One of the things that I love about Gdańsk is the fact that every time I have been there so far, I have discovered new places and yet more incredible things. I owe this largely to the wonderful people I have met there and that have taken me to see things I wouldn’t have thought of myself. My latest visit gifted me with another hidden gem of the city – the quarter called Zaspa.
I sit in the hostel common room in the morning attending to my blog when next to me someone says: „Przepraszam!“ – which is Polish for „Excuse me“. I look up mechanically, and my friend Karol is standing next to me smiling. I’m up hugging him within split seconds. He is one of the people who, when I leave Gdańsk, ask me not if, but when I will come back. Having made friends that look forward to my returning there – that is a gift that I truly treasure. Karol is off to show a bit of the city to two hostel guests, and I am totally up for joining them. So we’re English Terri, Belgian Dries, Polish Karol and German me as we set off for the discovery of Gdańsk beyond the Old Town.
After having shown us the university and the cathedral and the park of Oliwa (which I have written about before, but in German), Karol parks his car here:
Doesn’t look so spectacular, eh? But Karol is not only passionate about showing people around, he is also knowledgeable about the city’s past. This used to be the landing strip of an airport. Immediately things fall into place in my head. My dad has asked me a few times if the airport in Wrzeszcz still existed. I have also read about that airport in some of the novels that are set in Gdańsk and that I love. I never knew where that airport used to be, I was just sure that it didn’t exist anymore. Now all of a sudden I’m there, on the pavement of a former landing strip. And this is an important moment for me, because when my father, who was born in Eastern Prussia, today’s Mazurian Lake District, was five years old, in 1945, he fled from the Russian front with his mom and his sister, and they fled on an airplane that left from the place that I am right now standing on. Have I mentioned that I am in love with places that are densely filled with history? Gdańsk is paradise for me.
But the airport is not what we came here for. I have passed by Zaspa on the SKM, Gdańsk’s version of a metro, many times before, but I never seem to have made much of looking out the window – I figured this was basically just a residential area with socialist blocks. Seen those. Lived in one in fact. Not a huge fan. Now that we approach those blocks, I can’t understand how I have overlooked their beauty so far – which lies in the murals.
A large part of the residential block buildings are dressed – yes, that is what it feels like, they are dressed up in enormous wall paintings. Socialist block residential areas have always freaked me out a bit – I find it so strange that they are really just residential. No shops. No life, really, at least not nowadays. Just house beyond house beyond house. Now what I see here, with the art surrounding us every step through the area, is very very different from that impression that I had so far.
This must be one of my favorites. I love how it is hard to tell if the fingers are putting thet puzzle piece into the gap or if they are taking it out, and how that central dominant part of the picture is red and white – the colors of the Polish flag.
This surely wouldn’t be Gdańsk if not at least one of the over-dimensional works of art referenced the Solidarność movement, the trade union established in 1980 (notice the number in the mural!) that played a significant role in bringing down socialism in Europe and that originates here. The writing says „Budowa Jednostki“ – „The Building of Unity“. This is not just graffito. These walls ask to be looked it again and again. Karol tells us that their coming about was inspired by street art in the style of Banksy – cheeky, funny, yet deep. I find most of the pictures to be very Polish though, and very original and typical for this country.
This one is dedicated to Chopin, or Szopen, as the Polish spell him. Yes, he was Polish, not French. In fact he was so Polish that even though most of is body was buried in Paris, his heart was taken out and buried in Warsaw, as he had requested before his death. And while we’re at it, just for the record: Marie Curie? Also not French. Polish. Her name is Maria Skłodowska-Curie, as street names in Poland will proudly tell you.
Terri, Dries and Karol go on to do more exploring after Zaspa, I have to be back in the Old Town. Karol drops me off at the SKM stop. As the train moves through Zaspa on its way toward the main station, I pass by a bunch of the murals again. Going through here won’t be the same anymore. Another stop on the SKM route has gained its own specific face. I am getting to know this city better and better, and I am loving it.