s association and especially from 1935 onwards, there was an increasing component protecting the interests of the Polish Secret Intelligence group. As tensions grew in 1939, additional army reserves arrived on deployment and moves made to fortify the defences of the building. A cache of weapons were stored in the building, which were to allow defence of the building for 6 hours to
allow a relief force to arrive. It proved optimistic. At the same time as the attack on Westerplatte, local German police units and some SS started a siege of the building. The defence lasted 17 hours and ceased when the Germans attacked with flame throwers and ignited the building. A group of 30 surrendered Post Office worker were subsequently sentenced to death and shot a few weeks later. A total of 4 escaped from the building during the surrender and these were the only survivors. The yard behind the main Post Office building shows a graphic portrait of men lined up against the wall, arms aloft. A series of finger print casts symbolise the executed men. The square outside is dominated by the 1991 monument erected to those who lost their lives in the defence of the building. A series of information boards are sadly in Polish only, so we were unable to read them. The building now houses a museum of the classic David v Goliath tale, which would be the start of 6 years of struggle as the world descended into total war.
We continued on towards the shipyards. The Other Half spotted the Gdansk central library.
She has a professional interest in such things and ventured inside on a research visit. It was shortlived, as venturing past the front desk involved depositing all possessions in the cloakroom. The famous Gdansk Shipyards.... Stocznia SA Gdansk ... were a few minutes walk. A the time of our last visit, the focal point of the square was the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers and the old shipyard gates. Today, a huge monolith of a buildings looms just inside what was the old works perimeter. The European Solidarity Centre was completed in 2014. A rusted exterior, designed to be reminiciscent of a ship hull - dominates the skyline. It houses the new Solidarity Museum and a Library with other exhibition spaces scattered within on the ground floor. The costs of construction were huge. 70M+ Euros was the projected figure, of which half came from EEC funds. It opened on 30th August 2014 on the 34th anniversary of the signing of the Agreement, when the authorities finally ceded to the shipyard workers and the wheels were in motion to hasten the decline of Communism in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. The permanent exhibition of the Museum is closed
on a Tuesday. Today was a Tuesday. The building was open, but there would be little to detain us. The old original Museum was just inside the entrance gates in a basic building, but now that has all been cleared. The gates are there as a symbol and you can literally walk through them or round them. There were few folk about and just a handful of others taking photographs. The Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Wokers 1970 was unveiled in 1980 as a tribute to those killed in a previous protest against the authorities. It forms the centrepiece of the Solidarity Square. A number of smaller monuments and tributes line the perimiter.
Denied the opportunity to venture inside the Museum in the mega bucks building, we ventured off across the wastelands into the real living history that is the old Lenin Shipyards of today. There was a trail laid out to walk around part of the Shipyards or more to the point, what remains of them. In recent years, the state-owned shipyards have fallen on hard times. The collapse of communism that the workers foughts so hard to bring about, also took away the majority of
the customers for the ships being built here. The workforce has dropped from over to 20,000 to less than 3,000. I have just read a quote that says, "there is no Solidarity, if skilled Polish workers are now reduced to washing dishes in England". The walking tour is self-guided with information boards scattered around to highlight the various locations. The huge engine plant now lies dormant, save for a few birds using it as a place to keep warm in the winter. The broken windows make for easy access for them. A few workers are out having their cigarette break and it is quite surreal to just wander around at your leisure, in amongst the parts of the yard still operational. A number of the huge spaces are occupied by private business - one was in the super yacht trade. The smell of fibreglass wafted over, as we passed. The next huge shed was empty and there are plans for a concert space. A small yacht marina was left over from the summer and an outdoor bar was abandoned next door. A pipelayer was anchored on the other side of the river. It glowed bright red in the sun. The
end shed was an artspace, occupied by a community art group who were busy making figures and statues out of old industrial machinery parts. Metal figures gazed out of the water. We wandered for over an hour without seeing any other tourists. I guess it was a bit like being allowed to wander unmolested round the British Steel plant in Redcar.
We followed the river back towards the city centre. The blue fence marked the end of the old shipyard boundary. the Gdansk Sightseeing Buses were parked up in a compound waiting for the arrival of spring and a new set of customers. The empty streets were marked out for parking places and bizarrely, meters were ready to take your payment in what seemed like a scene of near industrial desolation. The odd car parked probably thought nobody would possibly check for tickets here on a December morning. Meanwhile we passed the parking attendant happily going about his business, tredding a well worn path towards certain penalty tickets. The next port of call is a truly astonishing building - the World War 2 Museum. A striking red / orange colour, the visible section from most angles is
the 40 metre angular shaped tower that juts out of an empty landscape. The tower section is currently alrgely unused, but will become the library, exhibition gallery and panoramic restaurant. The main exhibition lies mainly in the subterranean shed like section that leads out towrds the adjacent canal. The design is one of the more striking pieces of architecture anywhere in Europe. The local Gdynia based designers have excelled themselves - it looks good from any angle in any light. We descended to the entrance below ground level. A information desk on the ground floor is manned by a member of staff, whose sole purpose seemed to be to direct all to the ticket office down another level. We speculated how many languages she could say "downstairs to the ticket station". It was free on the day of our visit, but we weren't quite sure why. We deposited our coats in the free clockroom behind. The Museum itself does not let down.The Man in the Middle and I have strayed into quite a few military museums across Europe and this is without a doubt the best. It comprehensively covers all aspects of the World War 2 conflict. The travel guides
suggest a 3 hour visit, but you could eaisly spend all day here if the subject interests you. We took a break in the fine cafe, in order to stop information overload. The Museum is situated but a short distance from the Polish Post Office, so we had almost come complete circle. We picked up our bags from the hotel, dined on the way to the railway station and headed for the airport. The Wizzair baggage police brought the day to an unhappy ending, by taking exception to the Man in the Middle's bag which was marginally over the permitted size.
At the start of the Gdansk trip, I wrote a man cannot live on Northern League and other non league fayre alone. We were back at work early the following morning, but had another trip planned to see the Outlaw at the weekend. After the excitement of the Polish big leagues, I would be back in my spiritual home of basement football. The Mount Pleasant gang not only defeated the weather on a suprisingly mild but damp afternoon by the sea, but for half an hour looked like world beaters. Gresley FC from the Midlands didn't
know what had hit them. They were 4-0 down inside 35 minutes. They had more in common with Wisla Krakow, than they knew.
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