Honoring Solidarity is the reason to visit Gdańsk; the city’s restored Stare Miasto (Old Town) is the “Icing on the cake!”
Although I’ve traveled to Poland many times, I’d never been to Gdańsk, Poland’s Baltic Sea port in the north of the country. Home to Poland’s shipyards, the city is most famous as the home of Solidarity, the Polish trade union founded in August 1980, at the Lenin Shipyards by Lech Wałęsa and others. Solidarity became the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country, giving rise to a broad, non-violent, anti-Communist social movement that, at its height, claimed some 9.4 million members. Not only did Solidarity hasten Poland’s transformation into a modern democratic state, Solidarity represented a break in the hard-line stance of the government-run Communist Polish United Workers’ Party. Solidarity was an unprecedented event, not only for the People’s Republic of Poland—a satellite of the Soviet Union ruled by a one-party Communist state—but for the whole of the Eastern Bloc. Solidarity’s example led to the spread of anti-Communist ideas and movements throughout the Eastern Bloc, weakening Communist governments. Solidarity is considered by many to have contributed greatly to the Fall of Communism 10 years later.
After visiting the Solidarity Museum, we strolled Old Town. It was a revelation; my expectation was that Gdańsk was simply going to be a grungy, industrial city.
Boy, was I surprised!
Of Poland’s major cities, both Warsaw, in the center of the country, and Gdańsk, in the north, were destroyed by the retreating German armies, with upwards of 90% of each city laid to waste. Only Krakow escaped such devastation as the Germans were not pursued by the Red Army that far south. Old towns in both Warsaw and Gdańsk have been studiously recreated; Gdańsk’s is one of the best restorations I’ve ever seen.
Of course, one of the special features of the restored Old Town are the flowers and the trees, providing me with the perfect opportunity to digress.
I have been following the news back home and I understand that while trees add to the beauty of Gdańsk’s Stare Miasto, they’ve (trees) have become quite controversial at home. At least to Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Georgia.
Last Sunday, apparently, Walker came out against trees.
Democrats such as President Biden and [Walker’s opponent] Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Walker declared, “try to fool you like they’re helping you out, but they’re not. They’re not helping you out, because a lot of the money is going into trees. You know that, don’t you? It’s going into trees. We’ve got enough trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”
As The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank opined, “Finally, a politician with the guts to speak the obvious, painful truth: This country has too many damned trees. And we need to start deporting them.”
Of course, Walker’s scientific bonafides aren’t limited to trees.
Milbank: “[Walker] noted last month that when ‘good air’ from the United States ‘decides to float over to China,’ it is replaced by ‘bad air’ from China and ‘we got to clean that back up.’ Walker previously discovered the existence of a ‘dry mist’ that ‘will kill any covid on your body.’ And he was able to disprove Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by observing that ‘there still [are] apes’ that have not turned into humans.
As he admonished us less scientific types, “Think about that!”
Let me close with this: Recent polls suggest the Warnock/Walker contest is a toss-up.
Having just recently visited Copenhagen, I can safely paraphrase the Bard with this:
“Something’s rotten in the state of Georgia!“
4 thoughts on “Cruising the Baltic: As the home to Poland’s Solidarity movement, (Solidarność), Gdańsk may well be one of the most consequential cities of the 20th Century”
Gdansk, Poland is the beautiful result of proper urban planning. With the rebuild of the old city center in the reproduction of its former self it has made this historic city a standard for redevelopment worldwide.
Agree. Gdańsk is exceptional in many ways.
Glad you are having a good time. Poland is a place I never had a desire to visit—your travelog could change me mind!
Speaking of trees—have you been following the VP tree conflict?
Enjoy the rest of your vacation.
I really enjoyed reading your perceptions of Gdansk and the Solidarity movement. We visited in 2007 and, on a cold, rainy June day, toured the museum and shipyard grounds. It was sobering, powerful but at the same time renewed my faith in the power of the people. And even on such a gloomy day, we found the city to be lovely. I couldn’t help but think that it had risen from the ashes of World War II like a phoenix. Thanks for sharing.