Gdansk Pilgrimage 2018 (4): A deeply moving visit to the European Solidarity Centre.


I’ve prefaced the travel narrative of our visit to Poland (itself backdated to the actual days we were there) with a series called Eight Days of Gdansk, which provides background on a European destination that’s scandalously little known to Americans.

Previously: Aimlessness on All Saints’ Day, a Polish national holiday.

Friday morning began with obligatory views from the hotel room window on another gorgeous late autumn day.

Sausages, eggs and a few dozen other items were available from the Hotel Admiral each morning at one of the most extensive breakfast buffets I’ve seen in a while.

We reasoned that the German tour groups probably wouldn’t have it any other way, and as an American, I’m down with it. We’d opted out upon booking, then learned that the price came out to ten bucks apiece. Breakfast removed the need for lunch.

They even had breakfast music … and dessert.

Friday was the day for visiting the European Solidarity Centre, only a ten-minute walk from the hotel. Along the way, we had glimpses of Polish architecture, old and new.

Our visit began just after the Centre opened for business. As a prelude, this description covers the waterfront.

European Solidarity Centre (Europejskie Centrum Solidarności) (In Your Pocket)

The huge construction you can see next to the entrance to the Gdansk Shipyards is the impressive European Solidarity Centre which opened on August 30, 2014, the 34th anniversary of the signing of the August Accords. The 5-storey building, which has been designed to give the impression of walls cracking and tilting and is covered in rust-coloured sheet metal reminiscent of a ship’s hull, has been a project many years in the making …

… There are a number of aims to the centre. First and foremost it is designed to be a symbol of the victory of the Solidarity movement and the way that victory was achieved peacefully thanks to the power of people uniting in solidarity with each other. It is both definitions of this word that the centre’s organisers want to pay tribute to and to develop further. The proclamation issued by the joint-signatories in 2005 stated that they wanted the European Solidarity Centre to “become the world’s centre for the ideas of freedom, democracy and solidarity to be fostered”.

The building is centred around a permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of Solidarity and the opposition, which led to the democratic transformation of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. But the exhibition forms just a part of the European Solidarity Centre’s daily function. The building features a library, reading rooms and archives which are completely accessible to researchers and any interested reader alike. The conference rooms and other spaces, such as the winter garden on the ground floor, host debates and concerts serving projects of both the ESC and outside associations aimed at working towards the common good.

I’ve already written a few words about the Centre, before and after our journey. Once I knew it existed, a pilgrimage was inevitable.

Eight Days of Gdansk: Prelude to a pilgrimage of Solidarity.

ON THE AVENUES: Notes on Solidarity after a visit to the European Solidarity Centre in Gdansk.

It isn’t clear to me what can be added at this point. I may be writing about it for years to come, or the obsession might quickly abate. Following is a photographic journey through the Centre, mostly without comment. It would be better for me to provide context, and I’ll try to revisit some of these images.

For now, just look at them.

And yes, that’s Gary Cooper from High Noon.

In fact, Gate #2 was one of the main entrances to the Lenin Shipyard during its peak communist period of operation, when it was the fifth-largest in the world. The gate is remembered as the place where Lech Wałęsa announced the 1980 agreement with the regime, subsequently erased by martial law in 1981.

We enjoyed a light lunch with beers at the Brovarnia Gdańsk by the river, a brewpub with a solid Black Lager and quality herring.

Looping back to the hotel, we chose Mariacka Street (ulica Mariacka), known far and wide as “Amber” street, where a few dozen amber merchants set up shop.

For the uninitiated …

Million years ago large stands of forests in some parts of the world began to seep globs of sticky resin! This aromatic resin oozed down the sides of trees, as well as filling internal fissures, trapping debris, such as seeds, leaves, feathers and insects. As geologic time progressed the forests were buried and the resin hardened into a soft, warm, golden gem, known as amber. Amber is the fossilized resin of ancient trees which forms through a natural polymerization of the original organic compounds. Most of the world’s amber is in the range of 30-90 million years old.

The Baltic region is home to the world’s largest known deposits of amber, which still occasionally can be found washed up on Gdansk area beaches. The nearby Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg, produces 90% of the amber on the planet — 400 tons in 2014 alone.

We continued our aimless stroll prior to the requisite afternoon nap.

Anchor graffiti — it isn’t just for New Albania any longer.

The Hilton hotel is a scant 100 yards from Hotel Admiral, the rooftop bar there has first-rate martinis, local craft beer … and nighttime views.

Our dinnertime destination was another short walk toward the old town, at the Italian-owned Allora Ristorante Pizzeria. Outstanding food was enhanced by charming, hands-on owner with an offbeat predilection for Czech draft beer. Note the banner across the street, visible through the window; it was a shop specializing in patriotic wear.

Next: Up to Gdynia for a pro basketball fix.