I found my way into the centre of Gdansk, to the main street, the Dluga and the main market square, the Dlugi Targ. The whole street is lined with one beautiful building after another. Many of the buildings are quite narrow but they all have the most amazingly detailed decorations, statuary or murals.
I had to pinch myself and tell myself that it’s all been rebuilt since the devastation wreaked on the town by all the fighting in WWII. The rebuilding has been done as authentically as possible so that the town has become a major tourist drawcard. Some of the lesser streets have also been rebuilt like this street running parallel to the main drag but it wasn’t hard to find streets which are still in a mess.
I was keen to find a link with the Hanseatic League so I went to see the Zuraw, the largest medieval crane still in existence. Ships would sail up the river and berth under the crane which has two massive sets of wheels inside. The crane was built in 1442 after an earlier version was burnt down. It could lift four tonnes to a height of 11 metres.
Men would walk around inside the wheels (a bit like hamsters run inside a wheel for fun) which would pull up thick ropes with the ship’s cargo attached.
80% of the products exported from Gdansk was grain grown in the fertile plains of Poland. Other exports were nuts, vegetables, forest products and metals. Textiles and luxury items such as salt, citrus fruits, spices and alcohol were imported.
I crossed the bridge, sampling a local delicacy on the way, to take some photos of the crane from the other side of the river. The local delicacy was cheese which was chewy like rubber and didn’t taste much better. There was a constant and rhythmic banging of drums on the river – three Chinese dragon boats were racing. The white team was in front by half a length, the black team was catching up, it was so exciting!!! - until the white cox fell into the water with a splash. Luckily for my faith in human nature, all three boats stopped to fish her out then they paddled sedately back under the bridge.
After the excitement, I pushed my way through the crowds to the Artus Court which was named after King Arthur of Round Table fame. Artus Court was originally built around 1350 with the approval of the Teutonic Knights who, having recently conquered the area from the Prussian pagans, were busily spreading ideas of chivalry around their new possessions. They also liked St. George and the idea of killing dragons. There were Artus and George courts in a number of other towns across this area of Europe. The current Artus Court building dates back to 1481, was seriously damaged in 1945 and has since been beautifully restored to its medieval magnificence, seriously impressive.
Artus Court and other courts like this basically worked like a modern day club. Merchants, businessmen and others all belonged to a ‘brotherhood’ which had a ‘bench’ in the court. This Artus Court had six brotherhoods including the Brotherhood of Sailors for ship owners and the Brotherhood of Saint Christopher which was specifically for merchants from Lübeck. Brotherhood members would meet at their bench for a beer or two, talk and laugh and make deals with each other. At the same time, they were able to gather news and information from others, were exposed to new ideas and were able to form bonds of business and friendship with people from different backgrounds.
I opened the door to the main room, stepped through and WOW, it’s just amazing! High, vaulted ceilings, massive paintings, wooden benches lining the walls, statues, a huge painting of St. George slaughtering a dragon and a magnificent tiled heater reaching almost to the ceiling. Each tile is not only different but actually has a simplified painting of a real person on it. Photos and words alone cannot do a room like this justice …
I found it intriguing that there was no mention of the Hanseatic League in the information about Artus Court even though it was definitely involved through the Brotherhood of Saint Christopher.
The following day I found myself in Galeria Baltycka, a large, shiny shopping centre just down the road from my hotel. It has many of the same name brand shops as we have in Australia – Jack Wolfskin, Levi, McDonalds … There’s also Stradivarius which sells women’s clothing instead of violins. Circling around the ceiling of the second floor is a list of names of cities along the Baltic – Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Szszecin. Rostock, Kilonia (Kiel), Tallinn, Ryga, Wismar and Lubeka (Lübeck) etc. Why are they listed there? Is this a reference to the Hanseatic cities?