Now, that’s a TRAIN-sformation! Gdańsk railway station restored to former elegance dubbed most beautiful in Poland … and Europe!
Subject to the largest renovation ever carried out by PKP on a train station, Gdańsk Główny has reopened after four-years of painstaking work.
Already announced a success by users, many are now hailing it as one of the most beautiful stations in the country – and, even, Europe.
Costing PLN 120 million, and co-funded by the EU, the project placed an onus not just on updating the station for contemporary times, but also restoring and reintroducing many of the details that had been lost or damaged as a result of WWII.
Delayed by 18-months, the investment has not been short of problems.
Significantly hampered by both the pandemic and raw material shortages relating to the war in Ukraine, at one stage, local bookmakers had even started offering odds as to when work would finally be completed.
The critics, however, have now been silenced with the renovation covering the ornate brick façade, window joinery and elaborately tiled roof.
It is from the inside, though, that the changes have proved the most fetching. Among other things, oak-panelled ticket windows and store fronts have been introduced to reference the station’s original aesthetics.
The colouring of the main hall also directly correlates to what travellers would have seen over a century ago, whilst other reprised elements include spherical chandeliers, the coats of arms of various Pomeranian cities and striking stained glass windows that bring to mind an epic cathedral.
Rich in symbolism, the two primary windows steal the show with the east-facing one proclaiming the city’s strength and openness through its incorporation of a lion’s head, a King’s head, the city’s coat of arms and references to the four seasons.
The western window, meanwhile, concerns itself with celebrating rail travel itself and depicts a winged wheel and representations of air, water, fire and earth.
Currently serving 11.5 million passengers annually, the changes have been more than cosmetic.
Of the value-adding extras, Gdańsk Główny can now also boast air-conditioning, rain retention systems that will provide water, energy-saving lighting solutions, an intelligent building management system, escalators and a playroom for children.
Moreover, the entire facility has also been fitted to keep in mind those with disabilities.
To all intents and purposes, this extraordinary facelift has returned the station to its previous glory when it was considered one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
With construction beginning in 1896, the design was authored by Alexander Rüdell and Paul Thoemer from the Ministry of Public Works in Berlin and supervised by Hermann Georg Cuny.
Together, the trio had been inspired by the prevailing architectural style of the city, then known as Danzig. As such, the station that emerged riffed heavily on 16th and 17th century Dutch Mannerism and combined Neo-Gothic, Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance influences.
Initially functioning as a water tower to serve the station, the whole structure was defined by a 48-metre tower adorned with a copper cupola (mimicking that of the nearby St Catherine’s Church) and an electric clock.
A feast for the senses, the station’s design was deemed so exquisite that the same design was used for the station in Colmar (now France, but then part of the Prussian Empire), thereby making it one of the few stations in the world with a near identical twin.
In fact, decades later, in the 1980s, a Japanese businessman was so struck by it that he built a wedding palace in the town of Imari modelled on it.
The station, notable for its gables, turrets and pointy spires was finally completed on October 28th, 1900, and two days later the first train departed bound for Tczew.
Outwardly magnificent, the station also contained a separate waiting room for solo female travellers, and several chambers (including a security vault) set aside for Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (the heir to the Prussian throne) who had a residence in Wrzeszcz.
In 1914 the station was enlarged by Alexander Rüdell but it wasn’t until later that it would truly make a historical impact – over the spring and summer of 1939, 124 Jewish children were evacuated on four trains.
Known as kindertransports, it was on these that the passengers were spirited away to new lives in the UK. Among those was the 10-year-old Frank Meisler – seventy-years later, he would sculpt the kindertransport monument that stands outside the station.
Heavily damaged by fire in 1945 during the Red Army’s merciless destruction of the city, the station nonetheless resisted total collapse and would later prove to be something of a pioneer.
In 1947, for instance, it became the location of Gdańsk’s first public payphone. Then, in 1949, it saw the debut of a heated waiting room for children and their mothers.
With the main hall sometimes serving as an impromptu courtroom in which drunks, hooligans and other nuisances would be fined, by the 1950s it had lost much of its magic – by the time the 1960s rolled in, discussions were underway to raze the building and replace it with the kind of concrete carbuncle that was trending at the time.
Although this plan was dismissed, it was indisputable that the station had lost much of its lustre. When a mezzanine level was added in the 90s, this acted to only denigrate its character further.
When this level was demolished about 10 years ago, members of the public gleefully seized upon the city’s offer to take part in its destruction. As welcome as this improvement was, it pales compared to what has now been unveiled.