“Nigdy więcej wojny / Never More War” – Westerplatte, Poland.
“Masked gunmen shouted trick or treat; then opened fire” – UTV news report in Greysteel, Northern Ireland (Halloween Night, 1993).
It was another poignant journey for me as I headed to Westerplatte – the peninsula in Gdańsk, Poland where World War II began, although officially at least, it started in Tczew a bit earlier on the same day. On this tainted journey of ups and downs, Poland has been through a lot more than meets the eye. The Germans, the Russians, even Napoleon was here back in the day trying to conquer. On my 150+ journey around the world I never shyed away from gory spots, and the lies of fake friends wouldn’t stop me, here are some other places I visited on my global tour the last 15 years:
- Touring Pripyat, Chernobyl, Ukraine
- Touring Chernobyl Town, Ukraine
- Touring Saddam Hussein’s House of Horrors, Iraq
- Backpacking to Agdam, Nagorno Karabakh
- Genocide Museum in Bosnia
- The destroyed city of Balkh in Afghanistan
- Tour of Auschwitz I German Death Camp, Poland
- Tour of Birkenau, Poland
- Genocide Museum in Yerevan, Armenia
- A Trip to Stalin’s Town, Gori, Georgia
- Killing Fields, Cambodia
- Backpacking in the Most Dangerous City in the World
- A Night in the Most Bombed Hotel in Europe
- Tuol Sleng Concentration Camp, Cambodia
- Post Office in Gdańsk, Poland where World War II began
- My Most Horrific Travel Moments
Well yes, sometimes we need the horrors of the past to ensure they are not repeated. This time, I had been living in Gdańsk for almost 3 months before I ventured out here. I waited until my best buddy Millwall Neil arrived in town – we also toured the murals at Zaspa. It has been a tough year for me in life. After 2015 break up of my long term relationship with Panny, the struggle to keep motivated on the road, a mid life crisis and depression and some really strange events, this trip was needed. I covered this journey as it happened back in 2016, but here it is again on the new platform.
Getting to Westerplatte
For getting to Westerplatte, without hitch-hiking, you have a few options from Central Gdańsk:
1. Walk it (it’s miles away and hard to find)
2. Cycle it (shorter than walking but not the greatest place to cycle to)
3. Get a boat from the Stare Miasto in Gdańsk (this costs from 35 zloty and up, so not really within budget for us)
4. Tram then bus (the way we went)
5. Bus (the way we came back)
I hadn’t done much planning for it, so I decided we should get the tram and then try and get a bus. We got the number 3 tram from Gdańsk Główny as far as it went – to Stogi Pasanil. Tickets are 1.90 zloty for a student or 3.80 for an adult and are valid from an hour from when you board and stamp them. Buy tickets from a machine, from the kiosk or even from the driver.
Then we got off at Stogi Pasanil, and admittedly got a bit lost and ended up having to get two buses, so instead of this take my advice from my mistakes and just get the 1 bus direct – the 138 bus! Bus tickets are the same as the tram ones, price wise and also valid for one hour from when stamped.So we ended up getting the number 3 tram, then a bus, then the number 106 bus. To cut this all out, we should have just got the 138 bus from the start – it would only take around 40 minutes from Gdańsk Główny this way. For us, it took just over an hour but we made it.
Arrival at Westerplatte
We arrived at the main entrance sign for Westerplatte, so get off the bus here, the 106 or the 138 bus. You will see this huge sign on your right hand side. From here, you can start the trail all the way to the monument at the end of the outdoor museum.
From here, we read the small notice board, had a look out to sea and then walked through the custom made forest path. On the way through the path, there are notice boards written in Polish, English and Russian (thankfully and rightfully not in German).
Neil and I stop at various points, we climb the lookout tower and we read every information board, then we come to a clearing where there are bigger information boards. Neil notices they form an order, so he starts at number 1. I didn’t notice this until later, but we read them all anyway. If you arrive here, remember to track them in order from 1 to get the history of Westerplatte and Gdańsk.
It was a hot sunny day and I realised some odd parallels on my journey. By this stage, in September 2016 I had now decided to hang up my backpack – I wasn’t really travelling anymore as I have a flat to live in here in Gdansk. However, I thought back to my first visit to Berlin in 2005, a trip where we later got the train to Warszawa. On the day we visited the Berlin Wall, I wore the same shirt as the one I had on today. And it wasn’t planned. My red and white quartered Northern Ireland shirt. But it felt like a parallel. I was sad both times.
You might have read before that I had been intrigued by Gdansk since learning about it in school and at Ards Tech. I studied the aftermath of World War I in European History and learnt about the Free City of Danzig. Despite this, I still felt disturbed when I saw the German Nazi Swastika flags on march through Gdansk. Who the fuck did Hitler think he was?
But the information boards are totally educational and don’t show the bias. This is true respect to Polish people in such a bad time. The World War started here in Poland – and it is debated between three places (I have now visited all three of them):
According to the official website in Tczew, Tczew was the actual location of the start of World War II when German bombers attacked Polish sapper installations to prevent the famous Most Tczewskie bridge from being blown up at 04:34 on 1 September 1939.
2. WESTERPLATTE, Gdańsk, Poland
The destruction of Westerplatte apparently commenced at 04:45 am on 1st September, meaning it was 11 minutes after the attack in Tczew.
3. THE POLISH POST OFFICE, Gdańsk, Poland
You might also have read about my visit to the Polish Post Office. The phone lines here were cut at 4.00 am by the Germans, though the attacks started at 04.45 am so it can also be argued that the Second World War began in the Post Office.
So all three of those attacks were on the 1st September, all in the Pomerania Province of Poland. There is a lot of sad history in this region. Neil and I continued our walk, reading the rest of the information boards.
Just before the last section of Information Boards, there is a building which was destroyed in the attacks of 1939. It was built on three floors, with the top two floors being decoys, and therefore some people survived the attacks. The building has been maintained as part of this outdoor museum, but basically it lies in ruins as a reminder.
After these barracks and the last set of information boards, you walk to a pleasant and peaceful park, where there are two main things to check out.
1.The “Nigdy więcej wojny” (No More War / War – Never More) sign
In a grassy area, sits the peaceful message of freedom and love -“Nigdy więcej wojny”, meaning never more war, or no more war.
2. Westerplatte Monument
Then it’s a poignant walk up the steps to the Westerplatte Monument dedicated to those Polish defenders who lost their lives here. It’s a time to reflect. Neil and I sip some water, and head back.
We got the bus back to downtown Gdansk, this time the correct 138 bus and it took around 40 minutes. the journey back is unmemorable and unscenic and there is not much to see here. Neil dozed and I reflected.
Happiness and peace to all my Polish friends, especially Kasia, Rafal, Artur, Piotr, Marta, Zuza, Beata, Magda and Olga.
Here are some videos: