Elbląg – Elbing…

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 FromborkElbląg Canal, Olsztyn, and of course – Malbork.

And HERE are some pictures of Elbląg. Past and present. Enjoy 🙂

Amazing Gdansk

HERE is a link to my photo-blog. I posted there some photos of today’s Gdansk.

It is really a beautiful town 🙂

Evening Gdansk – a short walk

And so I walked through my Town in the evening, admiring it again and again.…

I had beautiful moon over the Manor of St. George Brotherhood and the Long Street Gate (called the Golden Gate) in front of me, with the view on the City Hall in the distance. All this pushed into my camera lens and to my ears to, as the Town Hall carillon “chimed” at the same time

And for the thousandth time or so the Long Street Gate attracted my eyes again.

It was once an ordinary medieval brick gate, just a gate, one of few leading to the town. And then in the 17th century, there came the time of changes, great changes in Gdansk. All the construction activity in the town must have been unnerving and irritating to the citizens, as it is for us today. The Gate is associated with a certain surname of a master builder and artist at the same time – Abraham van den Block.

The figures on the gable were made by Peter Ringering in 1648. But in the 19th century were taken away. So when after the Second World War destructions of the city – the decision to bring them back was made – there were no originals. There were only the copies from 1878… Speaking of the WW II destructions – I mean – we all mean – the destruction caused in March 1945 by the victorious Red Army. The town was then systematically destroyed by them while chasing the Germans out from it. House by house, street by street it was burned down. There was such a heat, that many of the bricks melted, and altogether after the fire ceased, the Town was filled with 3 million cubic meters of rubble.

So when looking at the splendidly rebuild and in places fully reconstructed town, it is worth to remember that tragic time to. The Polish restorers indeed have done their job perfectly. No wonder that they are known in the World, and often called to work abroad.

But going back to the Golden Gate (I don’t like this name as the historical name of the Gate is: Long Street Gate, but most of the guide books use this popular one)…Looking at it now – we see the effect of the last renovation – which was not a perfect one. But nevertheless we admire it and concentrate on the load of meaning it has, not noticing the shortcomings.

So I stood there, gazing at the nicely illuminated Gate in admiration. I was trying to fit the figures in my camera lens and reflected on the depth of content of the ideological meaning of the decoration. Whole town is full of ideology, and the Gate is like a short description of how to understand it.

So here we have – (looking from the west) – figures depicting Peace with palm twig and a stick entwined with olive twigs. This means triumph and victory. Next is the allegory of Freedom – holding a hat (pileus) and a statute book. Pileus was a sign of freedom, as it was placed upon a shaved head of the newly freed slave in ancient Roman times. Next we have an allegory of Abundance – and it does not need any explanation – the Horn of Plenty is all too visible. And the fourth figure on the western gable of the Gate is Fame (Pheme). Here it holds the horn of Fame and the sun (symbol of eternal eminence) and tramples down Envy (Invidia).

From the east – the figures depict: Prudence with a telescope and a clock. This means – far-sightedness and the abstemious regular rhythm of life.  So it might be rather Temperance. Next to it looping to the sky – is Religiousness holding the Holy Bible. Next is Justice with scales and a measuring rod in one hand and an olive branch and a sword in other hand. This measuring rod appears also on the plafond in the Summer Hall (Red Room) of the Town Hall. And it means (from the Gospel of St. Luke 6:38) “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. Closest to the Manor of St. George Brotherhood is Concord (Harmony). She holds a bundle of tightly linked arrows and in the other hand – she has one broken arrow. It is a depiction of the story of Skiluros, the Scythian king of Crimea. When on his death bed – he called his 80 sins, and told each of them to break a bunch of spears. None of them could. Then he gave each of them one spear, and then they easily broke each one.  This means “strength in unity”. Or rather – according to the inscription on the Gate, the maxim which says that “the small states grow in consent, the big ones collapse in disagreement (discord).”

And yet it is not the end of “reading” the Golden Gate (Long Street Gate). It is best to stand in front of it, either from the west, or from the side of the Długa (Long) Street and listen to what it tries to say about the ambitions of citizens. And about the then position of the City.

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Elblag – east of Gdansk

Seldom people go there. Even the Poles consider the town to be not interesting.

And it is on the contrary.

Elbląg has been nearly completely destroyed not only by the Soviets during the last stage of war. But also by Poles – right after the fights. The still existing buildings, that survived the Red Army’s wild march were pulled down, and the good quality brick has been taken to rebuild Warsaw and Gdansk.

Such was the sad story and fate of many towns and villages in former East Prussia.

World War II did not effect the region – until the end of 1944. First there was the German frenzy of evacuation in winter 1944/1945 – sentencing their own people to death (winter and dreadful conditions) and then the march of the victorious Red Army. And finally the new people, who were settled here by the communists after the war. They were the people who were expelled by the Soviets from the lands seized from Poland after WWII… It was not their history, not their place on earth.

Still not everyone understands the rich and complicated history of this land. Still there is a lot to do as far as rebuilding is concerned (I also mean rebuilding the mentality).

But what has been already done is amazing.

For years Elbląg has been one of the biggest in Europe proving grounds for the archaeologists. Here for the last ca. 20 years the digging and research has shown such incredibly rich face of the city, that we sometimes are surpised.

Also the area – the near and far vicinities of the town revealed the secrets of the past. Some of the artifacts can be found in the Town Museum. It has been organized very interestingly – so it is worth visiting.

Elbląg today is a town often visited by Mennonites (it has still two former Mennonite Churches). Why Mennonites? Well, the land around the town we all owe to those People of Hard Work.

It also was a very important place in the earlier times.. Not speaking of the Teutons, who built here a mighty castle. Some historians say that this was to be the capital instead of Malbork. But it was important also later – in the 16th and 17th centuries it was a site of the Eastland Company… No wonder therefore that there were so many English surnames in the history of this once Hanseatic town… The history is so rich and complex, that it definitely is worth visiting the town, at least for a day, or two 😉

Today Elbląg has many fine small hotels, spelndid cuisine, and geographical situation such, that it is near everywhere from here.

Many of my tours start from Elbląg – heading to the east or nort-east of Poland.

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