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Literary travels – Gdańsk Wrzeszcz, Free City of Danzig, or in the Footsteps of "The Tin Drum"

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

On January 15, 1920, under the Treaty of Versailles, the Free City of Danzig (‘Gdańsk’ in Polish), an autonomous city-state, was established. Its establishment — a political compromise intended to satisfy two countries that equally expressed their claims to a given area — was the result of Germany's defeat during World War I.

The creation of the city turned out to be a complete fiasco: It satisfied neither two states nor two communities. Though Gdańsk was always a city on the cultural frontier, a ‘Little Country’ for both Germans and Poles who lived there together for centuries, the two communities were unable to come to terms with the new arrangement. In the end, the experiment lasted only 20 years; the Free City of Danzig and its lofty aspirations collapsed with the outbreak of World War II. Since then, any idea to create a similar political arrangement has not been considered.

One of the few traces of this political artifact is the novel "The Tin Drum" by Günter Grass. A film adaptation of this novel received an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1980. The author himself won the Nobel Prize in 1999, and despite the controversy surrounding his membership in the Waffen-SS, he received honorary citizenship from the city of Gdańsk.

Born and raised in the no-longer-existing Free City of Danzig, Grass was inseparably connected to the city until his death. This parallels the life of his famous novel’s hero, Oskar, because it is here—more precisely in Gdańsk Wrzeszcz, one of Gdańsk district—where "The Tin Drum" takes place. The novel tells the story of Oskar, a small boy who decides that he will not grow up. The story is intended to be an individual’s protest against the nightmare of World War II. The book also chronicles the city's events during those years and documents the prevailing pre-war atmosphere of the city as tensions increased between the two warring communities.

The author Günter Grass and his book became reasons for me to visit the Gdańsk Wrzeszcz district. This district offers fewer sites to visit compared to the richer central Gdańsk but is equally attractive and historically interesting.

As Grass said: ‘Langfuhr [Wrzeszcz] was so big and so small that everything that happens or could happen in this world, happened or could have happened in Langfuhr [Wrzeszcz]’.

Here are some interesting places worth seeing:

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