If Poland find themselves out of Euro 2012 football championship in June then if they are looking for a team to support then the answer may be found in the city of Gdansk on the Baltic coast.
The city has major connections with Holland through the canals and building style found all over the city, its Dutch Renaissance style architecture is special feature of this port city.
A city area with large amounts of land near or below sea level, it was many years ago that to the Dutch the city turned and as the waterways were constructed, so did the architectural style of Holland become part of the architecture of Gdansk.
Famed too as the birthplace of ‘Solidarity’ and the start of a march of freedom for millions of people ruled by communism in the Eastern block countries during the 1980’s.
So with that established connection one can easily see if perhaps Poland should fail to proceed to the higher levels of Euro2012 that it could be to Holland that the supporters could turn!
Providing one of the host venues for the competition shared between Poland and Ukraine, Gdansk is made up of three cities Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia. Its shipyards were never far from TV s bulletins as Lech Walesa a shipyard worker and union leader pushed in peaceful way to unseat the communist rulers and to eventually become its President winning a Nobel peace prize on the way. Today at 69 he still works in the city in offices overlooking the river for his charity foundation project that he set up after ruling the country.
Much of Gdansk was razed to the ground during the 1940’s and the rebuilding effort put in by the city has been amazing. Accurately rebuilding hundreds of the Dutch style buildings back to the way they were before the first shots of that 5-year conflict were fired literally within hearing distance of the city centre. On September 1, 1939, the German Battleship Schleswig-Holstein fired into the area of Westerplatte just outside the city triggering years of rule under first the Germans and then the Russians. More recent history of the area can be seen at the ‘Roads to Freedom Museum’ a touching display of items and moving images of the struggle of those strikers who brought about such momentous changes for their country and for many others who followed their lead across Eastern Europe.
Coming right up to date there will be marchers in the city again but these will be thousands of football supporters on their way to the stunning and football stadium in the city The PGE Arena. This will be where teams like Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Croatia will play some of their matches. Other squads have decided to be based in the nearby seaside resort area of Sopot. Ireland will be in one of the best hotels on the beach there, the hotel next door will be the base for the UEFA officials. The Sheraton and Grand Hotel are the main ones, the Irish team in the former and UEFA in the latter. The French in fact do have a connection back to The Grand, former President Charles de Gaulle who stayed there and today the best suite is named after the famous World War II leader. His arch rival Hitler stayed there in the very first few days of the war in 1939. Perhaps UEFA boss Michel Platini will stay in that very suite too?
Today the wide streets in the city are full of colour and one of those colours is amber. The gemstone of fossilized pine resin is found all around the Baltic and jewellery and numerous items are made and sold in shops all over the area. The place to see some of the ultimate in amber is the Amber Museum based in a 15th cent tower once used as a jail, a museum is under construction as current one is not that suitable for lifts to be installed and the stairs are high which makes the venue very limiting for the infirm or disabled visitors.
Hosting the Euro 2012 has meant that cities like Gdansk have a great chance to show the visiting fans that there is much more to the city than just its brand football stadium but it is truly a icon for Gdansk skyline. With its extremely eye catching design they have integrated elements that reflect the history of the area with amber and shipbuilding. The large various gold coloured mosaic panels are supported by flowing giant curved stanchions that mirror the ribs of ships. Fans attending the football matches will be able to enjoy great views in this state of the art stadium. When not used for Euro 2012 games the stadium is home to the local team Lechia Gdansk, also the favorite team of the former President, Mr Welesa.
When fans are not attending cup games the city is laying on a special ‘fan’s zone’ so that supporters can watch other matches from the tournament on giant TV screens. The whole city is gearing up for the visits of many nations with numerous pubs, clubs and restaurants undertaking refurbishments in order to present Gdansk at its very best.
Teams like Spain although not based in the city will be jetting in for their games. They will stay for the night before and night after their games in a four star hotel by the riverside near to the centre of the city. Germany is making their base in the nearby forests, very much isolated from the main city. They will be taking over the whole hotel and rumours are that security guards will be posted in order to keep the players safe and away from prying eyes of fans and paparazzi. They are even having a practice pitch being built on an old car parking area nearby.
For the fans they too will get well looked after, meals are often served in very generous portions so be prepared for that. The food is mainly of a traditional or rustic nature, home style cooking and very wholesome. Dumplings stuffed, more like packets than large balls with a range of meats and vegetables, these are a firm favorite with the Poles, and certainly they do have to be tried. Local and international beers, vodkas are a plenty and various, but one other local liquor made with a whole range of herbs and even 23ct gold flakes …‘Goldwasser’ is one to be tried too!
The main riverside walk in the city is the ideal place for dining and drinking and is dotted with the amber trinket shops so its extremely hard to miss that golden coloured product as well, if you are looking for gifts. This whole area around the river frontage will most likely be a central point for many fans as its an extremely lovely place to be and every other building already houses a bar or restaurant.
Visitors to Gdansk will certainly experience wonderful Polish hospitality they will find that the local people will welcome them and ensure that they have a wonderful time, win or lose!
And that link with the Netherlands is very much still here today, as the stadium grass comes from yes you have guessed it… Holland!
One might say if the Dutch team did get drawn to play in Gdansk, for them it would feel very much like a home game!