Saturday 6 June 2015

Poland diaries : Museum of Emigration, Gdynia

From looking at my recent blogposts about our work trip to Poland, you'd be forgiven for thinking we didn't actually do much work ! I've told you all about visiting Sopot, going sailing and discovering Gdynia's hotspots, including a rather fabulous pierogi restaurant. We did have lots of work meetings too, but I didn't think they'd make for very interesting blogposts ! Well, there was one final place for us to visit in Gdynia - the brand spanking new Museum of Emigration, which had only been open for a couple of weeks.

The concept seemed a bit strange initially - having visited Ellis Island in New York, I'd seen how interesting and poignant a museum of immigration could be, but how would they cover emigration? Surely once the people have left the country, all links to Poland have gone ? Well, it's actually brilliantly done, managing to cover the history of Poland and the reasons for the waves of emigration (both forced and voluntary), as well as the conditions during emigration (on the Titanic for instance), the new Polish communities across the globe and famous Polish expats in world history, including Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor and Pope John Paul II. Everything is explained in Polish and English and I learnt an awful lot in a fairly short visit.

But our first stop was the very swish restaurant for lunch. The food was amazing, the decor is very posh and the views across the harbour are fabulous and constantly changing. We had a rich tomato soup topped with rocket and parmesan as a starter, the freshest, juiciest fish I think I've ever tasted, with buttery new potatoes and green beans, followed by a tiramisu for dessert (that was what they called it but I was relieved to see it had a chocolate, rather than coffee, taste.) I was stunned to see such a high quality restaurant in a museum.

Gdynia is a naval port so we had a view of the military ships in the dock, as well as several smaller boats and big container ships passing by from time to time.

We even saw the ubiquitous pirate ship - I'm sure it's following us !

The museum is housed in a marine station, the converted terminal of the ocean liners - very apt ! - so it has some great industrial architectural features. In the restaurant, if you head over to the huge windows to take full advantage of the sea view, you walk across reinforced glass panels that give you a view down through the steel girders to the ground below. A real walk of faith !

Time to investigate the museum. We headed out of the restaurant onto a big balcony running around the edges of the entrance hall. This is just like Ellis Island, where the immigration officials had their first look at the new arrivals as they streamed into the hall below and already checked out who they didn't want coming into America, if they looked sick or mentally or physically disabled.

There is a huge wall where many of the major towns that Polish emigrants settled in have been carved.

There is a surprising array of cities and countries : Paris, Dublin, Melbourne, Hamburg, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Deroit, ...

As well as numerous photographic displays and written descriptions, the museum offers a small number of reconstructions, such as this Polish peasant's hut ...

... or the sleeping conditions on the lowest, third class deck of ocean liner MS Batory, very similar to those on the Titanic, which is also mentioned.

It's a great way of getting a feel for life across the globe at different periods in time, such as World War II and its aftermath, the Communist years, the start of industrialisation ... I loved discovering this cute but probably pretty useless car, the Polski Fiat. Our Polish translator laughed because her brother used to have one when she was a child !

As we headed outside to regroup and take in the seaviews one final time, we witnessed a pretty surreal sight - a military submarine suddenly resurfacing in the harbour in front of us !

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