Gdańsk 1988 and 2015

Three sets of shots from trips to Gdansk (more properly, Gdańsk) in 1988 and 2015.

Looking down the Long Bridge from outside the Green Gate:

Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 (1980):

Westerplatte Monument in memory of the Polish defenders (1966):

As we found out in Venice last year, these mock-ups are surprisingly difficult to do!

Our visit to Westerplatte took place on the 76th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 2 on 1 September, which was quite special. Likewise, and coincidentally, we visited the Solidarity Centre on the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Gdansk Agreement on 31 August. The new Polish president and his entourage, plus a large number of Solidarity veterans, were also in attendance. In the 2015 photo it’s the museum which takes the background – the trees are gone.

A prime tourist spot, the Long Bridge seems little changed from 1988 apart from the demise of the belching factory chimney. And Gdansk retains its special patina, even carried through on some new housing developments. Wonderful. What has changed though is the availability of vegetarian food. While in 1988 I existed on a diet of zapiekanka (Polish pizza), in 2015 there are two value for money chains: old school fill ’em up Green Way (great felalfel wraps) and the completely contemporary Bioway. Perhaps they could be persuaded to open in Copenhagen?

In some ways though Gdansk was reminiscent of Copenhagen, not least for its bonkers topography. A postcard I bought with a map of Danzig in 1900 shows the city hanging off the river Weichsel (aka Vistula), with Speicher Insel (Granary Island) sitting in the middle of the river Mottlau and Niederstadt, doubling for Christianshavn, to the east, the whole lot surrounded by graben (moats) and an impressive set of bastions.

North of the historic city centre the Vistula splits into two main branches, with the Martwa Wisła (dead Vistula) emptying into the Gdansk Bay at the Westerplatte Peninsula.

Three are the coasts which I like most in all of Europe: Golden Horn, Gulf of Triest, Bay of Gdansk.

(Alexander von Humboldt, Gdansk, 14 September 1840)

More Gdansk: museums and me, an excellent In Your Pocket and some nice writing: Sketches of Gdansk 2012 ( “impression of Gdansk: a complex, rich city filled with historical vicissitudes, and unexpected beauty”), Marcel Krueger on Westerplatte and Past in the Present on Gdansk. 2018 update: Henning Larsen to Danskify the shipyard, nooo…

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Creating overlays with Aurasma: an Xmas project

Updates: Copenhagen got sliders! Københavns Statsarkiv has a set of photos comparing Copenhagen at around 1900 with today, while Time Travel Aarhus blends photos dating back to the late 19th or early 20th centurywith a new picture taken between 2013-14. Then there’s Edinburgh: then and now, where little seems to have changed other than the street furniture, and Moscow: ditto and account, plus the Barbican.

An alternative app is Layar, used here in Los Angeles. Plus Time Window Weimar, mapping the town’s history using augmented reality.

Interesting event at #beinghuman15: Expl[AR]ing humanities in Belfast, highlighting “new ways to think about the city, history and its gentrification”.


I discovered the Aurasma app via Tracey Benson (@bytetime), who uses it to create augmented reality walks revealing historic images by overlaying old and new photos of specific locations. Three of her walks are currently being exhibited as Finding ghosts (review) in Canberra, with one, Walking backwards to find the future, set in Dragør. See also Walks of absent memory in Dunedin.

The approach is similar to Guardian Cities’ Street View sleuth, which superimposes old images over Google Street View (see classic paintings | 18th century paintings | WW1WW2 | classic album covers | Ghosts of London’s Xmas), sliders showing development over time (London’s Olympic Park | Before and after the shard | Before and after the London riots), or plain old holding a postcard up to reality – all present a layered geographical narrative.

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Peggy Guggenheim on the balcony of her home on Venice’s Grand Canal – OK, it’s not as easy as it sounds!

Aurasma describes itself as the “world’s leading augmented reality app”, developed by old friends Autonomy.  It’s a bit difficult to get your head round – according to the site it uses image recognition technology to allow a smartphone’s camera to recognise real world images and overlay rich media (videos, webpages) on top of them, creating “an augmented world where every image, object and place has its own aura”. Basically, hold your phone up to a building (or just the image of it), wait for a few seconds and the linked content will float above (or cover) the image on your phone – try one out here, or see Tracey’s instructions for the Dragør auras (the historical images are also presented on a conventional tour page).

TBH I’m not sure Aurasma adds that much to simply displaying two photos side by side, although there is more you can do with it, and if presented as a component of a larger project, augmenting for example a guided walk, event or piece of writing, it may well be quite effective. I’ve several ideas, which I will out as my Xmas 2014 project. The tutorial for creating auras makes it look manageable once you get in the swing.

Tracey is also collaborating on the Long time, no see? project led by Linda Carroli, which combines an app, visualisation and series of events aimed at engaging walkers in their local community. See her posts on creating walks for the project. Might be worth a punt.

A final aspect of Tracey’s work which is of interest is that a number of her tours have been developed without ever being physically present in the place, opening up a range of experimental possibilities:

I was becoming a ‘remote’ tourist, discovering locations from afar and building a knowledge of a place, which may or may not have any truth ‘on the ground’.

Audio walks: Frederiksberg, Hanstholm and getting lost

A clutch of audio walks has come along of late. Three main types:

Falling more or less into the first category, I’ve just listened to a series of 10 audio files from Frederiksberg Stadsarkiv about the area during the First World War – see Syndikalister, kunstnere og gullaschbaroner (map). (Frederiksberg is an enclave with Copenhagen, a separate municipality, which means it does its own thing culturally.)

Part of the recent Golden Days Festival, the files are also available as an app, which does offer a map, but they work just as well as podcasts. At over eight minutes in some cases they might feel too long to listen to in situ, where there were also pictures and text on stands during the festival. Content heavy, I don’t feel I’ve retained much in the medium to long term, and I’m more likely to go back to the text versions which popped up on the blog.

Bill Aitchison highlights a feature of this sort of audio tour: “You look on the map, walk to number 1 then press play and listen. When that’s finished you look at the map, go to number 2, press play and so on.” More effective, although more onerous to create, are tours which offer directions and a commentary at the same time, “so that you walk with it and it talks to you throughout”.

An example of this type of audio walk is the Energy Walk at Hanstholm, a small town on the north west coast of Jutland with several claims to fame. As well as its fortress bunker, Europe’s biggest fortification from the Second World War, the town has the largest industrial harbour in Denmark, with ferries to the Faroes and Iceland, and is a centre for marine energy. Traces can be found in the area from both prehistoric times and the Vikings.

The Energy Walk, developed as part of the Alien Energy project (Facebook | fanzine) running at Copenhagen’s IT University under its Energy Futures banner, brings all this together. Launched on 6 September in Hanstholm – see the photos or listen to the audio (English and Danish) – until 1 November you can collect a digital walking stick at Færgegrillen in Hanstholm, should you be passing, and follow the walk that way, although it works fine as a podcast.

This one takes a more lyrical approach, with the English version narrated by ethnographer Laura Watts, who blogs at Sand14. I have to admit to finding it a tad tiresome in places, although traces have stayed with me.

Finally, coming up on Friday 3 October at 18:30 BST is Fracture Mob, an audio led flash mob by artist Jennie Savage, who is inviting people all over the world to get lost simultaneously:

This audio walk invites you to become lost in your familiar geography and the fictional sonic landscape of the audio guide, where you will encounter street markets, shopping malls, beaches and birdsong recorded in enigmatic locations. The artist’s instructions to walk are the same for us all, however each of us will interpret her directions, walk at a different pace, become lost in familiar territories and, of course, inhabit different landscapes.

The walk can be followed live on the day or downloaded as a 30 minute ambient soundscape in three flavours: wanderer, idler or drifter. Meet points have been set up at various locations, including Christianshavn metro. The walk was commissioned by Plymouth Arts Centre and coincides with the opening of the Walk On exhibition, still doing the rounds – hear Jennie talk about it and her other work on Talking Walking.

While I’m getting the intention behind all this, the performative aspect is troubling and when I’m walking I like to be in the moment, it’s kind of the point. But getting lost, or waylosing, is turning into one of those tropes – see the experimental travel tag. On the day I will be in Venice, however if you are tempted to participate do let me know how you get on. Update: Bill Aitchison on following the tour in Beijing, and hear Charlotte Spencer and friends describe Walking Stories, a similar performance undertaken by groups of 20 in a park.