Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk, Poland was the next port after Estonia. We actually docked in the nearby town of Gydnia. I would say 90%+ of the ship's passengers went on expensive organized excursions directly from the boat but we joined some new friends and took the independent pauper route - hopping on a bus to the train station and then an hour long train from Gydnia to Gdansk. Total transportation costs = maybe 5 euros, round trip! Gotta love the Polish zloty as compared to the dollar/euro.Connor thought the train with the red seats was a blast!We weren't sure exactly what we would find. We read of Gdansk's present beauty and charm, but also of the utter destruction from the war. It was here on September 1, 1939 that Adolf Hitler started World War II when he invaded Gdansk to bring it into German control. Nearly 80 percent of the city was destroyed. City planners considered leaving the city in ruins versus rebuilding as a sobering reminder of war, but I am glad they decided to rebuild. Apparently WWII did tremendous damage to the city but it was the Red Army march of the Soviets during the Communist takeover that leveled the place. "Soviet officers turned a blind eye as their soldiers raped and brutalized residents. An entire order of horrified nuns committed suicide by throwing themselves into the river. It was only thanks to detailed drawings and photographs that these buildings could be so carefully reconstructed, mostly using the original brick."We walked down the Royal Way and the Ulica Dluga main drag. Rick calls it an "intoxicating promenade" and it indeed was quite unique. Too bad for us though the day clouded over and a slow drizzle lingered. The weather combined with WAY TOO MANY tourists in a small town made the tourist maze especially hairy. This made Gdansk fall a little below my high expectations. We loved Krakow, Poland and were pumped for another dose - but as beautiful as Gdansk was it was a little too canival-esque for me. What tried to seem old seemed in reality new. I hope that makes some sense.The buildings were a Flemish style. Who would think we would travel all the way from Flemish Belgium to Poland to see the same type of design?These sunflowers were pretty cool. They lined the streets and I think they were selling the seeds straight from the bud. I had never seen the yellow flowers like this! Did you know that was what they looked like?The new/old, old/new buildings were colorful and detailed.
There were goods and knick-knacks galore to fill up tourist suitcases. I thought the colorful wooden beads were fun and different. I didn't come home with any - a little too funky for me - but they make a vibrant photo!We walked across town to the Solidarity Shipyard...In December 1970 a strike here was prompted by price hikes: The communist government set the prices for all products. As Poland endured drastic food shortages in the 1960s and 1970s, the regime frequently announced what they called "regulation of prices" - increasing the cost of unimportant items that nobody could afford (like elevators and TV sets). The regime was smart enough to raise prices on January 1 - when the people were fat and happy after Christmas, and too hungover to complain. But on December 12, 1970, the Polish premier increased prices. A wave of strikes and sit-ins spread along the heavily industrialized north coast of Poland. Thousands of angry demonstrators poured through the gate of this shipyard, marched into town, and set fire to the Communist Party Committee building. In an attempt to quell the riots, the government-run radio implored the people to go back to work. On the morning of December 17, workers showed up at shipyard gates across northern Poland - and were greeted by the army and police. Without provocation, the Polish army opened fire on the workers. While the official death toll for the massacre stands at 44, others say the true number is much higher. This monument with a trio of 140-foot-tall crosses, honors those lost to the regime that December... More than a decade after the massacre, this monument was finally constructed. It marked the first time communists ever allowed a monument built to honor its own victims.
Later in the 1980 it was here that the Polish shipyard workers created the "21 Points" of a new union called Solidarity. The demands included the right to strike and form unions, the freeing of political prisoners, and an increase in wages. It was the cusp of the overthrow of Communism and therefore this place is also nicknamed the "cradle of freedom"
At Solidarity Square is an enormous Bible verse plaqued: "May the Lord give strength to his people. May the Lord bless his people with the gift of peace" (Psalms 29:11) AMEN!While Gdansk wasn't my favorite city, I did thoroughly enjoy the St. Mary's Church. This is the biggest brick church in the world, accommodating up to 25,000 people.We happened to be there at noon when the super cool astronomical clock chimed. The wooden figures circled above and spun around.Goodbye Gdansk. Thanks for the history lesson. Overall I am glad we went to Gdansk. Wish the weather and crowds had been a little brighter and lighter, but it was still a powerful spot to learn about and discover first hand.

No comments: