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Category: Gdansk (page 1 of 2)

Footbridge in Malbork, Poland

I have lost count of the times I’ve been to Gdansk. Yet I had only once been to Malbork, the favourite tourist day trip from my beloved city and home to the largest castle of the Order of the Teutonic Knights. My visit there was in 1993 with my family and I had hardly any memory of it. The more thrilled I was that during my last stay in Gdansk I got to visit it again. And this picture alone shows why it was worth it.

Footbridge, Malbork, PolandThe wooden footbridge crossing the river Nogat swings slightly when you cross it. But I had to get to the other side to enjoy the view of the bridge AND the castle all in one. Have you noticed how it is all red brick stone? You know I’d love it. Even with a cloudy sky I think the bright red of the castle contrasts so beautiful against the grey, and the dark colour of the bridge is so intense in its reflection in the Nogat’s steady, calm flow. Malbork Castle is an impressive place looking to intimidate the attacker – but looking at it from across the bridge today, it is mostly peaceful and pretty.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

The Things I Love About Poland – Part II

I guess we all have countries which make us feel at home more than others. My parents, for example, love Greece, and they feel imbalanced when they don’t go every year. Most people get that. Greece has beaches, and islands, and ouzo, and lots of pretty old ruins. When I speak about Poland with that same affection, people just give me disbelieving looks. But guess what. Poland has beaches! And lakes! And vodka! And TONS of pretty old ruins – and pretty old buildings that are still whole, or have been restored beautifully.

Dlugi Targ, Gdansk, Poland

Długi Targ, the Long Market, in the center of my most beloved Gdańsk. Everything was in ruins here after World War II, but is shiny and sparkling today. I hear that Polands restorers are among the best in the world, and I believe that alright!

Last week I spoke about my love for the urban beauty of Polish cities, of the amazing sense of history in the country, of the hospitality I have met and the friends I have found, about the enchanting melody of that beautiful strange language, and about Polish music that has touched my heart. As if all this wasn’t enough, I have more reasons why my eyes light up when I talk about Poland. And I am not afraid to tell you about them.

6. The Landscapes

How could I speak about the cities and not equally enthusiastically mention the landscapes! From the Baltic Sea and the Mazurian Lakes in the North to the Tatra Mountains and the softer Plains in the South, the country really has it all.

Szczytno, Poland

Szczytno in the Mazurian Lake district enchants with a beautiful sunset.

Rozanka, Poland

Różanka in Lower Silesia offers pretty views and is very close to the Sudety mountains.

Poland even has the last European jungle in the Northeast which is high on my bucket list as I haven’t managed to see it yet. The wild bisons that live there, the żubry, have been namesake to both the beer żubr and the vodka żubrówka. Who wouldn’t need to see them now? One of the things that make Poland such an amazing country is definitely its diversity. From beach vacations by the sea to skiing in the mountains, you can find everything your travel heart desires here.

Sopot, Poland

Didn’t I say there were beaches? If it is this pretty in winter, just imagine how amazing the pretty spa town of Sopot must be in summer!

7. The Food – and the Vodka!

Ah, the food. I am not a huge foodie, but Polish food has me salivating. For one thing, don’t expect to ever go hungry in Poland. Generally, there is too much food for a person to handle, even if it is so delicious that you never want to stop eating. The Polish are big on soups and stews from żurek, a sour rye soup, to all kinds of vegetable soups (especially try barszcz, a beetroot based soup), to bigos, a heavy cabbage stew that will warm you on a snowed in winter’s night (because yes, it does get cold in Poland). I can never get enough of wątróbki, poultry livers served with apple and onions, and of the famous pierogi, dumplings that come filled with all sorts of different stuffings. If you can get someone to make them from scratch with you, you will never want to cook anything else at home anymore.

Making Pierogi in Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

When I lived in Bystrzyca Kłodzka in Lower Silesia, we made Pierogi in the group of international volunteers with our Polish teacher. And my, were they yummy!

Of course a good Polish meal is not complete without good Polish vodka. No other beverage have I been drunker on. But if you drink the good kind and don’t mix it with cheap kinds, you will not even be hungover. I’m fairly sure I don’t even have to talk much about it. If you go to Poland, one or two vodka incidents are without fail bound to happen. And even if you never liked vodka before, trust me and try it here. It is delicious and it certainly speeds up the process of making Polish friends.

Pear Vodka, Sopot, Poland

Doesn’t look like vodka? Ah, but it is! With pears! And it was beyond delicious. Never would I have gotten to taste it if my friend Karol hadn’t known the bar tender 🙂

8. The Literature

Adding to the Polish language having drawn me in with strange magnetic pull, I have also fallen hard for Polish literature. It was no love at first sight. For a long time I didn’t really have any favourite Polish authors or works. But the more I read, the more I wanted, and the better I knew the language, the more I loved what I was reading. Epic realist novels like Bolesław Prus‘ Lalka („The Doll“), masterpieces of absurdism by Witold Gombrowicz, amazing SciFi like Stanisław Lem’s Solaris and heartbreaking poetry by the nobel prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, and the great feminist novelists of today, like Olga Tokarczuk and my very favourite Joanna Bator – the list goes on and on.

 

I have found myself in too many books to actually list here, they have been eye-opening for me. To give you a taste, I translated one of my favourite Szymborska poems for you.

Na lotnisku

Biegną ku sobie z otwartymi ramionami,
wołają roześmiani: Nareszcie! Nareszcie!
Oboje w ciężkich zimowych ubraniach.
w grubych czapkach,
szalikach,
rękawiczkach,
butach,
ale już tylko dla nas.
Bo dla siebie – nadzy.

At the airport

They run towards each other with open arms
Calling out laughing: Finally! Finally!
Both in heavy winter clothing
In heavy hats,
scarves,
gloves,
boots,
But only to us.
Because to each other already – naked.

9. The Sense of Humour

Poles are extremely friendly and set great store by hospitality, as I mentioned last week. But not only that. Man, those people can make you laugh! I don’t know wether it is because they haven’t had much to laugh about in history, but generally Polish humour is dark, dry, politically incorrect and screamingly funny. To be quite frank it took me a while to really get into it, but I’m just telling you to not be shy, take that stick out of your butt that has been shoved up there in whatever country you are from, and go ahead and laugh.

Browarnia, Gdansk, Poland

„A bar tender is no camel, he needs to have his drink too!“ – on a jar for tips in a much beloved Gdansk based bar. Yeah, sometimes the humour isn’t dark and twisted, but just cute 🙂

I was warned before watching the Polish cult film Rejs, „The Cruise“, that I might not get why it is funny. I never stopped laughing when I saw it. I wish I had found a subtitled version of this scene which is my absolute favourite. I can but hope that the body language of the cast alone will at least make you smile. The dialogue is hilarious.

10. The Swearwords

Closing on a high note here. Obviously there is one specific part of language, which in general I already discussed, that deserves extra attention. Almost any language beats German when it comes to swearing, we only have boring words that don’t do the somewhat violent melody of our language any justice. But cursing in Polish is pure poetry. It is so emphatic and creative. I know you expect better of me, the academic, but I dare you to have a Pole teach you how to curse and your life will never be the same. There are actual linguistic studies on the fact that German cursing is usually related to fecies (shit) while Slavic cursing is related to sex (fuck). There is nothing as relieving as uttering a heartfelt kurwa jebana mać (a very emphatic „fuck!“, but literally something like „damn fucked bitch“). And the most brilliant thing is: They use swear words for affirmation and celebration as well – as in zajebiście, which means „awesome“, but literally „fucked“.

Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

I called the little town of Bystrzyca Kłodzka my home for 6 months. There was nothing spectacular about it. But it is Poland. Therefore, it is home.

Having said all of this, I feel once more ever so grateful for my blog. You don’t understand how even thinking about all these things made me so happy. I think back on all the places I have seen in Poland, and all the ones I am yet to discover. There is no other country except for Germany that I know so much about, and yet I don’t know nearly enough. I want to see more, know more, understand better.

You know how when you travel and get cash from the ATM in a foreign country, you try to calculate so you won’t get too much as to not be stuck with foreign currency at the end of your trip? In Poland I never do that. I always take out any decent amount I feel like taking out. If I have Zloty left over at the end of my stay, I will just spend them the next time around. It is never far away.

Which country makes you feel at home? Why do you love it so much, and do people understand your love for it?

Photo Hunting in Gdansk

My thing will always be writing. Going somewhere, slowly walking about, trying to take in the space with all my senses and transforming the feeling that I get into words. It is a somewhat sacral act to me. And while I love music and art in general, what I truly am is just a writer.

Yet what would be a more perfect place to elaborate my skills of visual artistry than Gdansk – one of the places that I have tried to capture in words several times, a place I love and cherish, and that I can never get enough of? When I set out with my camera to capture the essence of this true love of mine in photos, I am sure that looking for images that respresent Gdansk to me will open up new perspectives to me and, in turn, inspire my writing anew. And so it does.

Dlugie Pobrzeze, Gdansk, PolandThe crisp winter air is painful in my lungs because it is so cold. Yet I breathe it in deeply as I walk along Dlugie Pobrzeze, the street that lines the Motlawa River, enjoying the crunching sounds the snow makes beneath my feet. The sun is mirrored in the frost and makes everything glisten. I turn right on Mariacka street.

Mariacka, Gdansk, PolandI have always had a thing for this street with its beautiful houses that have strange little front buildings: stairs leading up to terraces from which you enter the houses. I think I have read about their history somewhere, but I forgot what it was. The street is narrow and, now in winter, it is wonderfully secluded and quiet. The way the sun hasn’t reached the street, but only the church that you see in the very end (the largest brick stone church in the world), makes it a more magical little alley, all toned in shadow. Like from a Harry Potter movie.

Details on Mariacka, Gdansk, PolandMaking a turn, there are yet more details to discover. Cast-iron grates. Little pillars. Lanterns screwed onto otherwise unremarkable houses.  Small things that don’t mean anything to your regular by-passer. But I like the way the pillar has that round little nub on top, and I like the leave ornaments moving down from it. I like the grate with its twists and unobtrusive beauty. I like the lantern on the wall, old-fashioned and reminiscent of gas lantern times.Details on Mariacka, Gdansk, PolandLantern, Gdansk, PolandThe turn from Mariacka street has brought me to a little alley that leads right up to the Long Market. This is the core of the old Gdansk. This is where its classic beauty manifests. This is also where it sometimes feels like Disneyland, because after World War II none of this was there anymore. It was all re-made. But I never had the fake feeling here like I had it in Wroclaw or Warsaw. I just think it’s beautiful. It is not my favourite place in the city (we’ll be getting there). But it make my heart wide to stand in sight of the town hall. Town Hall, Gdansk, Poland Looking further up the street, beautiful house borders beautiful house. You’ll find the best Bar Mleczny, Milk Bar, on that street, to the left. It serves delicious Polish food for virtually no money. I love how in this picture I captured the old couple holding hands. I want to walk in a city I love with someone I love, with this natural intimacy on display, when I am that age.  Long Street, Gdansk, Poland Back toward the river, I walk through the Green Gate onto the Green Bridge and turn, and the view that opens up is what makes this my favourite place in Gdansk’s Old Town. View from Green Bridge, Gdansk, Poland But to tell you the truth, I honestly think that if this was all that Gdansk was I wouldn’t love it as much. I would think it too clean, too tidy, too dressed up or perky. I love it because it also has a very different side.

The next day (which you will be able to tell by the weather change in the photos) I go with my friend to Dolne Miasto, a slightly less central, but especially less wealthy part of town. Actually it is just across the Green Bridge and thus very close to the pretty Old Town. But here the streets aren’t well kept and the houses are run down – with few exceptions.

Dolne Miasto, Gdansk, PolandThe houses here have the exact same potential for beauty, but for some reason gentrification doesn’t hit. There is no sensible reason for that, but laws of market seem to work differently in Poland from Germany. Surely the beautiful Kamienice, secession houses, would be renovated and rented out for a LOT of money if this were in Munich, Berlin, or Hamburg.

Dolne Miasto, Gdansk, PolandI adore this picture. It shows the place in all its morbid beauty. The brick stone. The balconies. The way time has gnawed its way into the cold stone. And the woman in the red coat carrying home her groceries on the slippery snowed in sidewalk.

Dolne Miasto is also where there is wasteland left in the middle of the city. Economically that is not good, not smart for the city I am sure. But I like it because it opens up potential as of yet unfulfilled. Once the potential will be fulfilled, this won’t be half as interesting a place anymore. Ironic, I know. But my heart wants what it wants – morbidity and wasteland.

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And things are changing already. Walking back towards the Old Town, with a beautiful view onto the towers of Mariacki church and the town hall, there seems to be construction work going on at the Island of Granaries that cuts through the Motlawa River. But now, all snowed in, the place looks as morbid and out of time as the wasteland above. The ruin of the old granary adds to that. Fugitive. Momentary. Perishable. What a strange thing time is, and how sweetly strange it is when it is visible like this.

Island of Granaries, Gdansk, Poland

Sopot on a Winter Day

Sopot. I first got to know it by its German name Zoppot which sounds so much harsher and less accessible than the soft-sounding, sinuous Polish equivalent. Thinking about the place has come to evoke pictures in my mind of when it was a German spa town and people would come here to enjoy their summer retreat, or as the German old-fashioned expression goes: Sommerfrische, a word I love and that translates to summer freshness. I blame that on the beautiful books I have read that are set here and that paint pictures of a distant past that are coloured in the soft tones of patina.

Baltic, Sopot, PolandI have never been to Sopot on a hot summer’s day when the pier costs an entrance fee and the beach must be overcrowded with tourists. My personal associations with the town are not ones of summer freshness. I have, however, been here in the winter. So far most of my visits were accompanied not only by great cold, but also by grey skies. I always liked it anyway because I love the Baltic in all its shades of grey. But the last walk I took through Sopot on this crisp winter day was special. And I will try and share some of my impressions with you.

I walk around the last house that seperates me from the open view ontop the sea, and as I pass the corner, my heart jumps, as it does when I see the Baltic – my favourite sea.

Baltic, Sopot, PolandWhen I finally set foot onto the beach, I can hardly see anything because I am blinded by bright sunlight, mirrored by the snow that has covered the sand in a pocketed white blanket. Wind is making my eyes tear up, and the cold is crawling into my sleeves as I take off the glove and reach for my camera.

I make my way toward the Sopot pier, the longest wooden pier in Europe with its old fashioned ambience. It invites for strolling, dandering, sauntering. If only it wasn’t around -16 degrees today.

Pier, Sopot, PolandLooking North toward Gdynia, the water is smooth as glass and reflects every soaring seagull, every ray of sunlight. To the South, toward Gdansk, the is greyer and less calm. The thick wooden stilts the carry the pier are entirely frozen over with a dense icy coat that produces funny looking outgrowth. They look like mammoth legs.

Pier, Sopot, PolandThe day is blue and white. I cannot even fathom what it could be like in the summer. The idea of green doesn’t seem to fit. This place belongs in the clear and transparent colours of winter. Even the clouds play along with it. Big and white, with silver-grey linings, they collect just above the horizon as though they wanted to cushion the bright blue skies. Looking left and right, the Baltic has frozen over, and a thick layer of snow grazes the ice. Poeple are walking on it.

Snowed in Baltic, Sopot, Poland Snowed in Baltic, Sopot, PolandIt looks a little bit like the froth that waves make. In the original fairytale of the Little Mermaid, when mermaids die, they lose their soul and become froth on the sea. Such a melancholy thought. The little mermaid herself gains immortality for her undying love and joins the spirits of the air. I am sure she is around somewhere.

Walking along the beach it looks surreal how at times it is the sand covering drifts of snow, then again it is snow that overcasts the sandy beach. Different animal tracks can be seen on the untouched surfaces, mainly birds‘. The bare branches are dark and dead against the intense winter colours, but there is life all around, if only it doesn’t always show itself openly.

Beach, Sopot, Poland Beach, Sopot, PolandWhen dusk is setting, the light changes. The colours grow warmer, but the temperature goes colder yet again. Little flakes of ice are in my scarf just below my mouth – from breathing. The light fades, but the beauty is increasing. I find an abandonded boat on the beach. The sight of it sets free all the longing, all the craving, all the wanderlust I carry in my heart year round.

Beach, Sopot, PolandOnce more, I walk down the pier. Because I can. And because as heartfelt absolutely certain as I am that I am going to come back, as much does it pain me to say good bye. Every time. I walk the pier to the very end. On the ice cover in the marina, there is slight, weird movement. I only see it at second glance: The seagulls. They have cuddled up in a huge swarm and sit on the ice in a huge crowd, warming one another. It looks beautiful, a symbol of „united we stand“, of „together we are strong“.

Seagulls, Sopot, PolandThen, something seems to have disturbed them in their corner as suddenly they rise as one into the air. So many individual animals, yet moving in one swift movement, together, forming one body, and setting again as a breathing living cover onto the ice, onto the sea.

Seagulls, Sopot, Poland If this isn’t all too symbolic of my yearning for travel, my craving for flying and still having a home to come back to, of my wish to be myself in all my individuality and still have attachments to others, I don’t know what would be.

Green Bridge in Gdansk, Poland

There had to be a bridge in Gdansk. There was no way one of my favourite cities of all times did not have a bride. In all honesty, though, the most well-known bridge in Gdansk’s Old Town, across the river Motlawa, is not all that exciting. But when you cross it coming from the Old Town onto the Island of Granaries and then turn around to look back – that is when it is stunning.

Green Bridge, Gdansk, PolandThis bridge is called the Green Bridge, Zielony Most, as it leads up to the Green Gate, Zielona Brama. There has been a bridge in this place since the 14th century, while the gate was built in the late 16th century and, so I read, shows Flemish architectural influences – something I have yet to find out for myself since I have never been to the Netherlands.

I have to say that to me the gate is just very hanseatic with its red bricks. Also I quite like gates. In a way, they complement the idea of the bridge – they allow you to pass through somewhere. Of course they have another semantic component when they are closed. But I have never seen the Green Gate closed. Instead, it is always inviting with its four passage ways onto the Long Market and onto the Long Street – the gems of Gdansk’s Old Town. From the bridge you have a view of the Dlugie Pobrzeze, the street that lines the banks of the river Motlawa. In the summer souvenire stands are pressed up against each other there side by side. In the winter it is wonderfully empty and quiet. And cold. Seriously cold. But even the cold is different in Gdansk. It is crisp and genuine and of amazing clarity. Oh, the beauty.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

I’ve Got the Month of May

May has been my favorite month ever since I can remember. That transition phase between spring and summer is so full of hope and opportunity, so bursting with expectation and dreaming. Nature is exploding in all her most beautiful colors and the sky has that special color that is both coyly pastel and stunningly intense and deep.

The train ride between Berlin and Gdańsk never ceases to be of indescribable beauty to me. Between Berlin and Frankfurt / Oder, the first hour of the ride, I can’t help but notice how different the landscape looks now from the way it did when I made the journey in the winter. The wide and rolling fields of Brandenburg are now not barren, brown and lifeless. They are juicy green and promising. And as I look out the window, suddenly I my heart starts leaping. Green has been substituted by garish and bright yellow.

Rape Fields, Brandenburg, GermanyIt is the first rape field in blossom that I see this season. I could just cry. They say that up here, you can see with the naked eye if someone will be coming for a visit in three days. Everything is spread out into the open. Everything is just there. In this world and in this life that holds so many surprises for us on an everyday basis, I think it more than calming to find myself in this Northern Germany plain that doesn’t keep anything from me. Barren brown and grey fields in winter. Explosions of green grass, golden wheat and yellow rape in summer. This is home to me, a place where I can feel secure and at peace, unafraid of the surprises that may lurk around the corner.

At my most recent stay in Poland, after our visit to Grudziądz, Karol decides to not go back on the Autostrada – the large highway – but on the quiet country road by ways of the countless cute little villages on the way to Gdańsk. After the humid, hot day with stunning blue skies, small clouds has started to emerge, and now they are thickening across the wide dome above us. Nothing hinders the eye from wandering along the horizon on either side – no hills, no house, no tree distorts my view, and the sky looks different on every end in millions of shades of white, grey and blue as it meets the earth with its astonishingly juicy green fields. The rape is blossoming a little more carefully here than it was in Brandenburg – the fields are not of the same unbroken golden yellow colour, but they are intertwined with green. The rape is not entirely ripe yet, still waiting to give out its explosive force entirely.

Landscape, Pomerania, PolandOn another day, Aga and I take the tram from the Gdańsk city center out to Brzeźno and walk from there to the park in Jelitkowo. It is too windy to walk right by the Baltic Sea beach, so we take the tarmaced trail behind the bank slope. Families with little children abound, young and old couples walking holding hands, friends chatting away, cyclists, skaters, buzzing life. The trees jutting out of the slope show leaves of such tender bright green that I feel any touch would have to destroy them. When we get to the park, we lie on the grass for an hour, sleeping, chatting and wreathing daisies.

In Jelitkowo, PolandBack in Berlin, the chestnut trees have exploded. In German the blossoms are called blossom candles, „Blütenkerzen“, as though they were something that shed light and was burning brightly into an already bright summer’s day. The pink ones have been my favorite trees since I was in high school. Their color is not subtle, it is crazed and screaming, exciting, fresh and fitting for visions of summer.

5 Kastanie

And speaking of blossoms, there are of course the cherry and apple trees that have their white beauty on display as though they were ready for their wedding. They never look as gorgeous as they do when in blossom, no matter the appeal of a tree carrying ripe fruit. I cannot help but think how the entire change of seasons and the idea of the passing of time is so iconically symbolized in the little white flowers on these trees. They remind me that every moment is precious, and they make the promise of a good tomorrow. I find hope in them.

Greifswald, GermanyGrudziądz, PolandDo you have a favorite month? What do you like about this time of year?

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

Tricity’s Waterfronts, or My Happiness

Making me happy is not the hardest thing: Let me travel. Show me something – anything! – that is beautiful. Make me sing. Bring me to one of my Places of Desire. Teach me something about the world. Or get me to anywhere where there is water.

Any of these things will put a smile on my face and love into my heart. Being in Gdańsk, or really in Trójmiasto – that is the Tricity area consisting of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia – has made it possible for all the things on the list to be given to me at once. It can be really overwhelming.

It is cold this time around in Gdańsk – not that it was exactly warm when I came in November. As I walk from Happy Seven Hostel (easily one of my favorite hostels in Europe!) toward the Long Market, I wrap my scarf around my face to keep the cold from gnawing its frosty teeth through my skin. My own warm breath clings onto my scarf in tiny ice crystals. The pavement on Długie Pobrzeże, the waterfront street, is slippery and wet, frosted with a not so thin layer of ice on top of the snow. The sky is blue and shiny. The air is fresh. It feels like the first day in the world. As carefully as I feel I should tread here, my eyes are as though fixated on the outlook I am facing and that I love so much.

Gdansk, Mottlawa

There is the Motława River, glistening in the sun. The sillhouette of the Żuraw, the old and mighty city gate, stands still and black and mighty before the sun. As I approach the water, I see that it is frozen over slightly, and covered with half melted snow, and the tracks of swan and seagull feet paint pretty pictures on the surface. I walk towards the sun, and the light tickles in my eyes – the only party of my face that isn’t covered to be kept warm. Eventually I turn back, and I see this:

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Sunlight is suffusing the houses with its wintery morning light. It is not actually a warm light, but when it hits the red brickstone, the houses look like they were shone upon by an August summer sun. It is the red brick stone that savours the warmth of yet brighter and warmer days. I love the material more than words can say.

On a different day, I take the SKM to Sopot. I have been here once before. Almost 20 years ago. My memory of it is very faint, but it exists. It was summer, the August of 1993 to be precise, and I remember the beach to be very white, whiter than any I had ever seen. The sky was misty, and there were lots of white birds I suppose must have been seagulls – „No,“, said my mom when I related this memory to her once, „they were swans. Lots of them. I had never seen swans on the Baltic Sea before.“ I remember the Grand Hotel dimly – grey and big and mirroring in its slightly run-down morbidity many tales of former grandeur.

What will it be like to go there now?

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Through Sopot’s downtown, I make my way to the pier. In summer it actually costs money to go there. I find this in tune with the very chic, elegant spa-town feel of the main street. I am not saying that it isn’t beautiful. I just tend to feel a bit displaced when I encounter somewhere like this. Everything and everyone looks so gorgeous and tidy, and it makes me very aware of my jeans being torn and my hair being messy, and I’m practically waiting to slip and make a perfect slapstick fall that passers-by will sniffily pretend to have not seen. I’m missing an edge, because Sopot’s picture-book perfection is making me queasy. And then… then I get to the water.

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20121223-134527.jpgThere are swans and seagulls in the water. Fog is all around, but the horizon still marks a fine line between skies and earth, between eternity and the material world. The Grand hotel in the distance is white and shiny and I cannot believe that it is supposed to be the same place my memory held. I know that soon the look of the majestic and wealthy world class hotel will have replaced my old and faded image from the early 1990s that still exists in my head. I grieve upon that knowledge for a moment. I liked the unrestored Grand Hotel. It told a whole life story. This new one has nothing to do with me in all its phenomenal beauty. Incredible that we, a family of five, could afford to stay there 20 years ago. My mom and I found old bills in a photo album, dinner there for the five of us cost some 140,000 Zloty – in today’s currency rate that would be 35,000 Euros. Times change.

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My eyes go back to the water. The ocean is the same in an elegant place like this as in any other. My Baltic. Its waters connect so many places I have seen and loved. Skagen in Denmark, where Baltic and North Sea meet. Greifswald, my German college town. The Curonian Spit in Lithuania with its fir tree forrests and white sandy beaches. Latvia’s Riga and Estonia’s Tallinn, the lively and individual Baltic capitols. It calms me to think of these places.

On this weekend, there is also a quick visit to Gdynia’s beach. It is of beauty that is beyond my capacity to describe but in two words: Olbrzymia Cisza. In Polish that means: Gigantic Silence.

Tales of Gdańsk – Narracje

narracjeJPGThe last time I went to Gdańsk, I came into town for a Contemporary Art Festival called Narracje that consists of light installations that are projected on walls of different buildings throughout the city. Narracje [English: narrations] is held in Gdańsk for the fourth time, and its motto is the Shakespearian „Art thou gone, beloved ghost?” The website had me so hot for it that I just had to come and see it, and it has been all over my facebook feed, too. Speaking of ghosts, spirits, unearthly relics of the past in a place like Gdańsk and transforming all of this into art – there is basically not a thing about this that I do not like.

We are a group of six when we make our way to the Gdańsk shipyard where a large portion of the installations is set. I am beyond excited, because I have never actually been on the territory of the shipyard – and when we get there, it is so tangibly laden with history. Walking those grounds is like walking along where the Berlin wall used to be. I sense how the entire place is filled with energy, with spirits, how the area tells both of endurance and revolution, of suffering and victory.

We end up on a tour of the installations in the shipyard that is done by the curator of the entire festival, a Canadian of Polish descent named Steven Matijcio. I find his explanations very inspiring. All of a sudden so many of the installations make sense when at first glance they don’t tell me much, even though some of them are unbearably beautiful. I don’t know squat about contemporary art, but Steven combines theories, ideas and notions that I know from literary studies with a material that is strange to me. For every piece, he explains the installation’s immanent meaning first, only to relate it to the building that it is projected on and the entire space that it fills. In some cases, the work of art would be only half as meaningful, had they projected it onto a different wall. We start talking to him about 10 minutes into the tour. One on one his personal passion for all he artwork he is presenting in this festival comes across even more intensely. The day after I go to his tour of the installations in the Old Town, talk to him more, and enjoy it to bits and pieces that I can get all the questions of my chest that come to mind.

There are many, many, many installations that would be worth mentioning. I will just talk about two that I found most moving, but in very different ways.

The first is by Belgian artists Aline Bouvy and John Gillis and is called Venusia. We see it on the first night, projected against Hall 42a’s outside wall in the shipyard. The name of the installation being inspired by Venus, it is obviously a piece about human interaction and relationships. A collage technique filmic installation with powerful, almost sacral music played to it, it is of eerie beauty and intensity with its sudden images of arms trying to reach and lips meeting each other. Prominent to me in it all are the takes of Eyes of different shape and color, all merging into one as though to create the image of one vision for the world, one love, and one mother goddess of all emotion. It is truly aesthetic and as I stand there, I wish I could see the whole 8 minutes, but we don’t have time. I found the installation on the artists‘ website for you though. Click here and scroll down to the very bottom of the page!

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Past and Present blend into each other at the wall memorial at the Polish Post Office

Angels of Revenge shows close-up film clips of people attired with horror movie props talking about what they would like to do to the person who has wronged them most on their lives. They are not actors, but real people talking about other real people and about real events. Having been cheated on. Having been stabbed in the back for a job or money. All of them adress their tormentor directly – they talk to the camera as though it was the person who has done wrong unto them. In effect, an onlooker of the installation feels like they were addressed. The hatred, the thirst for revenge, at times disappointment, but mostly just blind anger – all of it is hard to take and very disturbing. The things they say are just phantasies – but are they? Very, very bad words are used. The installation is in English with Polish subtitles. I finally start to read and try not to listen, because in English, without any notable language barrier, all the emotion hits me with yet greater force. The entire yard is buzzing with accusation. Connected with the history of the place, it is almost too much for me. I am glad that we cannot linger too long because I might cry. But if art is supposed to tear us out of stupor and make us feel and think and re-evaluate, than this has certainly done it.

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I have not managed to shoot any decent photos with my iPhone. I recommend Algebraiczny for stunning pictures. And I did put the 5th edition of Narracje in my calendar. I will be sure to come to Gdańsk for it next year.

SKM-ka, or Gdańsk fast-forwarded

20121220-102554.jpgOne of my most innate Gdańsk adventures lies yet before me. I am going to ride the SKM, a kind of overground metro that connects all of Tricity – that is Gdynia, Sopot and Gdańsk. SKM stands for Szybka Kolej Miejska, fast city train, and wonderfully the Polish have not only made the company name the name for every vehicle that is part of the service, but also personified the abbreviation in the female so each train is called an „SKM-ka“. It is as though in German you would say SKM-in or in Spanish SKM-ita. It adds a whole different dimension of personality to the old, slightly dodgy-looking yellow, blue and white trains. It makes me think of them as old grumpy fat ladies who, while being harsh and cold to everyone, are truly loveable.

20121220-102544.jpgThe 15 minute train ride is uneventful – but it leaves me with time to reflect, like on countless other occasions, on this city. While a long-distance train seems a slow way of transport compared to, say, flying, this SKM-ride makes me feel like everything I connect with the city is rushing by, like someone fast-forwarded my thoughts.

First stop: Gdańsk Stocznia. The shipyards. This is where the Solidarność movement came about, where people went on strike to fight an unjust regime – one of the places where the end of the Cold War began. Another stop: Gdańsk Wrzeszcz. This is where my grandfather was born almost 100 years ago when it was called Danzig-Langfuhr. Yet another stop: Gdańsk Przymorze – Uniwersytet. Przymorze means „by the sea”, I love how the name is so poetic, although the area between Wrzeszcz and Oliwa is actually not exactly pretty but quite industrial. Finally Gdańsk Oliwa, where I get off. This, like Wrzeszcz, is a place that is familiar to me from literary depictions of Gdańsk. Grass’s Tin Drum, Chwin’s Death in Danzig, Huelle’s Who was David Weiser? – all their heroes have walked these streets, like I do now. Maybe my love for Gdańsk partly originates on the pages of books. I wouldn’t be surprised.

And with all these thoughts that revolve around Gdańsk throughout history and in literature, the thing I love the most about this moment is what I’m here for: I’m going to visit a friend. I’m not on a huge mission, not sightseeing or researching. I’m here just to hang out with someone, like any other person in this city might do on a Saturday afternoon. In this moment I’m not a tourist on a journey, I’m not an academic at work. I’m just me in a city that I love.

20121220-102535.jpgWhen I get back to Oliwa’s train station later that afternoon, the electronic board says that the SKM-ka to Gdańsk will be there in 5 minutes. I’m overjoyed with my good timing. Little do I know. I take out my headphones and turn on my music, sitting and waiting for the train, but it doesn’t get in. On the other side of the platform the board says that the train to Wejherowo will be there soon too. When it arrives, I wonder why it is going in the direction that I thought Gdańsk Główny to be in. Well, I must have lost orientaion. A few minutes later the board changes. It now says my SKM-ka will be there in half an hour. Shortly after this, another train going in the other direction is arriving on the platform’s second track. It is only then that I realize that I just let my SKM-ka pass by.

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SKM station Sopot

And that when I already have a history with this! As I now have half an hour in the cold, there is lots of time to remember at least one previous unfortunate incident with track numbers. A few years ago when I was living in Poland as a volunteer, I needed to go back to my home base in Lower Silesia from Toruń. My friend and I got to the platform, the rusty old board said that our train to Poznań would leave on the left track. We got on, chatting away, but after about 45 minutes we really started to ask ourselves why the train hadn’t left the station yet. After quite a bit of a hassle we found out that this was a regional train, when we should have taken the fast train from the opposite track that had left about 30 minutes ago. Not only did the train we were on leave later, it was also slower, so that we missed our connection in Poznań by way more than an hour. We did catch another train to Wrocław, and my friend made it home to her village by bus. I couldn’t get to my tiny town that day and, bound for a friend’s place, had an odyssey on Wrocław’s city busses to the outskirts of town and got lost in a jungle of the highest socialist concrete skyscrapers i had seen to date in the middle of the night. It all pretty much scared the life out of me and I wasn’t so hot for Wrocław for a while after that.

What do I learn from this about Polish trains of any kind, be it SKM or PKP?

  1. Never trust electronic boards on the platform.
  2. Always check both sides of the platform for your train and if in doubt, when a train is coming, ask a local if it’s yours.
  3. Always bring an extra sweater when you go to Gdańsk in winter. And wear it whenever there is even the slightest chance that you are going to be taking public transport. You may have to wait. And it will be cold. I at least am going back to Berlin with a runny nose.

… and with a smile on my face. Because when it comes down to it, this entire post just makes me realize how German I am and I really enjoy the fact that Poland, however well I may know it already, can still confront me with my own cultural imprint that I will most likely never get rid of.

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