Situated to the North of the city centre, the European Solidarity Centre is an imposing building in rust-coloured metal, with a huge statue to memorialise the shipyard workers killed in anti-communist riots.
The inside of the centre felt entirely at odds with the more brutalist outside, giving a great contrast. It is a vast atrium of calm, free to visit without paying to visit the museum. Plants everywhere help contribute to that atmosphere. When I came out of the museum, a small visiting orchestra was giving a performance of classical music, which fit the place perfectly, though the quiet that followed was also wonderful. It’s a great space, into which a lot of care has clearly been put.
I booked ahead for my visit, having been (sort of) turned away the day before. There are timed entry slots, so if you arrive at 3pm, you may be told to push off till 4pm. I didn’t hang around and just booked for the next day, then showed my email at the audioguide station and scanned in to the museum upstairs.
This museum commemorates a hugely important time in Poland’s history, as it fought to be rid of Communism. It’s also salutary for a free Brit, as a reminder and a warning – simply reading the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a rejoinder to recent laws passed by people who I can’t politely describe. Even knowing that there is a group of people who will turn their nose up at any mention of that declaration, sure they are supporting a nebulous idea of freedom and making up their own minds even as they are led down the path of radicalisation, just as the British press did by lying about the EU for years, with otherwise politically-unengaged people knowing they should say “up yours Delors”. To give a funny (but not) example – on Question Time, one responder said she voted to leave the EU because she was fed up of the straight bananas ‘we’ get now. Not only swallowing the lies, but shaping her own reality to believe they had affected her world.
The museum starts in the shipyard, taking visitors into that time by recreating some of the look of the place. This was mostly not a bloody revolution, so some of the history is a little dry; there are lots of meetings and conversations. But there’s plenty to see, and the individual stories that start in the next room bring the narrative to life. It’s not a story I feel able to sum up, and in any case my reaction was much of the time one of anger at more contemporary events (and yes, for the reactionary right, I did also feel lucky to be able to express that anger, but that isn’t good enough on its own), but the pictures tell some of the story of the museum. For better information, you might start with a page about Lech Wałęsa.
There are fascinating exhibits on the size of the Communist bloc in Europe, and its dispersal over time.
I found the museum very interesting, if very dry in places – though we should be grateful that for the dullness of people debating in rooms, rather than fighting for supremacy. The audio guide is excellent and guides you through the place expertly. At times I switched off a little and let the feel of it roll over me, and that works, too. It’s close to being a must-visit in Gdańsk, though you might also choose not to go, and appreciate that freedom instead.