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Street Art in Polish – Gdańsk Zaspa

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:

Former airport, Zaspa / Gdansk, PolandDoesn’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.

Zeppelin, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

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.

Fingers, Zaspa / Gdansk, PolandThis 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.

Budowa Jednostki, Gdansk / Zaspa, PolandThis 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.

Chopin Mural, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

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.

I love you Mural, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

16 Comments

  1. That is very notable and defined art. I suspect all fully commissioned by the local government and maybe with some propaganda behind it? Certainly quite a contrast from the street art I saw in Melbourne last year http://flightsandfrustration.com/the-magic-of-melbourne-street-art/

    • bridgekeeper

      Februar 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      Hey there, thanks for coming by again 🙂 I find the face on the wall in your post a bit similar to these, stylistically. Yes, the Murals in Gdansk are funded and work on them is supported by the city. There is such a thing called „Gdanska Szkola Muralu“, Gdansk School of the Mural, which is a program that promotes local culture in Zaspa and especially the art that comes into existence there. I have to say though that I personally find that not to take away too much from the art’s subversity and originality.

  2. Lovely street art! You are such a lucky lady with so many great friends. Will your nice friend Karol also show me around when I visit Gdansk?

    • bridgekeeper

      Februar 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      Well you’ll just have to ask him wen you get there, but I think we might be able to arrange that, my dear 🙂 I know how lucky I am. Can’t believe it, but know it and am so grateful!!

  3. Gorgeous photos. I love street art and now I really want to visit Gdansk!!

    • bridgekeeper

      Februar 15, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Do it!! It is the greatest place ever. I’m not completely unbiased, but I most people I met as travellers in Gdansk do love it there. Thank you for posting that Berlin post with the link to your beautiful East Side Gallery photo essay – it really just now hit me how similar Zaspa is to that! I think I’m gonna have to hit up the East Side Gallery soon and think about this connection.

  4. Gdansk certainly has some impressive street art! The sheer size alone of these works is impressive.

    • bridgekeeper

      Februar 19, 2013 at 12:18 am

      I agree, Suzy! I have yet to find out how exactly they did all this. Cranes? Pedestals? At any rate it makes the whole area so much more beautiful!

  5. I’ve yet to visit Gdansk but this post has me desperate to head over there and check it out for myself! I have a mild obsession with street art and would love to see these in person. Stunning!

    • bridgekeeper

      Februar 19, 2013 at 12:17 am

      Glad to hear it! Gdansk isn’t a place that many have in mind when it comes to street art, but it really has much to offer!

  6. These are awesome! Do you know how to find them if you don’t have someone lovely with a car to take you there? Are they walking distance from the Old Town or much farther out? Would love to check them out when I’m there next week!

    • bridgekeeper

      März 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      Hi Nats, they unfortunately are too far to walk to from the Old Town, but you could easily take the SKM (that is, the Gdansk city train) to Gdansk Zaspa and just walk right into the area from the station. Just look out the train window on your way and you’ll already see the buildings. It’s definitely worth a visit!! 🙂

  7. Next time you visit Gdańsk, I strongly encourage you to go on a Zaspa mural tour with one of the local guides. There are 45 murals in the collection, many of them in not very obvious and easy to find spots. Zaspa’s topography is also a little bit tricky. What’s the most important, the guides know virtually everything about each and every piece. The times and dates of the tours are all here: http://www.ikm.gda.pl/LokalniPrzewodnicy

    Banksy has not that much to do with the collection in Zaspa. First murals were painted in 1997 when street art as a notion did not even start to circulate. The amazing thing about the collection is that it’s not just street art. OK, There are typical street art pieces painted by current stars of the international scene, but at the same time we’ve got monumental paintings, in their expression much closer to Diego Rivera than to Banksy.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 17, 2013 at 9:43 am

      Dziekuje bardzo, Jarek, pewnie bede wykorzystac ta oferte z przewodnikami! brzmi bardzo ciekawy. And also thank you for the historical background. I didn’t mean to put any researched info, it was just an association I had. I loved Zaspa and will surely be back soon enough. I am in Gdansk as often as I can manage anyway 🙂

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