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Cities also have CVs. As a rule, they come long, with impressive historic experience and many-century-long tradition of merging into the landscape of a given country. Gdynia’s CV is different. It is more modest in the ‘experience’ paragraph, richer in competence and personality Few places have managed to transform within 85 years from a fishermen’s village into a fashionable and likable, important European city – into an urban space inhabited by a quarter of a million people, passionately attached to their metropolis.

Gdynia’s phenomenon is a result of a genetic experiment. The Polish gene – introduced here almost the next day after the restoration of independence and subsequent stabilization of frontiers in 1920 – yielded the enthusiasm that normally accompanies a young state and the need to show the world that after a military miracle at the Vistula river, Poland was also capable of producing an economic miracle at the shore of the Baltic sea. The meagre patch of the sea-shore granted by the Treaty of Versailles was then put to good use. The Kashubian gene – nursed for many centuries by a sensible management of the Gdynia village by the orders of the Carthusians and Cistercians – gave rise to diligence, persistence and particular loyalty to one’s place on Earth. Instead of trying to get the upper hand in a feud for greater importance, both patriotisms cooperated and within several years created the most modern port in Europe. The erected city with unique architectural style was famous for splendid urban planning and infrastructure and would proudly boast of a Navy base, whose docks sprouted out ships which later on became legends. This was a city that imported engineers and exported Kashubian wisdom. Even a most daring prophecy would not have anticipated that a fishermen’s village would be able, in such an amazingly short time, to change from boats planed in the backyards of Orłowo workshops to transatlantic ships sailing to New York. And then came the war and two attempts at a forcible change of the city’s identity. Cemeteries and monuments bear witness to those times commemorating the defenders of Oksywie, shipyard workers and the ordinary, often anonymous inhabitants, who died here in September 1939 and December 1970. This was the price for remaining true to oneself. It did not work our for Gdynia to be Gotenhafen, with a graft of German population, or an incubator of socialist-style shipyard proletariat. Both attempts at breaking the local spirit ended with a fiasco.

In spite of the changeability of post-war horoscopes, the city knew how to make use of its location. The port is developing dynamically and so is its natural economic environment like the container terminals. Ship owners, shipping agencies, brokerage companies, transport and freight forwarding firms are all welcome here. The Kwiatkowski’s route linking the port with the A1 motorway has been built and there is an airport in construction. There is a strong sense of entrepreneurship. Developers are changing the local landscape and offer new residential quarters in attractive locations. New inhabitants of Gdynia constitute a similarly energetic and bubbling urban substance as their predecessors from 85 years ago.

The city’s strategy is more easily read from accomplishments than from pompous announcements. Gdynia does not like to show its cards too early and neither does it stop at laying foundation-stones. Gdynia makes things happen. A spectacular sports complex has been built: a modern rugby stadium, a modernized football pitch and a hall which became seat of a first league basketball team. New scientific and cultural facilities are sprouting around as culture becomes an increasingly visible flagship of the city. Besides the prestigious Polish Film Festival, Gdynia hosts the acclaimed Heineken Open’er Festival, Globaltica World Music Festival, a review of ethnic music which attracts performers of global fame; as well as the Ladies Jazz festival, which successfully contributes to the plan of transforming the city into one of the European capitals of the genre. For several years now Gdynia has granted its own literary award, and the city as such has continued to be an extraordinary theme in itself, a magnetic place, celebrating ever new anniversaries of the unique experiment from 85 years ago, an experiment that could be a success only here.

Maciej Siembieda