Elbląg has always been present in my family history. At least since the 17th century.
Now it is present in my life even more. I do not live there but I visit the place very often, with my groups, or just for pleasure, myself.
Unfortunately the tour operators still do not understand that it is a good place to start any tour around in the former East Prussia region, and they still do not see anything interesting here.
Fortunately I myself organize trips and tailor the tours to the needs of my clients. 🙂
Medieval Elbląg was the most important place in the Teutonic State. It also was among the richest towns of the region at that time. Therefore also had a very high intellectual potential. This is still visible in the remaining (by miracle saved) pieces of art.
I wrote “by miracle saved”, because the time border for Elbląg as well as for towns in today’s north east Poland – was January 1945 (the Red Army attack on the German positions, the so called East Prussian Offensive). And therefore the town structure was nearly completely destroyed. Germans destroyed the water gates and dikes to stop the Soviets approach. This did not help. The Soviets preceded in their deadly march, destroying everything on their way.
So, this is the fate: somebody starts the war, the other one marches to victory leaving ruins behind… The victims are always the civilians, architecture and art. 😦
After the war destruction and silly communist decisiveness, Elbląg stayed empty for until some 20 years ago. That was the moment, when some wise decisions were made: we shall rebuild Elbląg in its historical shape, within the historical range of the Old Town. But before this could start, the city turned into a huge archaeological site, biggest in Europe.
The city, I called it ? Well, I remember cows grazing around St. Nicholas church (today a cathedral), and the high grass made it impossible to imagine that once here was a proud and rich Hanseatic city. Most of the brick from this ruined once mighty trade center – went to rebuild other towns, among the others – Gdańsk, and Warsaw to rebuild Warsaw, (4000 historical sites lost their brick, only to rebuild Warsaw!).
After the archaeological research the decision was made to rebuild the old town area in a new way. Save the shape of the buildings, but make them in a new way. And this new way was called Retro-Version.
It took a long time, but today Elbląg’s Old (New) Town looks good. It still needs investing, and all the quarters are built-up yet, but now at least the place starts to have an “old” shape.
One thing which should be changed is the mentality of the locals. They still do not feel “local”. They are the children or the grand children of the post-war settlers. Not all had the opportunity to grow roots here. A high unemployment rate does not help the locals to identify with a place that is slowly becoming the “bedroom” of the Tri-City. Because most of the residents go to work there. The liquidation of local workplaces after political changes has badly influenced identification with the place associated with the so-called Poland B.
Fortunately, a few years ago something “twitched” in Elbląg. The local Historical and Archaeological Museum began to popularize the history of these areas in an interesting way, very different from other traditional museum centers. Elbląg museum exhibitions have been arranged in a memorable manner. And the “Memories” project of the former residents of the city is very touching and allows the present residents to understand the feelings for the place of childhood. Also great is the initiative of local guides, organizing free historical walks around the city.
So, when planning a stay in Gdańsk, which is now only about an hour’s drive away, do consider visiting Elbląg too. Besides, from there it is much easier, and nearer to visit Frombork, Elbląg Canal, Olsztyn, and of course – Malbork.
And HERE are some pictures of Elbląg. Past and present. Enjoy 🙂