Gdansk, as noted elsewhere in these pages, suffered serious damage during WWII and there are some notable differences between the city that greets you today and the city that stood here in 1939. While many are the effect of progress and development as in any major city, some are the result of the decisions made by the newly installed post-war Polish government.
The authorities inherited a city which was almost completely destroyed and were faced with tens of thousands of refugees and a severe shortage of available housing. There were also many with a strong desire not to rebuild the Danzig of the Free City and the German/Prussian Empire which had existed here since the last time the Poles had governed the city in 1772. In the end a passionate argument was settled with the compromise that a part of the central area of the old town would be rebuilt in a style that would reflect more closely the Gdansk of 1772 rather than the Danzig of 1939. The area to be rebuilt would cover ul. Dluga, Ogarna, Chlebniczka, Mariacka, Sw. Ducha and the Motlawa Embankment. The compromise left some areas of the old town empty once rubble had been cleared and one of those ‘forgotten’ areas was the embankment area around what is still known today as Targ Rybny (Fish Market or Fischmarkt).
Targ Rybny is the area on the bend of the Motlawa close to the Hilton hotel and the middle of it is today used as a car park. Surrounding it however is probably the best choice of restaurants in such close proximity to each other in the whole Tri-city and for that alone it is worth your attention. But what of Targ Rybny itself, its past, its demise and, we hope, its revitalisation?
The market on this spot seems to have dated back to 1342 when the Teutonic Knight Grand Master Ludolf König created it and ensured that his order were given the best selection of the freshly caught fish and seafood. Originally the market would have open to the water, like it is today, but in 1448 a wall was built which included a gate called Brama Tobiasza (Tobias’ Gate). Brama Straganiarska (Traders’ Gate) was built in 1482 and gradually buildings were constructed along the line of the wall between the gates and Baszty Łabędź (Swan Bastion) the tower which still stands today next to the Hilton (Tobias’ Gate no longer exists). This divided the Fish Market into two with the waterfont, or Fisherman’s Wharf’ becoming the place where fish was traded while the inner market became known as Kartoffel-Fischmarkt or Potato-Fish Market, since this was used in the winter and to sell potatoes on market days. The market was primarily served and operated over the centuries by local Kashubian fishermen and fisherwomen and the women in particular became legendary for their coarse humour and manners.
The market survived right up until the end of the war but like much of the city it and the buildings surrounding it were destroyed. The buildings were never rebuilt and even up to a few years ago this was a pretty barren spot on the waterfront. Little by little things have improved with the Targ Rybny restaurant the first of the current crop to open here. The building of a new apartment block and the 2010 opening of the Hilton Hotel signalled the beginning of a new era since when the long-standing Kubicki restaurant has been remodelled and neighbouring buildings, ruins until very recently, have been rebuilt in their pre-war style.
In 2013 three groups representing local fishermen staged a one-day Fish Market on the spot with women dressed in traditional fisherwomen’s clothing. The groups representing Kashubian and Zulawy fishermen used the occasion to campaign for the area to be revitalised as a fish market but local officials stated they would prefer to see people eat fish in restaurants here rather than buy it from the street, particularly as fish is sold in the nearby re-built Hala Targowa.
While we see the local government’s point we still think this is no excuse for the area to be left as it is and would point them to the example of Krakow’s Pl. Szczepanski which was described as follows by our sister guide Krakow In Your Pocket in 2009. ’Despite its prime location lined with beautiful town houses, it wasn’t long ago that this historical square was an eye-offending car park flanked with taxis and flowerless concrete flowerbeds’. Now we have to admit that sounds a little familiar and we think a similar plan as Krakow followed to turn Pl. Szczepanski into a beautiful square and fountain is exactly what this area needs to bring it fully back ito the city. Who knows – they could even host a monthly fish market on it for tradition’s sake.