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Monday, July 1: Day 70 – Gdansk’s City of Streets

Polish letters look familiar but the words are impossible to sound out. They have 32 letters in their alphabet. There are usually more consonants than vowels.

Example: Wrzeszcz

I have seen this on several city signs. My Google Translate says it means “yell”. I doubt it.

Gdansk

The name of the town Gdansk was first seen in a document dated 997AD. In the 17th century, Gdansk was the largest city in Poland. In fact, it was larger than all the cities in Poland combined. The city looks a lot like Amsterdam as many Dutch from the lowlands helped to build the city.

The houses are tall, flat, and narrow. This style was a direct result of taxes. Taxes were based on the amount of street front that your house was on. Many windows meant much wealth since glass was expensive. Houses made of stone meant even more wealth and sculpted stone demonstrated even more wealth.

Wealth was displayed in the homes with large elevated front porches to eat meals while people passed by.


Streets

There are many streets in Gdansk and each seems to have a theme.

Long Street aka Royal Processional Way. Merchants and city officials lived here. All types of official business took place especially in the square. The merchant guilds were like the stock market of today.

Beer Street – Calorie replacement and liquid were needed on voyages. Beer kept longer than water. Alcohol such as vodka and rum came later when voyages were long and it kept better in cold temperatures.

Amber Street – also called romantic street. Six hundred and fifty large elevated terraces were perserved on both sides of the street.

These narrow streets were passable in the 19th century before the Industrial Revolution. Also, floods were prevalent so the wealthy weren’t terribly affected.

Many reputable amber jewelry stores are on this street. Amber only washes up on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. The best time to find some amber is 5am in the fall. Poles are not allowed to dig for it.

Amber is very valuable. Romans called it “Gold of the Baltic Sea”, and it was used in trade. Five thousand years ago they called it Magic because amber burns, floats, and is transparent. When burned, the aroma is beautiful so it is used for incense.

Amber is expensive yet light unlike heavy gem stones. Inclusions are rare and make it even more valuable which is the opposite for gems.

Amber as a tincture has been used medically for stomach, skin, and muscle ailments.

Holy Spirit Street – Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is where the Spirit leads you on this street. It is the largest brick church in the universe (and quite possibly the longest name as well). It is so large that you can’t get a complete photo. They said that God is an unshakable monolith. It was built by citizens and it took 159 years and is called northern Gothic. There are no statues or adornments. Ten percent of income of this wealth city could only result in a huge church like this.

Inside the church is a famous astronomical clock, but it was covered up for restoration. However, one can climb 411 steps to the top and see the city and the Baltic Sea.

Shipping

Poland is not a maritime nation with naval presence. They are all about shipping.

The Vistula River is the vein of gold. It was a gentle river and had better weather than in the Baltic Sea. Wealth came from the export and import of items. Granaries were especially important. You could not be on Granary Island after dark since a candle (before electicity) could cause huge fires.

There are many cranes used for loading and unloading. In the 1400s, a large manpowered crane was built. Four men got inside the “hamster wheels” and were paid in beer.

Solidarity

Gdansk had contact with Western culture due to its export and import industry so it isn’t surprising that the seeds of freedom were started here.

Communism was forced on the Polish people after WWII and was based on fear and threats. There was only one party called the Polish United Workers Party and you had to share their views.

The Polish Army was still active in 1945 to the early 1960’s. The last soldier died in 1963. The communists hated the Catholic church. Many priests lost their lives. (It is remarkable and ironic that Polish John Paul II was elected as Pope after 400 years of Italian Popes.)

Secret agents tried to control every aspect of lives. Letters were opened and read. Phone calls could only be made in the post office. And every two minutes, a voice would say that the conversation is being monitored.

Everyday things were hard if not impossible to get. Bananas, lemons, jeans, and toilet paper. If there was a line to buy something, get in it. Housing was difficult to obtain. You would be on a waiting list for 20 years to get an apartment.

How Solidarity Began:

Prices were raised unexpectedly right before Christmas in 1970. The shipyard workers did not go to work. Other businesses and then individuals joined in this strike. There were protests and shooting. There was a call to end the strike so workers went back to work. On the train platform there were army and police waiting on platform, and they opened fire. The dead were secretly buried at night. Poles were forbidden to talk about it. The rest of Poland (and the world) did not know. People of Gdansk said this is NOT our party. The planted seed was growing.

Black Thursday (2011) is a highly recommended movie directed by ones who lived this nightmare. It is from the perspective of a family.

In 1980, a crane operator, Anna Walentynowicz, was fired for participating in a legal trade union. This was 3 months before her pension would have been activated and 5 months before her planned retirement. One thousand companies throughout Poland went on strike. The solidarity movement formed. It named itself as Solidarity was written on the buildings in support of the shipyard.

Polish Communists leaders could not solve it without help. They could not count on the Soviets because they were dealing with Chernobyl, Afghanistan, and nuclear disarmament talks with the US.

They could no longer ignore the strikes and declared Marshall Law.

The shipyard workers stayed inside the shipyard. People brought food, medicines, etc. They were no longer afraid to show support.

John Paul came to the Shipyard and fell to his knees saying,
“Let God descend on the land” and he added…”on this land”.

Originally, the shipyard workers, eventually led by Lech Walesa, just wanted pay raises and to build a commemorate monument for those workers who had died.

From February to April, 1989 Round Table discussions and negotiations took place. Gate #2 and the wooden boards stating the 21 demands of the workers are UNESCO sites.

By June 4, 1989, free elections were held AT LAST. It is ironic that the biggest social movement in history that ended one-party Communism started in the Lenin Shipyard.

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