A short distance further up the coast from Gdańsk lies the rival port of Gdynia that was developed in the inter-war period and thereafter during the communist period of the country’s history. In view of both ports having an extensive maritime history, this was recognised by the establishment of a museum in each of these cities that concentrate on this most significant theme.
The Polish Maritime Museum in Gdańsk has the broader remit as this provides a wider historical perspective; the Naval Museum in Gdynia concentrating on the more specialised topic of Poland’s naval defences over the years. Visitors with an interest in more recent history may also wish to visit the Solidarity Museum beside the Gdańsk shipyards where an immense hall constructed to resemble the steel plates of a half-built ship pays homage to the shipyard strikes led by Lech Wałęsa, which were one of the most signifi cant turning points that led to the fall of communist rule throughout most of Eastern Europe.
This two-part article on the maritime museums of these important Baltic ports starts off with the Polish Maritime Museum in Gdańsk, which is situated on the two opposing banks of the Motlawa River. A location that is instantly recognised by the museum’s most striking feature, the huge, black wooden structure of one of Gdańsk’s many architectural marvels: the world famous wooden crane that was used to unload ships that principally transported grain to and from the port, and the museum collections, as housed in the old granaries and the homes of the burghers who once ran this important business. Museum displays in the Polish Maritime Museum include the history of the port’s construction and the ship-building industry that prospered in Communist times as the Lenin Shipyard; also the importance of offshore fishing and maritime trade, both on the Baltic and throughout the globe.
The recovery of artefacts from the Baltic is another prominent theme, and of particular interest to ship enthusiasts, the museum has acquired two full-sized ships that are described at length further on: the freighter Sołdek that is moored alongside the museum on the Motlawa, and the full-rigged sailing ship Dar Pomerania that is moored together with a World War Two Polish destroyer that’s also maintained here as a museum ship in the docks at Gdynia, as fully described in next month’s edition of Sea Breezes. So let’s take a look at the Polish Maritime Museum’s prize exhibit first of all which is moored in the centre of the city across the Motlawa River from the world famous wooden crane.
This freighter was the first to be built of 29 vessels under the Gdańsk Shipyard project number B30 between 1948 and 1954 which were designed to transport cargoes of coal and ore. Sołdek was launched on 6 November 1948, the fi rst ship to be built in the shipyard since this was so comprehensively wrecked by German, British and Russian bombing during the Second World War. The ship was named after one of the shipyard workers, Stanisław Sołdek, in recognition of his strong work ethic, as defined at the time as a shock worker under the communist regime.
The Sołdek was owned by the shipping line Polska Żegluga Morska and her home port was Szczecin. Six B30 ships were kept by Poland and the other 23 were sold to the USSR to serve with the Soviet Navy as auxiliary transports.
Sołdek was handed over to the Central Maritime Museum’s care as a museum ship in July 1985.
Taking a half-hour train ride to Gdynia and then a taxi down to the docks where the Polish Maritime Museum’s sailing ship, Dar Pomerania, casts an impressively tall shadow across the dock, and the Polish Navy Museum’s destroyer Błyskawica is also moored.
Built and launched in 1909 by Blohm and Voss in Hamburg and originally named Prinzess Eitel Friedrich, this full-rigged sailing ship was used as a training ship by the Imperial German Navy. Her sister ship from the beginning of the last century has also survived, the Grossherzogin Elisabeth was also built by Blohm and Voss, and today can be still seen in the German port of Elsfleth in Saxony.
Following the First World War and the defeat of Germany, Prinzess Eitel Friedrich was seized as war reparations by the British government in 1920. She was then passed on to the French Navy to serve the same role as a training ship based at St Nazaire, during which time she served as the Colbert. By 1929, the costs of restoring the ship to seaworthy condition caused the ship to be sold for £7,000 to the Polish Navy academy in Gdynia and she was then renamed Dar Pomerania, and re-commissioning improvements included the installation of a diesel engine.
Frequently referred to as the White Frigate, this sailing ship became famous in Polish nautical circles when her crew circumnavigated the globe via the Panama Canal in 1934–35, an adventurous voyage that was repeated in 1937 by the rounding of Cape Horn.