You Can Gdańsk If You Want To In Poland

A city that rose from the ashes of World War II to become glorious again. That’s Gdansk.

We love a story of strength, of overcoming odds, of finding one’s way back from overwhelming circumstances.

If a city can personify these traits, we saw it in Gdansk… CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thanks to Viking Ocean Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the Viking Homelands! Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, and Norway. As always, all opinions are our own.

Gdansk, Poland

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Gdańsk. Gdańsk who? Gdańsk, Poland, and that’s no joke.

Low humor at its worst.

We’re not sure why the people of Poland were so commonly the butt of cruel jokes back when we were kids, but it likely colored our expectations a little before visiting the country.

Our Viking Cruise of Northern Europe docked at the port of Gdynia, about fifteen miles north of Gdansk, our destination, and—in the back of my mind—I heard something along the lines of “How many Poles does it take to dock a ship…”

Gdansk, Poland

I told the devil-on-my-shoulder’s voice to shut up—we have docked further on the outskirts of cities in many countries.

A Jaw-dropping Organ

The Oliwa organ in Gdynia at the Archcathedral in Poland

So what if we would be bussing it down to the city, the ride gave us a chance to see a bit of the Polish countryside.

Right outside of town we stopped at the Gdańsk Oliwa Archcathedral, and the church itself was not remarkable.

Again the bad comic in my head started up; however, once we stepped inside we (including my personal Don Rickles) were blown away.

The famous great Oliwa organ, with over five thousand pipes, was impressive enough, but the woodwork around the pipes is an even more awe inspiring piece of art.

It’s Rebuilt and it’s Spectacular!

Entering Gdansk, Poland through the city gate

Abandoning our bus outside of the historic old city of Gdańsk, we walked over a bridge and through the Green Gate.

The portal in the ancient walls opens up on to the Long Market, a pedestrian only area that is the heart of the rebuilt town, and by rebuilt, we really mean rebuilt.

This city was completely devastated by World War II.

In fact, Gdańsk is right where the war began when Germany decided to take what was then known as the Free City of Danzig on September 1st, 1939.

Within a few weeks the Soviet Union had invaded Poland too, and after a couple of months the country was completely occupied by the opposing powers.

Gdansk, Poland

The fact that they were completely outnumbered, and their enemies had vastly superior weapons, may have been the source of some of the insults that came to bear on the Poles, but the situation in Poland was most assuredly no laughing matter.

Gdansk, Poland

By the end of the war, Poland was devastated and Gdańsk was destroyed. Almost every structure in the city was damaged, so what we found now has all been reconstructed. Recreated or not, the Long Market has an almost magical quality about it.

Rising From the Ashes

The Golden Gate of Gdansk, Poland

There are photos of the devastation on display inside the Golden Gate on the opposite side of the market, and seeing them made it hard to believe that the city ever survived.

The phoenix-like rise from the ashes is quite a testament to the Polish people.

A fine example of this is the surprisingly ornate Armory Building, just off of the huge main square, which rivals most of the palaces that we have seen across Europe.

The Armory Building in Gdansk, Poland

The city is centered around St. Mary’s Basilica, which has stood as a symbol of the city since 1379.

Known as the largest brick church in Europe and third largest in the world, the interior can hold an astonishing 25,000 people.

Even though bombing nearly reduced it to rubble, not rebuilding was simply out of the question.

The biggest landmarks, especially the church, were restored as accurately as possible.

Gdansk, Poland

The same cannot be said for most of the houses that line the sides of Long Market.

It seems that when reconstructing after the war folks didn’t want to rebuild in the original German style, having suffered so much under them that they went with Dutch and Italian motifs instead.

Many of the fronts are actually clever facades, which have been embellished to various degrees, placed over communist era buildings that were hastily built in very basic, functional style.

Neptune's fountain in Gdansk, Poland is one of the few things that survived World War ll

One icon that did survive intact was the Neptune Fountain.

In large part, its fame now stems from the fact that this nearly five hundred year old statue miraculously came through the bombings essentially untouched.

Guess the god of the sea got the last laugh.

Don’t Want to Meet up with These Ladies in the Dark!

Going back through the Green Gate along the waterfront pier, we got stopped in our tracks by a row of baba pruska—Prussian hags.

Baby pruska—Prussian Hags lined us in Gdansk, Poland

These odd, early medieval anthropomorphic figures carved in granitoid were used to mark boundaries by the peoples of the Old Prussian culture.

Dang, we’d hate to be harnessed by a hag while accidentally wandering onto the neighbor’s farm after dark. That wouldn’t even be funny.

The Human Hamster Wheel

The human driven crane in Gdansk, Poland

Our goal was to check out a huge crane, an intriguing artifact on the river bank going back to when Gdańsk was a bustling port within the Hanseatic League.

This 14th-century device operated on human-power, as treadwheels transferred the energy of walking workers to load and unload cargo from the Motlawa River.

The human driven crane in Gdansk, Poland

We had seen pictures of the mechanics, but by seeing the giant wheels in person the ingenious machinery made sense to us.

Think people walking in a wheel, like hamsters.

The turning moves a rope through pulleys that transfer energy so that thousands of pounds can be lifted by simply striding.

Seems that it didn’t take very many Poles to lift thousands of pounds, but that doesn’t make for much of a punch line.

As we climbed higher and higher up the crane’s tower we were astonished by the clever design, and found ourselves happy that our walking skills weren’t needed to keep the ships below us stocked anymore.

The human driven crane in Gdansk, Poland

Still, it might’ve been fun to give the wheels a whirl, if only for a minute or two of rodent-like fun.

Lech Walesa’s Movement

The monument to Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Trade Union Movement at the shipyard in Gdansk, Poland

A much more recent event in the city’s long history of shipping and ship building took place nearby.

On our way out of town, we passed the Gdańsk Shipyard, where Lech Wałęsa shook the world by leading the Solidarity Trade Union Movement.

That opposition to the communist regime led to the downfall of the party in 1989, which in turn played a huge part in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The monument that stands at the entrance to the yard is in honor of protesters killed in 1970, and was erected as one of Solidarity’s early demands in 1980.

Wałęsa described its significance to bringing down communist rule as “A harpoon driven through the body of a whale.”

Come to think of it, Mr. Walesa may have driven a stake through more than a whale. It was about that same time in history that we, thankfully, stopped hearing those awful Polish jokes.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

A big thanks to Viking Ocean Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the Viking Homelands! Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, and Norway. As always, all opinions are our own.

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18 thoughts on “You Can Gdańsk If You Want To In Poland”

  1. I admit to mixed emotions about Poland. While, many Poles suffered at the hands of the Nazis and the Soviet Union, the truth is that many Poles willingly collaborated with the Nazis in carrying out the Final Solution. Historically, history is a b*tch.

  2. The hubby and I had Poland on our 2016 wish list — not sure if we’ll make that goal, but will definitely get there. You’ve convinced me that Gdansk should be on the itinerary. Beautiful city and fascinating history. Thanks for the tour.

  3. Poland is very high up on my bucket list, with all those beautiful cities. Gdansk seems to be no exception – and I love the idea of putting false facades over those ugly Soviet buildings.

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