A building within the old shipyards
, which became a historic site in 1980, as it was here that the trade union Solidarność
was founded and their famous 21 demands were drafted. It now houses an exhibition about that event, the shipyards and the resistance movement of 1980-1989.
The cryptic name of the place comes from the Polish “Sala Bezpieczeństwo i higiena pracy
”, which translates as ‘Hall of Occupational Health and Safety
’. Originally it goes back to the beginning of the 20th century when it was constructed as a warehouse for the storage of torpedoes and the outfitting of warships with armaments. Back then it was part of the Prussian Navy’s “Kaiserliche Werft Danzig” (‘Imperial shipyards
’ Gdańsk). It fulfilled that role up to 1945, so including the Nazi
era. With the end of WWII
, the shipyards, and all of Gdańsk
, went from German ownership into Polish hands, and the military role of these shipyards ceased.
The former torpedo storage hall (it still says “Torpedo-Lagerhaus” on the north-eastern facade) was now used for other purposes, and from 1961 it became the “Sala BHP”. In the late 1970s a shipyard museum was set up here too in the adjacent administrative tract.
Then in August 1980
the hall was used by the MKS (“Międzyzakładowy Komitet Strajkowy” or ‘inter-factory strike committee’) for negotiation meetings
with government delegations. Here the strikers’ famous 21 demands
were drafted, and on 31 August the so-called August Accords were signed, in which for the first time a communist regime legalized an independent, free trade union. It was de facto the founding document of Solidarność
. Iconic photos of the events include those showing Lech Wałęsa wielding his oversized pen with the image of Pope John Paul II on it.
The old hall survived the decline of the shipyards and in 1999 was listed as a historical monument. In 2004 Solidarność acquired ownership of the building and shortly after a comprehensive refurbishment project was begun. It opened to the public as a conference centre and museum in 2010.
What there is to see: The entrance to the inside of the old BHP hall is on the northern side. There’s an anteroom with a sofa and some chairs, and the reception desk seems to double up as a small-scale cafe. It also sells postcards and souvenirs. Old signs line the walls, and the first model ship (of many more to come) sits in a glass display case in one corner. There’s also a display of workers’ hard hats on one wall.
To the right is the main hall
with the conference tables and the stage on which the August Accords were signed. The rest of the hall has various displays, including traditional text-and-photo panels outlining historical events in the context of Poland
’s struggle against communism
and the role of Solidarność
The main event of crucial relevance here is obviously the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement
on 31 August 1980
(hence aka “August Accords”). There’s a large blow-up of a photo of the historic moment, with Lech Wałęsa in the centre, and in the background a Lenin
statue gazing away from the scene, as if in embarrassment. (The statue was removed from the hall in 1990.) There’s also a copy of the famous 21 demands handwritten onto plywood placards (the original is in the European Solidarity Centre next door).
Other historic sections cover, for instance, the reason for and timing of the naming of the shipyards after Lenin in 1967 – a year earlier the Catholic Church, and the Polish state, had celebrated their 1000th anniversary, which also saw protests in the streets, and the communist regime wanted to make clear who the new gods were under their leadership.
Another section is about the violent protests in May 1982 in the wake of the declaration of martial law in December 1981. One of the most iconic photographs from the time is also on display here, showing an armoured vehicle (light tank) and some soldiers in front of the “Moskwa” cinema, and on the front is a sign announcing the film “Apocalypse Now” – what a symbolic (if unintended) juxtaposition.
Artefacts on display include a collection of Solidarność badges, welders’ face shields and clothing as well as a militia helmet and cartridges for smoke mortars used by the militia to dispel protesters.
The most striking display, however, are the scale-model dioramas recreating scenes of protests at the shipyards, including at the iconic Gate No. 2 with a miniature version of the 21-demands placards.
The rest of the exhibition is about the shipyards, and again there are scale-model dioramas of ships in different stages of being built. All these model dioramas are lovingly made with great attention to detail. Various models of individual finished ships are on display too, including one of a white tall ship that takes pride of place on the historic stage in the corner where the Lenin statue used to stand.
More text-and-photo panels outline the history of the shipyards and the shipbuilding industry and explain the changes that have occurred in ownership since 1989 and modern specializations.
There’s also a small hall on the ground floor of the former administrative wing. Here various Solidarność banners hang from the ceiling, there are some panels about key figures in the movement, displays of typewriters, printers and communications gear (don’t ask me why), and some memorial reliefs. One of them commemorates the plane crash near Smolensk in which then president of Poland Lech Kaczyński and his delegation were killed in 2010 (they had been on their way to attend a memorial ceremony on the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre).
the hall, where the path to the entrance branches off the main path into the shipyards
, stands an old kiosk
with period newspapers and Solidarność pamphlets and a dummy of a newspaper-seller inside.
All in all
, the Sala BHP can obviously not compete with the lavish and hi-tech European Solidarity Centre
next door, but it scores over its bigger neighbour in terms of place authenticity, and with some of its displays that may be old-school (pre-digital) but are endearing and lovingly made. Definitely worth a visit when in the area.
Access and costs: not difficult to get to, free
see under European Solidarity Centre
– Sala BHP is just 200 yards or so from the entrance to that big neighbouring institution. From the Old Town of Gdańsk
it is a ca. 20-minute walk (along Rybaki Górne and Popiełuszki). If you’re driving, there’s on-site parking to the rear of the building. There isn’t any public transport (yet) straight to the site, so the trams going to Plac Solidarności
are the closest you get.
Time required: about half an hour
See also under Gdańsk
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
nothing in the immediate vicinity, but the Old Town of Gdańsk
is only a 20-minute walk away.
- Sala BHP 01 - historic building
- Sala BHP 02 - anteroom
- Sala BHP 03 - helmets galore
- Sala BHP 04 - main exhibition hall
- Sala BHP 05 - shipyard model
- Sala BHP 06 - more model shipyard
- Sala BHP 07 - historic scenes recreated
- Sala BHP 08 - another historic recreation model
- Sala BHP 09 - welders gear
- Sala BHP 10 - police reaction
- Sala BHP 11 - historic place
- Sala BHP 12 - badges
- Sala BHP 13 - Smolensk plane crash monumant
- Sala BHP 14 - historic kiosk outside
- Sala BHP 15 - old papers inside
--- coming soon ---