About half way between Kartuzy and Kościerzyna lies the tiny settlement of Szymbark, headquarters of the local log cabin manufacturer Danmar and its patriotic Kashubian owner, Daniel Czapiewski. Czapiewski’s unique vision of the world has spawned the extraordinary Centrum Edukacja i Promocji Regionu w Szymbarku (Centre for Education and Regional Promotion in Szymbark), a fascinating retreat based on his company grounds and dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Kashubian culture. Cutting out the waffle, this place is the closest you’ll find to a theme park in the area, and a cracking day out. That this place packs out mid-week during a storm suggests there’s something special going on here, and indeed there is. For a start there’s the longest plank of wood in the world (36.83 metres and with a Guinness certificate to boot). And as if one Guinness Book of World Records entry wasn't enough they also have the world's biggest concert piano which weighs in at a massive 2 tonnes.
There's a lot more to see and do as well. First to really catch the attention is the ‘Soviet Camp’, a faithful reproduction of one of the Siberian outposts to which thousands of Poles were banished and banged up in during Stalin’s reign. This was one nasty man, one who makes Saddam look like the Cookie Monster, and walking inside the huts and cabins leaves a deep impression on anyone unfamiliar with Soviet terror. Next up, there’s a reconstruction of one of the bunkers used by the local wartime resistance movement, Gryf Pomorski, and visiting it means crouching double before following a tight, twisting tunnel carved into the mud. Having scrabbled through slicks of sludge you’ll find yourself in a blackened room, the scream of dive bombers played from speakers at ear breaking level.
Further points go to exhibitions and reconstructions titled ‘The History of the Polish Manor House’, ‘Kashubian Cottage’ and such like, though for many the undisputed highlight proves to be ‘the upside down house’, a great big wooden lodge quite literally dropped on its head. If you think it looks weird from the outside, then join the line and step inside. The sensation of being upside down has people swerving around in a Saturday night stupor, and is apparently meant to prompt deep questions such as ‘Where are you going humanity?’
Fun and education are unlikely bedmates, but they become just that here. And aside from the information overload there’s opportunities aplenty to do things like catch your own dinner using traditional Kashubian methods, cook sausages with red hot pokers, or dangle precariously from trees in their line park. Absolutely unmissable.