Walking in Guenter Grass steps in Gdańsk

Ostatnia aktualizacja: 11 kwietnia 2017 r.

One of the most outstanding German writers of the 20th century was born on 16th Oct 1927 in Free City Gdańsk (Freie Stadt Danzig), in Maternity Hospital on Kliniczna Street (Schellmühlerweg), in Wrzeszcz District (Langfuhr). His father, Wilhelm Grass (1899-1979), was a member of an Evangelic Church and his mother, Helena nee Knoff (1896-1954) was from Roman Catholic Church. At first the family lived in Wrzeszcz on 5a Lendziona Street (Kastanienweg), and then on 13 Lelewela Street (Labesweg). The writer's father was a merchant and ran a small grocery.
Guenter Grass's father was German and his mother was Kashubian, which wasn't unusual at the time. Thanks to his mother Guenter and his three years younger sister Waltraut were christened in Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on Zator- Przytockiego Street (Schwarzerweg) in Wrzeszcz and brought up in a catholic way, but in the spirit of tolerance.
After graduation from primary school on Pestalozziego Street (Pestalozzistrasse) future writer studied in a few junior high schools, including 'Conradinum' on Piramowicza Street (Kruzestrasse). In 1948 he started studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf. In 1951 he made his first journey and went hitchhiking to Italy and on Sicily Island and next year to France. In 1953 he began to study sculpture in High School of Art in Western Berlin, from which he graduated in 1956. In 1954 he got married with a Swiss dancer, Anna Schwarz, with whom he has four children. In 1974 he left Catholic Church and in 1978 divorced his wife. Next year he married an organist, Ute Grunert.

In 1952 he started his first novel 'The Tin Drum', (Die Blechtrommel). Most events of the novel are shown in Gdańsk. The book, which was published 7 years later, won him worldwide fame. It has been translated into many languages and filmed by a German director Volkera Schlöndorff (1979). In 1958, during writing 'The Tin Drum' the author visited his hometown for the first time after the war. During the following years he came to Poland and Gdańsk for many times and on many, both official and informal occasions. Connections with Gdańsk and the writer's family were very important for him.
An exceptionally talented, broadly educated and really hard-working artist, familiar with graphics, poetry, sculpture and journalism, gains worldwide enormous recognition and prestigious awards from cultural and scientific environments. In 1999 he received the Noble Prize in Literature for all his works. In Gdańsk he was honoured with a title of Doctor Honoris Causa of University of Gdańsk in 1993 and given a diploma for Honoured Gdańsk Citizen next year. He has been awarded many times and appreciated not only in Europe but also in the whole world. Apart from literary and art activity Günter Grass became engaged in politics. From early 60s to the beginning of the 90s he had connections with SPD (Social-Democratic Party).
In 1992 at the Academy of Arts in Berlin he opened a Daniel Chodowiecki Foundation, which aim was a support for German-Polish connections in culture. The foundation gives rewards and grants to Polish graphic artists and drawers as well as organises exhibitions of their works in Germany. Grass's activity is very broad and varied - he is a dramatist, a prose-writer, a poet, an essayist and also a sculptor and a graphic artist.
Among the most important of Günter Grass's achievements in literature there is a Gdańsk Trilogy: 'The Tin Drum' (1959), 'Cat and Mouse' (1961) and 'Dog years' (1963) as well as 'From the diary of a snail' (1972), 'The Flounder' (1977), 'The Rat' (1986), 'The Call of the Toad' (1992), 'Too far afield' (1995), 'My century' (1999), and the last novel 'Crabwalk' (2002).

In his books the writer skilfully uses realism together with fairy fantasy, which was emphasised by Swedish Academy of Sciences when giving him a the Noble Prize in Literature in year 1999: 'For picturing an unforgettable vision of history in fairy tales full of black humour'.


A proposed tourist trail

We suggest to start a sightseeing of the places related to an author of 'The Tin Drum' in the centre of Wrzeszcz, near the railway station, from 5a Lendziona Street (1). When the future writer was born (16.10. 1927), his parents, Wilhelm Grass and Helena (nee Knoff) lived in a house on Kastanienweg 5a. Next we go along Lendziona Street towards the railway station and turn right into Dmowskiego Street, along which we go to Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on 3 Zator-Przytockiego Street (2), in the past Schwarzerweg. The church was built between 1909-1911 (parish from 1901), in a Neogothic style and from the beginning was used by Catholics, including the Grasses family. The rector of the parish was a priest Walter Wienke, who christened the future noblist. It is worth entering the church to read a notice with information about the history of the parish.


1. Building on Lendziona 5 A Street

2. Sacred Heart of Jesus Church

After leaving the church we turn left, go under a railway viaduct, turn left again and go along Kilińskiego Street passing Kuźniczki Park (Kleinhammerpark) on the right. We pass former brewery buildings (Danziger Aktien-Bierbrauerei, Danziger Malzfabrik G.m.b.H. Neuteich, Państwowe Zjednoczone Browary-Państwowy Browar No. 1 in Gdańsk-Wrzeszcz, Gdańskie Zakłady Piwowarskie, Hevelius Brewing Company L.t.d.).


Old brewery building. Gd-Wrzeszcz

Park Kuźniczki

We turn right into Gołębia Street and we see a building of a present Comprehensive School No.2, previous common school, attended by Günter Grass (3). The School Complex on 7/9 Pestalozziego Street (Pestalozzistrasse) was built in 1929 according to a design of M. Kiessling and A. Krüger. We go right, towards Wybicki Square (4). By the fountain there is a bower and inside it there is a bench with Oskar, a character from 'The Tin Drum'.


3.School No.2 on 7/9 Pestalozziego Street

4.Wybicki Square – bench with Oskar

Next we go towards 13 Lelewel Street where Grass spent his childhood (5). The house on 13 Labesweg was designed by G. Beyer and built between 1907 - 1908. The Grasses' flat was situated on the ground floor and was connected with a shop.
We leave Lelewela Street and turn right into Aldony Street. We go over Strzyża Stream.


5. Building on Lelewela 13 Street

Panorama Lelewela Street

The stream, an important element of the landscape from Grass's childhood, present in the writer's books, is the last left tributary of the Dead Vistula river. Going along Strzyża we come to Waryńskiego Street and after a while turn right into Wyspiańskiego Street.


View - Strzyża

After about 150 metres we turn left into Leczkowa Street, which leads us to Clinical Hospital (6). This maternity clinic was build between 1910 - 1912, as a modern hospital and has fulfilled this function until today. Here, on 16th November 1927 a future noblist, Günter Grass, was born.


6. Clinical Hospital on Kliniczna 1a Street

We go under a railway viaduct and reach 'Conradinum' School Complex (7). Karol Fryderyk Conradi's Foundation was created due to the will of the last family of Conradi, at the end of the 18th century. In 1801 in Janków nearby Gdańsk a junior high boarding school was created and in 1900 it was moved to new buildings on Piramowicza Street (Krusestrasse). The complex was built in a Neorenaissance style. Grass attended Boys Junior High School for two years. Now a few schools are situated here, including a famous Technical School for Ship Constructors.


7. Gmach Conradinum

Main entrance

We go out into Uphagena Street and after 150 metres, on the left side we see a building of 'Miniatura', Puppet and Actor Theatre (8). Here, on 17th June 2005 Grass and P. Huelle read together some extracts from their books. On this spot we finish Wrzeszcz part of our trail. To continue sightseeing of places related to G.Grass we suggest going to Gdańsk Wrzeszcz Railway Station, from which public transport buses leave (No. 110, 126, 157) in Matarnia direction.


8. Theatre „Miniatura”

Map A: Gdańsk – Wrzeszcz

We go towards the airport in Rębiechowo and get out on the first stop after the Tri-city ring road. You can go to Saint Valentine Church in Matarnia in two ways. Either along Agrarna Street or along Budowlanych Street up to Jesienna Street (the second possibility also convenient for visitors in the cars). Matarnia (formerly Chojna) together with nearby villages was a Cistercian property from the end of the 18th century. The church has been built in a Gothic style (9). By the church there is a chapel founded in 1380 by Richert family. In 12th March 1991 G.Grass was in Matarnia and took part in a requiem mass and a funeral of his relative, Jan Krause (Hanys). The parish cemetery is located by the church and the writer's relatives from his mother's family are buried there (10). Among others there are noblist's great-grandparents, Michał and Maria Krause, cousin grandparents, Józef and Anna Krause and Jan Krause.


9. Saint Valentine Church in Gdańsk - Matarnia

10. Cemetery in Matarni

Map B: Gdańsk – Matarnia

Map C: Old Town, Main Town

Up till now we visited the places connected with G.Grass's childhood and youth. As a completion we propose a visit to the places important for the writer nowadays. On 3Maja Street, between bus station (PKS) and Corpus Christi Church there is an amazing monument, which symbolises all destroyed burial places in Gdańsk. It's the Cemetery of Lost Cemeteries (11), unveiled on 24th May 2002. The project designers are: Hanna Klementowska and Jacek Krenz (cooperation: Katarzyna Krenz, Michał Krenz, Andrzej Wójcicki). Sculptors are Zygfryd Korpalski and Witold Głuchowski. The sculptures have been made in sandstone and granite in Jerzy Kramer stone works. An official opening of the cemetery took place during Gdańsk Citizens World's Convention. One of the events during the convention and cemetery's opening was an exhibition of G.Grass's graphics entitled 'Metamorphosis of reality'.


11. Cemetery of Lost Cemeteries


Old Town Hall on Korzenna Street (12) - a pearl of Netherlands Renaissance (the 16th century), a masterpiece of an outstanding designer, Antoni van Obberghen. The seat of city authorities of Old Town. A place used for meetings with readers, workshops with translators and for numerous exhibitions of Grass's graphics, sculptures and litographies.


12. Old Town Hall

Polish Post Office (13) in Free City Gdańsk, nowadays on Obrońców Poczty Polskiej Street, in the past on Heveliusplatz. A place of heroic defence of Polish postmen (on 1st Sep 1939) and their death. One of the defenders was Grass's relative - Franciszek Krause, executed on the site of an old rifle-range in Zaspa (nowadays a cemetery, where postmen were buried) on 5th Oct 1939 due to the sentence of Eberhardt's Group Field Court-Martial.


13. Building Post Office

St. John's Church on St.John's Street (14) was built in the 15th century in a Gothic style. Nowadays it fulfils two functions: religious (masses, christenings and weddings take place here on Sundays) and cultural (exhibitions, concerts and theatre performances). In June 2002 there was a meeting of Grass with his readers and Polish writers. The writer was reading extracts of his novel 'Crabwalk'.


14. St. John's Church

Main City Hall (15) on Długa Street. A seat of Main City authorities. The first mention comes from the 14th century. The city hall built in the Gothic style has been reconstructed many times and now it contains elements of the following styles: Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. On 18 May 1993 in the Red Hall there was a ceremony of handing in a diploma for Honoured Gdańsk Citizen to G.Grass.


15. Main City Hall


The authors of the text:
Paulina Świerk, Jarosław Żurawiński
The authors of the photos:
Paulina Świerk (1 - 13,15)
Jarosław Żurawiński (14)
Consultation: Dr Ewa Graczyk

Translation: Bożena Kwiatkowska