"Roads to Freedom" exhibition
A former museum exhibition that was dedicated, in the main, to the achievements of Solidarność
in overcoming communist
rule in Poland
and beyond, in the whole Eastern Bloc
. Its exhibits were varied, including multimedia and interactive elements. It has been replaced by the bigger and better European Solidarity Centre (ESC) – so in a way it’s arguably not a literally “lost” place, but one that moved and got upgraded. But this old entry can still give you an impression of what the intermediate step towards the ESC was like.
What there was to see: It was already quite a modern exhibition with some of the usual trimmings of multimedia and interactive computer workstations in between the actual exhibits. The latter included a reconstructed police cell – as they apparently were used by the militia for locking up arrested demonstrators.
Then there was a life-size model of a communist-era shop – accompanied by text panels explaining the food shortages and rationing system of the day. Another such mock-up was a set of negotiating tables, complete with empty beer bottles and overflowing ashtrays – and a blown-up photograph of the real negotiations on the wall behind, so that you could compare original and mock-up, as it were. A mock-up of a makeshift printing shop recalled the days of underground activist publishing.
But there were also original artefacts, most notably the giant red pen, with an image of Pope John Paul II set in itto it. This was the pen Lech Wałęsa used to sign the August agreements of 1980, or the original "21 demands" which Solidarność
put before the government and publicly placed on large plywood boards then hung off the Gdańsk shipyard gates for everyone to see (they are still there – see under Plac Solidarności
). There were also various personal effects of Solidarnosc members and some authentic banners/flags used in demonstrations back then.
Original documents and newspaper cuttings on display were naturally in Polish only, explanatory text panels, however, were consistently bilingual, Polish and English (and the quality of translation was adequate). The material played at various points on video screens was subtitled in English too. At the computer workstations you got the same choice of languages as well. The latter allow for quite some freedom in how deep you wanted to delve into the details of the whole subject. The wealth of information at these stations was almost overwhelming, though very well structured, making it fairly easy to approach this repository of background information in a selective manner.
The video material could be viewed selectively too, of course, but it was worth taking it all in. Tthere were some pretty gruesome bits included too, e.g. footage of a demonstrator being run over by a militia vehicle.
The exhibition was structured thematically, with different rooms devoted to different aspects, such as everyday life under communism
, the origins of Solidarność
including that of the name and the logo, the days of martial law, methods of underground activism, the "round table" talks, etc. – and a section towards the end was devoted to the other Eastern Bloc
countries' struggle for freedom in the wake of the example that Poland
Overall, the atmosphere was understandably celebratory of the achievements of Solidarność and at the same time condemning of communism. Naturally it placed a special emphasis on what happened in Gdańsk and its shipyards too, but it nevertheless tried to have a wide scope going beyond that specialized framework.
The largest exhibit at the "Roads to Freedom" exhibition was actually placed outside the entrance – an armoured vehicle of the former militia – and served as a landmark, making it easy to locate the entrance to this underground museum too. But this landmark has now disappeared (together with what it marked) and also does not feature in the new European Solidarity Centre. What became of it and whether it still exists, I do not know.
Overall it was already a very good exhibition, but given how much bigger and more elaborate its newer successor is, the disappearance of the “Roads to Freedom” exhibition is not such a great loss.
By the way, the name “Roads to Freedom” is still set into the pavement near the old location, and that also features a segment of the old Berlin Wall.
Google maps locators:
- Roads to Freedom exhibition entrance
- Roads to Freedom outside tank exhibit