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Gdansk is a beautiful Polish city right on the Baltic Sea. Records of the town go all the way back to 999 and the area has changed hands many times of the years. In 1457 Gdansk (then known as Danzig) was granted autonomy within the Kingdom of Poland. Fast forward a few hundred years and by 1871 the town became part of the German empire.
With Poland regaining its independence after World War I access to the sea was promised by the Allies and so the Polish hoped Danzig would also become part of Poland. Unfortunately with Germans being the majority there the city instead became the Free City of Danzig, an independent quasi-state; which led to tensions between the city and the surrounding Republic of Poland. The Germans living in Danzig wanted to be reincorporated into Germany and by the 1930s the Nazi’s were dominant in the city government. They demanded that Danzig be returned to Germany and a highway be built allowing land based access between mainland Germany and Danzig. Hitler used this to rally support of a Polish invasion.
And on September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland with an attack in Danzig. The city was then officially annexed by Nazi Germany. By war’s end as part of the Yalta and Potsdam conference the city finally became part of Poland and was renamed Gdansk. The remaining German citizens either fled or were forcibly expelled and the city became truly Polish.
The city was rebuilt after the war, ignoring any traces of German tradition or architecture that was there, and instead building off of the Flemish-Dutch, Italian and French influences.
Today the city is truly gorgeous. The architecture is not quite Polish, yet it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it reminds you of. A very European city, with colorful buildings, majestic gates, fountain filled squares, you get the idea.
We fully enjoyed our stroll through the heart of the city, stopping frequently to admire the architecture. The buildings may all come from the 50s and 60s, but this doesn’t take away from the charm or feel of the city itself.
The highlight of our stay in Gdansk was the Solidarity Museum (Solidarnosc in Polish). On August 31, 1980 Gdansk Shipyard was the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union movement (an anti-communist movement), which eventually led to the downfall of the communist regime in Poland in 1989 and triggered protests in other Eastern Bloc countries.
The museum highlights the condition of life under communist rule in Poland and the hardships that people endured. There were several protests throughout the years, some of which were put down by force by the communist government. The Solidarity movement started be Lech Walesa was the first non-communist party controlled trade union in a Warsaw pact country. Within a year it had reached 9.5 million members.
Throughout the 1980s the communist government tried to weaken and destroy the Solidarity movement with the enforcement of martial law and years of repression, but within a few years the government realized they would have to negotiate with the trade union. The Round Table Talks between the government and the Solidarity trade union led to the semi-free elections of 1989 and the fall of communism in Poland. In December 1990 Lech Walesa was elected President of Poland.
The museum goes on to the highlight the influence that the Solidarity movement had on countries abroad. The movement led to increased anti-communist ideals and movements in other countries of the Eastern Bloc, in effect weakening their communist government. After the 1989 elections in Poland there were many anti-communist revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe, known as the Revolutions of 1989. Within a few years the communist governments in the Eastern Bloc countries fell apart, including that of the Soviet Union.
We highly enjoyed our time at the museum, especially considering we had never heard of the Solidarity movement and knew nothing of the conditions of life in Poland after World War II. The museum does a great job, going through the years and explaining what was going in Poland and in Eastern Europe as a whole during the years of communist rule.
Overall Gdansk is a picturesque Polish city on the Baltic sea with a beautiful old town to stroll through and an incredibly educational and interest museum to visit.