Another day in Gdańsk, another church. Bombastic architecture for sure, blank walls and blind arches give St Peter and St Paul’s the look of a fortified castle – with a contrastingly fantastical wildly crenellated pitched roof on top. It’s in the Old Suburb and dates from the 14th century. As is the story of Gdańsk, the church was extensively damaged in 1945. Just 13 years later, Reverend Kazimierz Filipiak began the reconstruction which was completed, or at least as much as anything is completed, in 2006.
Danziger designers are good with fragments; maybe because they’ve had to be, historically. The largest city of Kashbubia, Gdańsk has been Prussian, German and Polish. It still bears the scars of 20th century troubles but wears them with pride. Take the bathroom of Tarina Pizza Café opposite Pod Lososiem. No, really. Somewhat randomly, it contains a section of crumbling brick wall. A sign reads:
“The relics of gothic loadbearing walls, of bourgeois tenement houses, the so called ‘neighbourly walls’, located on the border of neighbouring plots set out in the mid 14th century. The entire structure of a tenement house was supported on the loadbearing walls. Due to this façade of a house being relieved of loadbearing function, it could be constructed independently and included large window openings. The owner of a plot covered the cost of one bearing wall only. The appearance of the façade, floorplans and height of the tenement house depended on individual needs, creativity and wealth of the owner. Individual plots were sometimes joined together which increased the possibility of building bigger and more comfortable dwellings… These walls were uncovered during archaeological excavations carried out in 2007 to 2009. They were restored and moved to the contemporary ground level which is higher than centuries ago.”
Fragmentation reaches a high art form in St John’s Centre. On a late summer Sunday morning, Gdańsk Radio is recording a choral mass in this most atmospheric of surroundings. Glorious juxtapositions never jarring | mismatching materials according as one | enforced eclecticism appearing by choice. How did it come about? In 1944, as the threat of Air Raids loomed, all moveable relics of this ancient church were taken and stored in warehouses. The following year, the threat became reality. In the 1980s the church was rebuilt but when a brick column in the nave collapsed, it was bravely erected in concrete and the remaining five reinforced in concrete. And so began a journey into non contextualism.
In 1995 the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre took over the building. Paintings, memorials, wooden stalls and, memorably, four paintings illustrating The Wise and the Foolish Virgins parable, are gradually being reinstated. The chancel with its 1611 stone altar remains sacred; the nave with its contemporary stage, profane. Beauty from destruction.