Gdansk - the cultural melting pot

Ostatnia aktualizacja: 11 kwietnia 2017 r.


Gdańsk – many cultures, one City

Multiculturalism is a very fashionable and a popular term, frequently used by cultural and political personalities. In the case of Gdansk and its history this term seems to be functioning as naturally and obviously as a certain historical dogma. The participation of the representatives of multiple nations and ethnic communities in the creation of  Gdansk's society and culture  is undeniable. This website has been created created for the City's inhabitants as well as tourists interested in the City’s history to make it possible to identify the traces of  presence of other cultures and to explore Gdansk of today, hospitable as ever, although changed by time.

To verify whether the statement about Gdansk’s multiculturalism is true and to find its traces within the city we should first specify what is meant by this term.

Multiculturalism is usually defined as a peaceful co-existence of the representatives of different cultural spheres in the same territory, most often in one country, one city or town, within one social community. The dimension of that co-existence, however, may vary.

The co-existence and the cultural melting pot

The phenomenon of multiculturalism can be divided into two basic forms. The first is the full cultural autonomy of the members of a community in the given territory, while the second is the so called ‘cultural melting pot’. There are numerous examples of both mentioned forms of multiculturalism. The pre-war Lviv society was multicultural in the meaning of the first definition. The Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans and other minor ethnic groups, in spite of inhabiting the city together, preserved their own customs, religion, and above all  - their language. The functioning of various cultures within a so called ‘cultural melting pot’ looks completely different. The society of the United States of America is (or perhaps was) an example of this phenomenon. It warmly welcomed the newcomers from all over the world, nevertheless demanded from them adaptation to the Anglo-Saxon model of society, which, in turn, absorbed foreign elements, creating new social values.

In the case of Gdansk and its history of multiculturalism we are certainly dealing here with the second model. The City was founded on Northern German standards (the Lubeck law and the settlers from Lubeck from the 14th century). The dominating language through the most of the city’s history was German in its various dialects. To mean something in the city one had to speak the language, to become someone significant in the sphere of influence of the society one had to adopt the culture prevailing in the society. The question is: which culture was it?

German sources?

The Citizens’ Register of the Main Town of Gdansk, 1732-1794. Source: from the collection of the National Archive in Gdansk (APG 300,60/8).

The German authors doggedly claim that it was the German culture. It is not true for several reasons. Firstly, in the times defined as “the old Gdansk period” i.e. since the establishment of the City until its annexation by Prussia in the 18th century, one culture which could be regarded as German had never existed. Germany was a cluster of more or less politically independent states, characterized by enormous cultural diversification. A Lubeck or Hamburg citizen was characterized closer to the citizen of the Netherlands or southern Denmark than to the one of Bavaria, Saxony or Hessia. The process of the cultural unification of Germany, still continuing today, started only at the end of the 18th century, exactly when the “old Gdansk’ ceased to exist.


Gdansk Partnership Cities. Photo by Żaneta Kucharska

As a City located within the reach of cultural influences extending from the territory of today’s Germany, Gdansk was open to external cultural factors.

The Slavic background and the associations with Poland played a significant role in the process of shaping the City’s cultural tradition. The other factor modifying the primary northern German relations was (as expected in a port city) broad connections with the whole civilized world, deriving from business dealings. The artists and artisans, who, along with their craftsmanship, introduced to the City the styles and standards from other parts of Europe, had a profound influence on the spatial and architectural shape of the City.

Gdansk - the melting pot

The script of the oath taken by the foreigners arriving to Gdansk, 1656. Source: from the collection of the National Archive in Gdansk (APG 300,R/L,4, pg 122-123).

Thus the culture of Gdansk, in spite of its undeniable northern German roots, has, through centuries of experiencing other influences, acquired a new, unique form, making use of various cultural models. The foreign elements were, intentionally or unintentionally, added to the cultural bloodstream of the City. Gdansk was a typical example of a cultural melting pot, where all that was brought by the people arriving in the City was mixed, creating a new quality. The Polish and western immigrants contributed equally to the cultural quality of Gdansk, which resulted in specific and characteristic customs, garments, architecture and most of all, language.

Photo by Jerzy Pinkas

The traces of presence of different cultures and nations in Gdansk can be found nearly everywhere in its territory. To start with we suggest you to take a walk in the Centre of Gdansk. The traces of multiculturalism will be easier to find thanks to the map with highlighted points of interest, where you can stop and look around, searching for the places and objects connected with the visitors from faraway regions, who left their imprint on the City on the Motlawa River.