Museums and me in Poland

During June and July 2015 I audited Leicester’s Behind the scenes at the 21st century museum MOOC, resulting in a suite of #flmuseums posts. This made museum visits on holiday in Poland a month or so later all the more interesting. A 2014 article in Politiken sets the scene, highlighting a number of new Polish museums, including Oskar Schindler’s Factory in Krakow, which I had a nose around in 2004, six years before its transformation. (See also the story about remembering Schindler in the Czech Republic.)

Gdynia

A highlight here was the mini-museum in the basement of the BGK Housing Estate. The museum was founded by the estate’s residents, and was opened for us by a workman who proudly showed off the mementos they have gathered, including pre-war bathroom fittings, kitchen bells and an early refrigerator in a larder. Also on show was a a pre-war wooden mangle, still in use, and a fully equipped air raid shelter complete with a still operational ventilation system. Our guide also let us into the apartment building proper – photo heaven!

By way of contrast the Gdynia City Museum (IYP) was not very tourist friendly, although just about worth the price of entry for a film tracing the foundation of the city and the opportunity to buy a coaster with a picture of a Polish naval officer.

The brand new Emigration Museum (IYP) in the former Dworzec Morski/Marine Station (1926) was a rather bigger deal. For me the building trumped the exhibitions, with the sense of what went before less apparent amidst the plethora of digital concepts and child-friendly multi-media exhibits. A lengthy comment was left in the visitors book.

Olsztyn

Onwards to Olsztyn in the former East Prussia, now the capital of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship. No cutting edge concepts here, but instead an efficient touch screen driven information kiosk with comprehensive information about the museums in the area. I particularly regretted bypassing Herder’s birthplace in Morąg, and having to skip the House of the Olsztyn Gazette due to lack of time.

The Museum of Warmia and Masuria in the 14th century castle reflects the depth of culture in the area, with some some quirky displays alongside more traditional folkloric exhibits. The collection of clocks in the tower was a particular highlight.

Gdańsk

We finished our trip in Gdansk, which has heritage to suit every taste and more museums than you can shake the proverbial stick at, no doubt soon to be joined by a Günter Grass homage or expanded gallery (GG died on 13 April 2015 – see IYP’s  Wrzeszcz walking tour).

We managed to tick off the Polish Post Museum and Westerplatte, both playing a key role on 1 September 1939 – our Westerplatte visit taking place on the 76th anniversary. Lack of time again did not permit a look at the Free City of Gdansk Historical Zone.

The latest museum to open is the European Solidarity Centre, opened on the 34th anniversary of the signing of the Gdansk Agreement on 31 August 2014 in the former Lenin Shipyard. Like Gdynia’s Emigration Museum it’s ‘state of the art’, ie nowhere to sit down, a one way circuit with no obvious exit, multimedia and interactivity galore, nothing left out. What did work; Room F, with a giant Solidarity logo made up of visitors’ messages.

Despite involving a lot of hanging around, our visit was made by the arrival of the Polish president on the 35th anniversary of the signing of the agreement.

Round the corner from the museum is the Sala BHP (Occupational Health and Safety Hall), where the negotiations between the strikers and the government were held and the agreement was signed.  Taken over by Solidarity in 2004 and now renovated, the hall currently functions as a conference and museum facility.

The great and good were in attendance to commemorate the 35th anniversary, and we felt privileged to be able to sneak in for a look round, as old friends relived the events and enjoyed a beer (or two) in the cafe.

A split new Museum of the Second World War (IYP) is due to open in December 2016, just 200m from the Polish Post Office on the edge of the historic city centre. How will the museum approach the legacy of WW2 more than 70 years on? Since the election of a new government there have been reports of a change in tack and even cancellation of the multi-million złoty project (The Observer | Timothy Snyder | delayed, Jan 2017).

For now a temporary exhibition in the Solidarity Centre, End of War in 45 artefacts, was well done, emphatically not in any set order, an “inspiration incentive to reflect on the complexity of historic events…and the ambiguity of their outcomes”.

 

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