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As the most famous writer from Wrzeszcz (German: Langfuhr), Günter Grass, wrote in Dog Years:

Langfuhr was so big and so little that whatever happens or could happen in this world, also happened or could have happened in Langfuhr.

The same can be said about other cities and districts, but in the case of Wrzeszcz it is simply true. Why? Because Wrzeszcz is authentic and varied. Here, you can see heaped layers of history as well as contemporary conflicts.

The first mention of Wrzeszcz appeared on the 25th November 1263 and pertained to the purchase of a mill by Cistercians from Oliva from a man called Arnold and his son-in-law Apoloniusz, however, little has remained from those times. The pond in the vicinity of the railway station and the former brewery, which perhaps had formed part of the mill sold by Arnold and Apoloniusz, have recently been destroyed in front of our very eyes to make room for yet another shopping mall. A trace of the medieval history can be seen already only in the course of some streets – today’s Grunwaldzka, Partyzantów, Traugutta, Do Studzienki and Jaśkowa Dolina. We can also try to find remnants of former streams which used to cross Wrzeszcz and were contained in underground pipes in the 20th and 21st century. A careful observer will find among the buildings of Wrzeszcz rows of trees that grow along the former streams, and currently along the pipes. One of the traces of those streams is the fountain on the junction of Jaśkowa Dolina and Grunwaldzka, built in the place of the former watering hole, which was available for horses that drew carriages from Gdańsk to Oliwa.

The location of Wrzeszcz is unique. The area not far from the main transport axis of the city, on picturesque hills on both sides of Jaśkowa Dolina saw the establishment of one of the first public parks in Europe. The park was not sufficiently preserved for decades, the hardened paths, bridges, arbours, monuments, coffee houses and restaurants disappeared. The park that had grown wild started to be called a forest, but we need to bear in mind that two centuries ago the hills in the vicinity of Wrzeszcz were not covered with trees but potatoes and other crops.

As opposed to the Main Town, reconstructed after the Second World War, Wrzeszcz has preserved the tissue of buildings from before the war. The majority of houses in Wrzeszcz are half a century older than the burgher houses in Długa or Mariacka Streets.

Wrzeszcz developed at the turn of the 20th century, among others, owing to the launch of efficient public transport. Over a short period oftime, from a village that did not even have a church, a chapel or a school, it transformed into a metropolitan district. In 1864, a horse-drawn omnibus was launched, followed by a horse tram, and finally an electric tram. Residential housing developed at a fast pace. Tenements, workers’ housing estates and villas of Gdańsk’s millionaires were built, as well as schools of various degrees, Evangelical and Catholic churches, two hospitals and the first university in the history of Gdańsk – today’s University of Technology. Large barracks were built, and the first airport on the territory of today’s Poland was established in the place of the former military training ground.

In the inter-war period, Wrzeszcz continued to develop. Modern housing estates were raised along today’s Hallera, Kościuszki, Wojska Polskiego and other streets. Those projects were interrupted by the war. In 1945, Red Army tanks were making their way through Wrzeszcz in the direction of Gdańsk. Part of the tenements, especially those in Grunwaldzka Avenue, were damaged or demolished, however, in comparison with the city centre, the damage was not significant.

The reconstruction started right after the war. Urban plans were drawn up which embraced making Grunwaldzka Avenue twice as wide, the establishment of Grunwaldzka Housing District and the construction of monumental edifices that would house a community centre and the seat of the ruling party. The grand buildings did not come into being, but most of the other plans were carried out.

At the turn of the 1960s, a number of significant buildings were raised in Wrzeszcz, including the restaurant Crystal. The composition-related principles developed at the end of the 1940s were continued until the beginning of the 21st century. They were obeyed by the designers of the shopping mall Manhattan. The construction of another shopping mall in Wrzeszcz – Galeria Bałtycka – marked the first departure from those rules. A huge structure was built without appropriate pedestrian access. However, Wrzeszcz is still the largest complex of historical housing from before the Second World War in the entire area of Gdańsk. We hope that the beauty of Wrzeszcz will be preserved, its glory restored, and the future projects will improve the quality of the district.

How did Wrzeszcz become a district of the city?

Throughout the first six and a half centuries of its existence Wrzeszcz was a village. Why did it become a metropolitan district? The crucial factor was the launch of public transport. In 1864, a horse-drawn omnibus service started to operate three times a day between Gdańsk and Sopot. In 1870, a railway line was launched from Gdańsk to Słupsk and Koszalin. The same year, the route of the omnibus was shortened to Wrzeszcz, but the frequency increased significantly. The service operated once every half hour. In 1873, a horse tram line was established between Gdańsk and Oliwa. A year later, the omnibus line was closed. Even though the metropolitan area of Gdańsk and the surrounding towns, such as Wrzescz, was much less populous in the second half of the 19th century than today, the frequency of public transport services did not differ significantly from today’s. In 1894, horse trams operated every ten minutes between 1pm and 10 pm, and every half hour in earlier and later hours. A ticket from Długi Targ to Wrzeszcz cost 25 pfennigs, which was not an exorbitant price. Hackney coaches were more expensive. A ride from the city centre to Wrzeszcz cost from 1.25 to 1.75 marks, and slightly more to Zingler Hill and Jaśkowa Dolina. In 1901, the tram line was electrified.

The Grand Avenue and the border

Between 1768 and 1770, the outskirts of Wrzeszcz witnessed the establishment of a large public complex of greenery. What appeared was the Grand Avenue, which connected Wrzeszcz with Gdańsk – it was perfectly straight, wide and lined on both sides with double rows of linden trees imported from the Netherlands. Wrzeszcz received an amazing monumental entrance. Soon afterwards, a border checkpoint was built on the Grand Avenue. In 1772, after the First Partition of Poland, Wrzeszcz was cut off from Gdańsk with a state border. Gdańsk remained in Poland, while Wrzeszcz and other towns in the vicinity were seized by Prussia. A Prussian customs office was built in the place where today’s Grunwaldzka Street ends and Zwycięstwa Avenue begins. The travelling inhabitants of Gdańsk were subjected to humiliating procedures there. Searches for illicit goods, such as coffee, were conducted even in houses away from the border, in Wrzeszcz or even in Oliwa. In 1793, as a result of the Second Partition of Poland, Gdańsk was annexed by Prussia and the border disappeared.

University Park – former cemetery

In the 1860s, an immense complex of cemeteries started to be established on both sides of the Grand Avenue. At that time, the centre of Gdańsk was almost completely surrounded with a ring of massive fortifications. Inside the fortifications there was no space for burial practices according to the urban rules of hygiene established in the 19th century.

Right next to the University of Technology, along today’s Narutowicza Street, stretched the cemetery of the Catholic parishes of the Main Town – St. Nicholas Church and the Royal Chapel. Situated to the south was the Lutheran St. Mary’s cemetery, and even further south – another Protestant St. Catherine’s cemetery. At the beginning of the 20th century, yet another one, the third cemetery of St. Mary’s borough was established between St. Catherine’s and the Catholic cemetery. At the turn of the 1970s, the cemeteries were removed.

The earliest residential estate of Wrzeszcz was the All Angels’ Colony (Aller Engel) built by the Abegga Foundation between 1896-1897 at the northern end of the Grand Avenue.

Art Nouveau

Contrary to popular opinion, it is difficult to find elements of Art Nouveau architecture in Wrzeszcz. Characteristic of the great cities of Europe in the early 20th century, the style was not popular in conservative Gdańsk. The few Art Nouveau details include, for example, decorations and doors of some of the houses in Politechniczna and Partyzantów Streets as well as decoration elements of two residential buildings in Wassowskiego Street. Hundreds of burgher houses and detached residential buildings were raised in different variants of historicising styles – Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Baroque, or a mix of different styles from the past.

University of Technology

Between 1900 and 1904, the first university in the history of Gdańsk was built – the University of Technology (at the time it was called Technische Hochschule). Hermann Eggert, Georg Thür and Albert Carsten designed a complex which comprised several buildings whose style referred to the architecture of Gdańsk at the turn of and 17th century, as wished by Emperor Wilhelm II. The most important buildings were the Main Edifice, the seats of the institutes of Chemistry and Electrical Engineering, and the machine laboratory, which have all been largely preserved until the present day. The project was not limited to buildings that housed teaching spaces. Also the houses of student corporations, sports halls and other buildings were raised in the vicinity. Some of the many buildings that played a role in the life of the University of Technology acquired forms that resembled single-family villas, such as the seat of the Academic Sailing Association, which currently houses the consulate of Germany.


The Wrzeszcz synagogue in Partyzantów Street is currently the only operating synagogue in Gdańsk. However, it is not the first synagogue in Wrzeszcz. Already in the 18th century, the village, which Wrzeszcz was at the time, was inhabited by several hundred Jews. They had their own wooden synagogue in the vicinity of today’s Dmowskiego Street, which was mentioned in 1775. It was the oldest building with a religious function in Wrzeszcz. Christian churches were built here only more than one hundred years later. Lutherkirche – today the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Sobótki Street was placed in service in 1899. The first Catholic temple in Wrzeszcz, Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus (“church in Czarna”) was built only in 1911.

The first synagogue of Wrzeszcz was destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars, during bloody fights in 1813, when Wrzeszcz, which was defended by French, Polish, Tuscan, Neapolitan, Bavarian and Westphalian infantry, uhlans, mounted rifles, and artillerymen, was seized by Russians and Prussians.

It was only the 25th September 1927 (on the 28th Elul, 5687, in the Jewish calendar) that saw the opening of the new synagogue in Wrzeszcz, which was designed by the Hamburg-based architect Robert Friedmann. During the Second World War, the synagogue was transformed into a carpenter’s workshop, but fortunately the building has been preserved. After the war, it maintained its original function for several years and was used by the few Jewish survivors in Gdańsk, but in 1951 it was taken over by the state and transformed into a music school. The great hall of the synagogue was divided into two storeys.

In 2009, after several years of disputes, the synagogue building was handed entirely under the management of the Gdańsk branch of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland.


The fountain on the corner of Grunwaldzka Avenue and Jaśkowa Dolina bears witness to the former rich and complex network of waters in Wrzeszcz – area crossed by the streams of Strzyża, Jaśkowa Dolina and Królewska Dolina. It was built in 1909 in the place of the former watering hole, which was available to weary horses that drew carriages from Gdańsk to Oliva and back. At the beginning of the 20th century, horses were already being replaced with cars and electric trams, and the watering hole yielded place to the decorative fountain.

Wassowskiego Street

Józefa Wassowskiego Street did not originally bear the same name. At the time when Wrzeszcz was still a village, today’s street was a stretch of an unnamed dirt road leading from Grunwaldzka Avenue to a pond located in the place where it later crossed Matejki Street. Next to the pond the road turned to the west and ran further towards Jaśkowa Dolina.

At the end of the 19th century, when Wrzeszcz was transforming into a city district, the location at the foot of the hills with a park, established several decades before, turned out to be very attractive. This part of Wrzeszcz witnessed the beginning of construction of the most splendid (and expensive) houses of Gdańsk. The course of roads had to be adapted to the new situation – they required broadening or delineating anew. The former route that connected Grunwaldzka Avenue with Jaśkowa Dolina was crossed by the new Matejki Street (at the time named Johannisthal), while the stretch between Grunwaldzka and Matejki was regulated and named Hermannshöffer Weg. The pond was filled up and the manor house that stood behind it as well as other buildings were demolished.

One of the first houses in the new street was an impressive multi-family villa in the corner of Matejki and Wassowskiego Streets. According to the fashion of the time, the building was adorned with a massive amount of historicising details. The roof has preserved until today its multi-coloured tiles from the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, during the subsequent renovations the majority of the tiles did return to the roof but not to their proper places, and currently instead of precise patterns we are dealing with a colourful chaos.

In 1898, Wassowskiego Street was extended towards the hills and the park, which had existed there already for a long time. Thus, the street acquired its today’s form, and ten years later residential buildings had already been built on all the lots on both sides. Care was taken also of the public space. The street culminated with a picturesque square, from which stairs led to the park. A retaining wall on the western side of the square was neatly built of bricks and stones.

The houses raised since the beginning of the 20th century did not resemble rural homesteads whatsoever. At the time, historicising buildings were erected, which were similar to those built several years before. One of the examples is the burgher house in 16 Wassowskiego Street, whose facades feature neo-Romanesque details. Apart from the buildings inspired by the past, signs of modernity also started to emerge. The rich district needed space for first cars which drove on the streets of Gdańsk. Garages were built in equally impressive forms. One of them, raised on the eastern side of Wassowskiego Street, was equipped with a fountain added to its side wall.

Another sign of the new times came with the transformations of architectural forms. Wrzeszcz started to witness the construction of residential buildings designed in a modern way, inspired by English architecture, which was then at the forefront residential housing. Rigid symmetrical apartment floor plans and facade compositions were abandoned in favour of more flexible, comfortable and picturesque solutions. A perfect example of modernity from the beginning of the 20th century are the buildings on the western side of Wassowskiego Street. In 1907, Walther Marks designed for the Wrzeszcz-based construction company Warmuth & Arndt two impressive villas that shared one wall, at numbers 7 and 8. They featured similar, though not identical floor plans and facades. The house in 8 Wassowskiego Street was built for the first rector of the newly established University of Technology, located in the vicinity – professor of mathematics Hans von Mangoldt. The rector did not leave the design entirely to the architect but drew up the initial sketches of the house himself.

At the same time, the company Warmuth & Arndt intended to build on the nearby corner of Wassowskiego and Matejki Streets yet another, slightly bigger residential building. It was designed by a beginner architect Adolf Bielefeld, who later contributed with many exquisite buildings in Gdańsk and Sopot. The early days of Bielefeld’s professional career were far from easy. The construction authorities rejected his two initial concepts. From the perspective of our contemporary criteria, Bielefeld’s designs were a good example of integrating buildings into the urban tissue. Yet, the house designed by Bielefeld was too large for the municipal officials who were preoccupied with the harmonious spatial development of Wrzeszcz. The developer was fine with a smaller profit, the designer did the same work several times, but the effect was worth the efforts. The resulting buildings fitted in very well with the urban layout of Wrzeszcz.

The uncompromising decisions of the Gdańsk officials from a century ago could be contrasted with the analogous situation at the beginning of the 21st century. Our current architectural authorities have decided that an appropriate neighbourhood for houses in Batorego and Matki Polki Streets, similar to those in Wassowskiego Street, should be formed by skyscrapers. A century ago, spatial harmony and the interest of the inhabitants enjoyed priority over the interest of the developer. As it turns out, a lot has changed since then.

Let us return to history, however. After the Second World War, the street obviously did not retain the name Hermannshöffer Weg. In appreciation of its character, it was called Piękna (Beautiful). The name did not stay for long. After the death of Józef Wassowski in 1947, journalist, lecturer and activist of the Alliance of Democrats, the street was named in his honour.

The change of the name was not the only post-war modification of our street. Its northern stretch, from Grunwaldzka Avenue, was redeveloped. One of two department stores in Wrzeszcz (and entire Gdańsk) was built at its end. Thereafter, Wassowskiego Street was connected with Grunwaldzka Avenue with a gateway. A medical clinic and a rather unoriginal residential building were also raised. The most significant element for the appearance of the street was and still is the building of the design office of the shipbuilding industry, with strongly articulated vertical axes, which gave it the character of “razor blade architecture”, as the outstanding historian of Gdańsk architecture Jan Stankiewicz called it.

The above mentioned post-war buildings were raised in 1950s and 1960s. The street has not changed significantly since that time. Some houses fell slightly into decline, but the works carried out recently in the burgher house on the corner of Wassowskiego and Matejki Streets give us hope that if any changes are introduced, they will go in the direction indicated by the street’s name from the 1940s – Piękna (Beautiful).

Masonic Lodge

In 1906, in Własna Strzecha Street, in the vicinity of the workers’ residential estate of the Abegga Foundation, the building of the Masonic Lodge “Zum siegenden Licht” (“Under the Victorious Light”) was built. It was designed by the Master of the Lodge, architect Albert Erhardt, in collaboration with the Sopot-based architect Paul Puchmüller, who was also a Mason. In the 1930s, under the pressure from the Nazi authorities of Gdańsk, the Lodge was dissolved and the building was taken over by the Institute of Aviation Technology of the Gdańsk University of Technology. After the Second World War, the former Lodge has continued to be used by the University of Technology under Polish authorities. It has housed the Department of High Voltages and Electrical Apparatus of the Faculty of Electricity (today’s Faculty of Electrical and Control Engineering)

In the 1950s, the building was redeveloped and extended. The elements which had born witness to its original function ultimately disappeared.

texts: Jakub Szczepański, Professor at the Gdańsk University of Technology
photographs: Anna Witkowska

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