This huge 5-storey facility just outside the entrance to the Gdańsk Shipyard was opened on August 30, 2014 - the 34th anniversary of the signing of the August Accords - winning several design and culture awards. Its existence and success provided the impetus for the associated BHP Hall, Gate No. 2, Plac Solidarności and the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 to receive the European Heritage Label, which identifies sites which ‘have played an important role in European history and culture, and relate to the idea of uniting, as well as democratic and humanistic values of timeless significance.’ As the new focal point of these sites, the stated aim of the European Solidarity Centre (Europejskie Centrum Solidarność, or ECS for short) is to 'become the world’s centre for the ideas of freedom, democracy and solidarity to be fostered.'
The ECS is free to enter and in addition to its primary function as a museum (not free), also includes the lovely ground-floor atrium filled with trees and greenery, several conference halls, library archives and reading rooms, a gift shop, cafe, restaurant, roof-top terrace with great views of the surrounding shipyards, and the amazing Play Department, which allows you to leave your children in a massive supervised playground that features ball pits, climbing nets and obstacle courses.
The permanent exhibition of the ECS occupies seven different halls over two storeys and a total floorspace of 3,000m2. Combining traditional display methods with some truly impressive state-of-the-art technology, the interactive displays offer a wealth of authentic documents and artefacts, 3D projections, photographs and film footage. The narrative it weaves is a long one, beginning with the story of Anna Walentynowicz, the widespread striking in August 1980 following over a decade of tension, and the birth of the Solidarity movement. Lech Wałęsa's emergance as Solidarity's unlikely leader is well-covered, as is the Polish-born Pope John Paul II's visit to his homeland, reigniting the momentum of the movement, whose knock-on effect would lead not only PL, but all the occupied countries of the Communist Bloc down a road to freedom. In the final two sections, the triumph of democratic elections in Poland leads to the emergence of many independent European nations, as they break away from the crumbling Soviet Union.
With so much to take in (including the rooftop terrace), allow yourself 2 to 3 hours to view the exhibition comfortably. Excellent audio guides are available in Polish, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and the local Kashubian language. There are also audio descriptions for the visually impaired and sign language and loops for the hearing impaired; the entire space is designed to be accessible to all. One of the Tri-city's most important cultural centres, don't skip this one.