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 🙂

My Scottish trip

Some time ago, in 2012, I went to Scotland.

To be exact, I drove do Scotland. A friend of mine proposed he’d take me there on his way to his son. Well, I have always flown by plane, I have never taken Europe in a car. Well, not true – I have – but never that far. I decided to give it a try. I had some business to attend to in Edinburgh, so I had to go anyway. I got into the car and off we went. Travelling through Europe is great – now as the borders do not exist anymore, it is open for touring.

The first stop was at the Channel Tunnel. It was an experience for me – as I am claustrophobic, so I feared a bit – especially having in mind what happened in 2009. But the trip took about 20 minutes or so, so I managed, I survived. And here I was on the British Isles. The route “up the map” was quite easy. And finally we crossed the “border”, and drove into Scotland.

I went back in my memories, and remembered how many times in my life, still in Nigeria, I had heard about Robert the Bruce, Sir William Wallace, Arthur’s Seat, the Scottish mountains, and heather, and the Scotch broom (which also grows here in the north of Poland even more yellow, and which by the way, gave the name to the House of Plantagenet – from “planta genista”).

Finally I reached Edinburgh. As a great fan of history – I had it now all at my fingertips…

Especially I was concerned about St. Giles” Cathedral (particularly it’s Thistle Chapel), John Knox, Sir Archibald Campbell, and of course the Ramsays… To find out why Ramsays – read HERE.  Everyday I was starting my methodical sightseeing in the early morning, so as to see as much as I could…

I know now, I shall definitely return to Edinburgh. And the next time I will make sure to tak the Cities of the Underworld tour in the Mary King’s Close. I went there during my stay, but it was too late. 😦

So next time, I know what to see, what and where to visit, what to focus on in the city. And next time I shall take a train to Glasgow, to visit the Hunterian Museum too.

HERE and HERE are some pictures I have taken during my two days’ stay in this Grey Stone Town.

The only pity is that it is not allowed to take photos of the Stone of Scone. By the way – if anybody says again I am enthusiastic about Polish history – go and listen to a guide in the Edinburgh Castle! The way SHE talked about Scottish history made me feel not a patriot at all. 😉

Well, this is all I had to say about Edinburgh.

For now 🙂

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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