A visit to the Solidarity Museum and Gdansk

While at the HERA Uses of the Past & Public Spaces Conference this month I got to visit the Solidarity Museum and see a bit of Gdansk.

The European Centre for Solidarity

The conference and the Solidarity Museum are in the European Centre for Solidarity. This is an amazing building designed to look and feel like a ship under construction in a shipyard. This means the central part of the interior rises up like the side of a ship from floor level. The surrounding building has beams and girders at angles as if supporting the ship. The lack of right angles can be a bit disorientating!

Inside the building looking along the ship style side wall
The side of a ship style wall

The Solidarity Museum

I can remember the 1980 strike and later events in Poland quite well. That made going to the museum an interesting mix of seeing what I remembered and learning new things.

inside the Solidarity Centre looking towards the museum
Looking across the building towards the museum

The first thing that struck me in the museum was the volume of objects and material. There is an audio tour but even without it there is plenty of interpretation. The route around the museum is way marked with clear black and white arrows on the floor and above head height. The displays vary in style which does jar sometimes as you go from room to room. Once in a room you soon forget this because the displays are absorbing. This is from many individual stories and accounts against the broader narrative.

The museum is bigger than I expected which was great. Make sure you allow enough time to see it all!

Historic Gdansk

Gdansk separates into a modern area I stayed in, historic parts and the shipyards. I only had a short time to walk through the old town down to the river. I did spot a church under repair, a tower from 1400 and the armoury from 1605. The wonderful renovated armoury building had lots of decorations form gilt to statues. This included lifesize halberdiers at roof height and splendid dragon shaped downspouts.

The 17th century armoury in the sunlight
Front of the 17th century armoury

Down by the river I admired a restored warehouse. Then spotted two very small diesel powered galleons. These looked like film props with their cannon and gold or silver decorations. I would have liked more time because there was so much to see. But it was a brisk walk to the conference. There I was on a panel talking about a HERA project I’m working on called Public Renaissance.

Dining at the Savoy Grill in Malmö with Martin Beck

The Savoy Grill at breakfast time showing laid tables

Found in the Savoy Hotel in Malmo, Sweden, the restaurant is well known. In the 1960s it was internationally famous for the quality of the food. It’s still going today and is popular with guests and locals alike.

Famous visitors to the Savoy

The Savoy Hotel has seen many well known people pass through its doors. The roll of honour in the lobby lists visitors from Lenin to Bridget Bardot. Plus lots of visits by the Swedish royal family of course.

The roll of honour at the Savoy

Literature at the Savoy

When I read the Martin Beck series of novels I enjoyed one featuring the Savoy Grill. The murder of the title occurs in the restaurant but don’t let that put you off visiting! There’s a wall panel commemorating the novel in the restaurant.

The Martin Beck panel with me sat beside it
Sat by the Martin Beck panel at breakfast in 2016

Food at the Savoy

But is the food good now? Yes it is I’m pleased to say and if I’m visiting Malmö I try to stay at the Savoy because the breakfast is very impressive. The rooms are nice and large too.

More of Malmö

A visit to Malmö at any time of year is recommended. It’s a vibrant modern city with historic roots and has lots to offer visitors.

Malmö landmark – The Turning Torso

A visit to Elsinore and the Danish Technology Museum

A 1965 Lego set submitted for patent

Last month I stayed in the Hamlet Hotel in Elsinore which had character and a very helpful owner. I was working at the Danish Museum of Technology so had little time to explore. This meant most of my time in the town was at night.

Elsinore church and a full moon at night
Elsinore church and full moon at night

There was a full moon which made exploring very atmospheric. Seeing the town lights almost outshone by the moon visibility was good. The late medieval and early modern town was charming to walk around. The church had a fien gothic look under the moonlight but seeing the castle in the distance was even better!

Photo of Elsinore Castle from the town with a ship in the foreground
Elsinore Castle at night from the town

At the Technology Museum

At the Technology Museum, based in the the learning room, I did get a tour of the museum. It is a very traditional museum with an emphasis on transport. From childhood visits to the London Science Museum and steam fairs this felt familiar to me.

A fire engine outside the recreated fire station
Fire engine outside the recreated fire station at the Technology Museum

I really enjoyed the fine collection of fire engines. I put this interest in fire engines down to watching the firefighters at the fire station opposite my father’s print shop in childhood. Going inside the recreated fire station felt like a real treat! In the patents gallery seeing the 1965 Lego set submitted for patent was another echo of childhood.

Inside the recreated fire station showing the dining table
Inside the fire station

More to see in Elsinore

Lack of time meant catching the ferry to Sweden. So I missed seeing the castle and going in the church. There was more of the town to explore too. I’ll just have to go back another time!

Part of the frieze at Elsinore ferry port
Part of the frieze at Elsinore ferry port

The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

Photo of Viking Ship Museum entrance in the snow

It started with the Gokstad ship

I read about the Gokstad ship when very young and was fascinated. The survival of so much of the original and the items buried with it caught my imagination. Since then I have read about the Viking age, as it now referred to, at university and then for pleasure. But this ship kept it’s grip on my imagination.
I suspect the ship scenes in the film the Vikings starring Kirk Douglas may also have influenced me.

Visiting the Viking Ship Museum

On a snowy morning in November I caught the bus to the museum. With snow falling it felt most atmospheric walking up to the doors. The museum is cruciform with each ship filling an arm of the cross. The third arm houses the objects.
The first ship is the Oseberg ship and is magnificent. I’ve seen the remains of longships before but not an almost intact one. Before my visit I discussed Viking ship remains with a Danish colleague. We agreed that now restoration as done on these ships is no longer part of museum practice. The restored Oseberg ship does make an impact and is over 90% original.

Photo of the prow of the Oseberg ship

Prow of the Oseberg ship

The Gokstad ship

My next port of call was the Gokstad ship and I was very excited to see it. Did it live up to expectations after 45 years? Yes, it did!
Walking around the ship and seeing some of the objects from it felt a real treat. One of the features of the museum is the small viewing platforms in each ship gallery. These let you see into the ship from above. All the ships were sailing vessels before becoming burial vessels. So you get a good idea of the space available on them.

Photo of the Gokstad ship from above

The Gokstad ship seen from above

The 64 shields from the Gokstad ship are not on display. This disappointed me because I enjoy painting model Vikings with their shields. In contrast some of the peacock feathers from the grave are on display.
Seeing the burial chamber and small boats made up for the shields though. The burial chamber had a large hole made by tomb robbers. The two small boats were complete.

Photo of the Gokstad ship burial chamber and small boat

Gokstad ship burial chamber and small boat


The Tune ship

The Tune ship is in poor condition because it’s excavation in 1867 saw items lost and damaged. Given there is not much left of the ship a film about the Vikings plays in this room.
I liked the way the film uses the shape of the gallery. The main focus is the arched end wall but the side walls display supplementary scenes. 

Photo of the film playing in the museum

Film playing in the museum

The objects and textile gallery

The remaining gallery contains the object found in the ships including textiles. Seeing a lot of objects from one source for this period was a treat. The amount of carved and applied decoration was astounding.
Most objects were very ornate, such as the horse drawn sleds, and spoke of wealth. Other objects like buckets, tools and loom weights were more everyday items. It was good to see the more everyday objects that most people would use alongside the richer items.
The decorated wagon was not an everyday object. The richness of decoration on is wonderful. I spent some time following the patterns and noticing small parts I had seen in photos in the past. The sleds also have rich ornamentation but replacement runners imply regular use.
The textiles recovered from the graves were remarkable. Patterns and in some cases colour is visible. Another film gave an insight to how the cloth could have looked.

Photo of a detail of a sled ornament

Detail of a sled ornament

The museum shop and cafe

I enjoyed the shop’s mix of expensive things and cheaper traditional museum souvenirs. No prizes for guessing which I got! Luckily there wasn’t a model of the Gokstad ship so my wallet was safe. The cafe is outside the museum and has a very appropriate name as the photo shows.

Photo of the museum cafe

Viking Ship Museum cafe

And there’s more

The museum website has accounts of each ship’s excavation and finds. It also discusses the burials at each site and the need for continuing conservation work.

Photo of the 3D scanning to help plan conservation

3D scanning to help plan conservation


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