Modernism in Gdynia

A little gem for fans of modernist architecture! We started our trip to Poland with three nights in Gdynia, the port created practically from scratch by newly liberated Poland in 1921. Now with a population of nearly 250K the city is over-shadowed by Gdansk to the south, but has much to offer.

Gdynia’s tourist office is housed in the current city hall at 10 Lutego 24, built in 1935-36 for the Social Insurance Company. There you can pick up their Modernism route booklet, with four separate tours to keep you busy for the rest of your stay.

Social Insurance Company (1935-36), now Gdynia City Hall

Social Insurance Company (1935-36), now Gdynia City Hall

A half day can easily be spent exploring the BGK Housing Estate at 3 Maja 27-31, built from 1935-39 and including the first underground garage and air raid shelter in an apartment building, plus a mini-museum with 1930s reconstructions. (Gdynia further distinguishes itself by being the place where the first ever ice cream on a stick was created, on Świętojańska Street in 1932.)

The Kamienna Góra route, in a former resort in the hills above the city, boasts some beautiful villas each with a story to tell:

Just four more notable buildings:

The tourist office also offers a Maritime legend route, featuring the South Pier and its Joseph Conrad Monument (1976), allegedly the only one in the world (Conrad had no known Gdynia connections), and the split new Emigration Museum three piers further north in the former Marine Station (1926).

There is so much history here it hurts. The latest addition is the Displaced Gdynian Monument (2014), dedicated to the 150,000 Poles deported in 1939.

Time for a more photo friendly design, perhaps!

More photos on Flickr. Links: Gdynia Tourism | In Your Pocket | WikipediaWikitravel. See also museums and me on two museums in the city.

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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”) and Marcel Krueger on Westerplatte.

Memorials and memory at Copenhagen Art Week

Updates: the theme for 2015 was Shared space, with guided tours of various types (performance, on bikes, in the metro). In 2016 (26 Aug – 4 Sep; ibyen) it’s Open gestures, with B_Tour offering Through someone else’s eyes (FB), eavesdropping on Ion Sørvin of N55 and Anne RommeHjem til Blågården (more) and a packed SMK programme, plus performances by inter alia Nøne Futbol Club (Politiken); other tours include guides to specific parts of the city (FRB, Østerbro, Amager). In a packed couple of arty weekends CHART (26-28 Aug) has slogans on the street by Douglas Coupland (Politiken), plus an architecture competition, while B_Tour is also in action at Alt_Cph (2-4 Sep; participants wanted | review), along with Copenhagen Game Collective, with a number of place based events curated by Råderum. Phew!

Copenhagen Art Week, also known as CAW, is taking place from 29 August to 7 September. The book-sized programme includes eight, count ’em, guided tours.

At the arty end of the spectrum we have gallery viewings on Bredgade, Gammelholm (the other side of Nyhavn) and in Kødbyen (the ‘meatpacking district’). Inevitably there are bike tours (Kunsten og samfundet/art and society in Vesterbro and Besøg fotokunstnerens atelier/visit photographers’ studios), but two are super-exciting – a Guidet togrejse on the S train with architect Carsten Hoff, responsible with Susanne Ussing for the public art in five stations on the H line (Måløv,Veksø, Stenløse, Ølstykke, Frederikssund) and State of Exception/Undtagelsestilstand, exploring the world of international diplomacy (next Sunday).

On Saturday, after dropping in on the Stasi Secret Rooms in Nikolaj Kunsthal, I joined KØS’s guided walk exploring statues in the city centre. KØS, the museum for public art in Køge, was previously known as the rather less inspiring Køge sketch collection. The walk was part of its memorials project, which kicked off with a tour of 10 monuments around the country (programme | Facebook) and culminates in the Mindesmærker i dag/Memorials of today exhibition running until February 2015. There’s also a creepy talking statues app and upcoming sessions at Folkeuniversitet.

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Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor, named after HC Andersen’s The Elder Tree Mother and modelled on her great grandparents – take a seat!

The walk was led by Sasja, responsible for KØS’ schools service, who had us filling in post-it notes with words we connect with memorials at the foot of the Absalon statue on Højbro Plads. From there we moved on to Frederik VII outside Christiansborg, also on a horse but rather less imposing, and then to Kierkegaard in the national library garden. Our final stop, following a 1km Kierkegaard style menneskebad to Kultorvet, was Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor, completing a narrative arc from imposing to eye level.

Sasja also showed us the empty space previously occupied by the Isted Lion, a familar tale to the Danes on the walk. Erected in Flensborg in 1862 after the First War of Schleswig, moved to Berlin in 1868 after the Second War, then to Copenhagen after instense lobbying in 2000, it’s now back in Flensburg. A symbol of the Schleswig-Holstein Question?

She also related two tales demonstrating once again the importance of trees in urban space. Until 2011 a tree on Kultorvet stood as a memorial for the city’s homeless, who would hang photos and other memories from its branches when one of their number died. The tree was cut down as part of a modernisation scheme, but a new Gravplads for Gadens Folk has opened at Assistens Kirkegård/cemetery (where the trees are protected by the local plan), together with a statue which featured in KØS’ memorials tour. Also with a happy ending for now is the controversy over an old plane tree in the square in front of KØS in Køge. A formal investigation is to explore the scope of potential damage to neighbouring buildings.

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some less successful public art at Kongens Nytorv

Having been on several city walks over the last year or so I’m beginning to put together a picture of the city’s layers – and to spot other tours going on at the same time. It seems there’s no avoiding Segways. Also on during this rainy Saturday was the swimming round Christiansborg thing, with changing rooms slap bang on top of a Kierkegaard quote tastefully embedded in the pavement, and the culmination of both CPH Pride and Cooking. Outside the city centre there were local festivals in Valby and Ørestad, and no doubt a few other happenings I’m not aware of. Could this constant whirl possibly be tipping over into too much? When everything is about performance and play there’s no room for the city just to be. It’s suffocating and confusing.

Next up is Golden Days, after which we settle into months of hibernation during CPH’s grey days. So how about a festival of the everyday? Have that one for free, WoCo.

Thanks to Sasja and KØS for the inspiring walk!

Monumental updates: as part of Golden Days KØS hosted a lecture on Käthe Kollwitz’s Grieving Parents, which also featured on R3’s Essay by Ruth Padel. More Kollwitz on R4’s Germany: memories of a nation, this time focusing on her pietà in Berlin’s Neue Wache. See also Käthe Kollwitz, a Berlin storyplus more on the red horses (2015 update: they’re back!). 2017 updates: the Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum (Berlin) and an exhibition (Ikon Gallery, Birmingham), while on Free Thinking (14 Sep) is called out for a lack of irony or detachment.

Two more alternative mindesmærker highlighted in an event on 4 Dec: Hein Heinsen’s Talerstol på Vartov commemorating Grundtvig (1783-1872), priest in Vartov for 33 years; the front of the talerstol (speaker’s rostrum) bears the inscription rostra populi on the left and fællesskab & frihed (community and freedom) on the right, while the back bears ord (word) in 54 languages; and Kenn André Stillings Alfabet TURÈLL in Vangede, commemorating Dan Turèll (1946-93), in the form of letters and punctuation marks surrounded by a 47m long bench, one meter for each year of Turèll’s life.