Posted by: Hackney Tours | December 6, 2008

Poland lives!

Gdansk’s famous neptune fountain

Those poor plucky Poles. Sometimes an alliterative and slightly patronising cliché can be justified. In this case it was the only thing Bookpacking could think to say in Gdansk on reading the region’s history. It’s amazing they have any culture, given the concerted attempts of Hitler and Stalin to wipe out intellectuals, artists or indeed anyone at all who might just offer any kind of inspiration or leadership to a doomed populace who saw WW2 “liberation” turn into half-a-century of oppression.

Like an empty crisp packet on the beach, Poland’s borders have blown this way and that as other empires re-divided a place seen not so much as a country, but as a junction on a route between more powerful destinations. WW2 actually started in Gdansk, in a place called Westerplatte, when (how cynical) a German battleship on a supposed goodwill visit fired the first shots of 1st September 1939. The free city of Danzig, as it was then known, was part of the “Polish corridor” which gave the Poles access to the sea and divided up Prussia; Hitler wanted this important Baltic port back in German hands. Poles would later play a vital role in Battle of Britain, and despite the idea that Poland was a pushover, they held out for a week at Westerplatte.

German author Gunter Grass based “The Tin Drum” around these times in Danzig, though his celebrity status in Germany has been recently dimmed by his finally admitting he was in the SS. He never killed anyone though, ok! (No-one ever does, which makes you wonder how the death tolls get so high?). Mass rape followed the Soviet invasion, just in case the Poles were getting too chirpy about the Nazi’s departure, and of course at Katyn they’d already wiped out the officer class.

Miraculously though, under communist auspices the old town of Gdansk was completely rebuilt as it used to be several hundred years ago. With a nod to Flemish architecture, the elaborate facades give the main street a carefully constructed olde worlde charm that you wouldn’t expect from Stalin’s lackeys. They’ve moved on, and Gdansk is now well worth a weekend, if not a week. The funky beach resort of Sopot sits only a half-hour away, but with its museums and alleyways Gdansk was a revelation to Bookpacking who was expecting the whole spectrum of naught but grey. Those stereotypes’ll creep up on you when you least expect them…

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