Gdańsk

The Polish city of Gdańsk, has been involved in the Hanseatic League as early as the 13th Century. Gdańsk has a history that is very politically charged and complex, from being claimed and ruled by powers outside of Poland, in its earliest years, to being a significant power in the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1980. Despite its politically ambiguous and troublesome history however, Gdańsk played a very important role in the Hansratic League.

A Brief Historical Overview:

When it comes to Gdańsk, the past is very ambiguous, and there lies confusion in ost things, from its origin to its name. The first written account of this city can be traced back to 999 AD. In this account, Saint Adalbert of Prague writes about how he baptised the inhabitants of the town: urbs Gyddannyzc, which we believe to be where Gdańsk lies today.

Excavations made after the ruination caused by WWII allowed archaeologists to date the city’s humble beginnings somewhere around 980 AD, where it is believed that Gdańsk was originally constructed as a stronghold by Mieszko I.

The ambiguous geographical location of the city made it susceptible to various sieges and raids throughout history. While the city is situated in Poland, it has been the victim of the Danish, German, French, and Prussian armies to name a few.

Gdańsk gained independence after WWI, where, thanks to the terms stipulated in the treaty of Versailles, it operated as an independent quasi-state under the League of Nations. In this time the city had its own senate, stamps, national anthem, parliament, and even its own currency, the Danzig Gulden. This independence did not last long however, and made Gdańsk and Poland an unfortunate victim in WWII.

Gdańsk in the Hanseatic League:

Gdańsk is geographically well-placed to become a super power in the Hanseatic League. It has a prime position on the coast of the Baltic Sea, with access to the Vistula river. Before becoming part of the Hanseatic League, Gdańsk, was a small but notable port, and notable mostly for its location, rather than its economic power.

While Gdańsk only officially became a member of the Hanseatic League in 1361, the city was already trading with Lübeck as early as 1224. Around this time, there is documentation of a German market, with traders from Lübeck, and around 1225, these merchants were granted certain privileges.

The beginning of this brief trading partnership, however, was abruptly brought to a halt in 1238 during the war between Swantopolk and the Teutonic Knights. Gdańsk took up its efforts again to become a major sea port, and joined the Hanseatic League in 1358, and became an active member in 1361.

The membership ensured that Gdańsk’s port and economy flourished. It transformed Gdańsk from a little-known port with little money, to a more prominent player in European trade. During its membership, Gdańsk primarily maintained relations with trading posts in Bruges, Novgorod, Lisboa and Sevilla.

Gdańsk Today:

Like many other European cities, Gdańsk was almost completely destroyed during WWII, with approximately 90% of its inner city being completely lost to damage caused by air raids. The city of Gdańsk gradually started rebuilding during the 50s and 60s. Unlike most other European cities, however, Gdańsk did not wish to base its rebuilding on the buildings that previously occupied the city, but rather saw the rebuilding as an opportunity to cleanse their palate from the ugly taste that war left.

It’s this attitude that gives Gdańsk the modern feel that it has today. Gdańsk is also the subject of the interesting modern history regarding socialism in Europe. As Gdańsk has been a major ship building city, since the time of the Hanseatic League, it is no wonder that it became the major shipping and industrial centre for the Communist People’s Republic of Poland.

At the same time, however, Gdańsk was the scene of anti-regime protests during the December of 1970 that ensured the downfall of communist leader, Władysław Gomułka. Ten years after that, in 1980, the very same shipyard that was once the shipping and industrial centre for the Communist People’s Republic of Poland, became the heart of the solidarity movement against communism. This Solidarity movement would eventually lead to the end of the Communist party in 1989 and be instrumental in the tearing down of the Berlin wall.

Trivia:

  • Gdańsk is the only city in Poland to have ever been granted city state status.
  • The first German invasion of WWII started in Gdańsk on 1 September 1939.
  • Gdańsk is the biggest Amber exporter in the world.