Media to Consume Before Visiting Poland

Every country has its own culture, a culture that defines it. This culture is seen in many different ways: in the people, in the history, in the food, and even in the media. Poland is no different. Below are some movies, books, and composers to watch, read, and listen to prior to a visit to Poland to get a greater understanding about Poland and its unique culture.

Schindler’s List (Movie)

Oskar Schindler was made famous by Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie Schindler’s List. The movie tells the story of Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German who saved the lives of approximately 1,200 Polish-Jews during World War II.  The film is set in Krakow, a city in southern Poland, and shows Jewish life under Nazi control. Schindler’s List gives an insight into the horrors of Nazi occupation, with focus especially on the ghettos Jewish citizens were forced to live in. Schindler’s List is a fantastic movie, and a must see before coming to Poland, especially if visiting Krakow. Read about my trip to the Schindler Museum here.

The Pianist (Movie)

The Pianist is the story of Władysław Szpilman, based off his memoir of the same name. The Pianist shows Szpilman’s struggles throughout World War II, including his time spent in the Warsaw Ghetto, watching both the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising, and his relationship with Wilhelm Hosenfeld, a German officer who protects Szpilman. The Pianist is a wonderful Oscar-winning movie, showcasing many historically important events in of the war, especially those that occurred in Warsaw.

Aftermath (Movie)

Aftermath is one of the only movies in my life that have ever made me feel so many conflicting emotions at once. One of the best movies I have ever seen, Aftermath is the story of two brothers who uncover a family secret and have to deal with how this new knowledge changes their perception of their father, neighbors, and, to a larger extent, their country’s history as a whole. This movie is one of the most controversial in Poland, banned in some towns, thanks to its portrayal of Polish citizens during World War II. The controversy almost enhances the movie in my eyes, as it helps develop certain points made in the movie. This movie is fantastic, and helps dive into the double memory seen throughout Poland.

The Spy Who Loved (Book)

For my study abroad to Poland, each student was required to pick a topic to write a report on. My topic was Christine Granville, a Polish spy for the British Special Operations Executive. Stories about Christine are absolutely fantastic.  She was absolutely brilliant, driven in all that she did, and able to save not only herself from dangerous situations, but those she cared about as well. I read two books for my paper, Christine: SOE Agent & Churchill’s Favourite Spy and The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville. While I enjoyed both of the books, I would recommend The Spy Who Loved because it focuses less on the men in Christine’s life, and more on the missions and adventures she took part in during World War II.

Chopin (Composer)

Frédéric Chopin is adored in Poland. A child prodigy born and raised in Warsaw, Chopin became a leading pianist and composer of the Romantic Era, becoming world renowned. Although Chopin left Warsaw at the age of 20 (weeks before the Warsaw Uprising) he is honored tremendously through Poland, most specifically in city of Warsaw. One of my favorite museums in Warsaw, the Chopin Museum, is dedicated to Chopin’s life and work, and listening to his music is a great way to tap into Poland’s culture.

The post ‘Media to Consume Before Visiting Poland‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

6 Things To Know Before Visiting Poland

Heading to a new country, especially one with a unique culture, can be challenging. There are many ways cultures can be different, and at times it can feel like you have no idea what you are walking into. Here are some things that surprised me when visiting Poland.

World Youth Day

Something I had never considered before traveling were holidays occurring in the country during my visit. A large celebration took place during my time in Poland: World Youth Day. World Youth Day is an event organized by the Catholic Church every few years held in alternating cities. This year it was in Krakow. I had visited Krakow a couple of days prior to the official dates of World Youth Day, and was in Warsaw during the event. But because so many people had come to Poland to celebrate, Warsaw was absolutely packed. While I was able to revisit Warsaw when it was less crowded (which I enjoyed it much more), I will definitely make sure to check when holidays that bring approximately 3 million to the country are occurring.

August 1st Remembrance

On August 1 Poland stands still for a minute to remember the 200,000 that died in the Warsaw Uprising. This was a travel day for my study abroad group so unfortunately I was unable to witness what I would imagine to be a tremendously moving moment in Poland, and I hope that some point in the future I am able to experience it.

The Jewish Relationship with Poland

A difficult part of my trip to reconcile with was the racism against Jewish citizens in Polish history, and in present day. I had never considered Poles to be perpetrators of violence in World War II – I had always assumed it was the Germans or Soviets who were the aggressors. But when reading documents about the relationship, as well as seeing it displayed in museums, it’s an unfortunate reality that at times during World War II the Poles acted on their racism towards Jews. What is even more disheartening is that there is still racism today. During my five-week trip there were multiple comments said on tours and at our hotels that were anti-Semitic, and when visiting Jewish cemeteries it was clear to see how much better maintained the Catholic cemeteries were.

It’s also surprising how few Jewish citizens are in Poland. In the entire country there are only about 7,000 practicing Jews. In Warsaw alone, there are only 500. These numbers shocked me, especially when realizing that there were more kids in my high school than there are practicing Jews in the capital city of Poland. I feel as though this really speaks to the horrors Jews faced during the war – approximately 97% of the Polish Jews were exterminated during World War II, leaving so few survivors behind, to the point that even today the community is only a shadow of what it used to be.

Pope John Paul II Adored

Poland is a very Catholic country. So much so that 93% of the population is Catholic. Because of this, one figure in particular is idolized in Poland: Pope John Paul II. Born in Poland, Pope John Paul II ended up moving to Krakow as a young man where he began studying to become a priest at an underground university during the war. When he was elected to the papacy in 1978 he became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. Pope John Paul II is a national hero in Poland, thanks in part to his strong ties to Catholicism, but also because of what his influence resulted in. One instance that is especially important to note is his influence in Solidarity. In 1979 when he gave a speech in Poland, he inspired labor workers to unite and essentially helped start the movement. In later trips he continued to give his support.

Cities Rebuilt After 1945

A hard idea to wrap your head around is that while there is a lot of history and buildings were built hundreds of years ago, in some cities the majority of the architecture needed to be rebuilt. During World War II when the Nazis took control, they destroyed much of Poland. Some cities, like Warsaw, had about 85% of the city destroyed, having to be completely rebuilt from the rubble. Looking around the city however, you would not be able to tell. Warsaw in particular is a completely rebuilt city, now the ninth most populous city throughout the entire European Union.

Favorable Exchange Rate

I have never traveled to a country where the exchange rate was in my favor. The only times I’ve been outside of the country were to European countries on the euro or pound, so everything was slightly more expensive. This is not the case with Poland. The Polish currency, zloty, is worth approximately 1/4 of the dollar, so for every dollar you get four zlotys in return. Not only that, but prices are similar, meaning you get much more with your money. For instance a postcard in Poland costs about one zloty, approximately 25 cents, while in the United States a postcard is about 50 cents, maybe more. After visiting a country where my money stretches so much I’m excited to explore other countries where I can more easily afford to explore the city.

The post ‘6 Things To Know Before Visiting Poland‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

Top 8 Gdansk Attractions

Out of all the cities I visited in Poland, my favorite was by far Gdansk. Gdansk, located in northern Poland right on the Baltic Sea, reminded me of one of the towns I visited last year, Annecy, France. It’s on the smaller side, has an old-time feel, and is pulsing with activities and attractions. Below are my eight favorite attractions, although everything I did in Gdansk was magnificent. 

Ferris Wheel

My favorite attraction in all of Gdansk is the Gdansk Panoramic Wheel. Part of the reason Gdansk is my favorite city is because it’s absolutely gorgeous. While other cities in Poland have beautiful Old Town, almost all of Gdansk is styled like Old Town. The Ferris wheel is fantastic for sight-seeing, as when you get to the top you are able to see stunning views of Gdansk. It is right on the Motława River, and for only 25 zloty you can go around this 50 meter wheel three times. For the best views in Gdansk look no further.


St. Dominic’s Fair

I happened to be visiting Gdansk at one of the best possible times: during the St. Dominic’s Fair. Starting the last Saturday in July and lasting three weeks, St. Dominic’s Fair is one of the best craft fairs I have ever attended (and I visited an amazing one in Boston this past winter!). The craft fair had almost any handmade craft you could imagine, from amber jewelry to leather goods to antiquities.

Although the fair meant there were many more people in Gdansk, it’s still worth visiting during such a hectic time. The fair makes the city feels almost medieval, with merchants setting up shop in front of old buildings, creating a lively atmosphere. It’s an especially great time to visit if you want to buy souvenirs – I have a friend that all but bought out a ceramics stall, buying gifts for every member of her family for the next few holidays. I would love to visit Gdansk while the fair is not in session to compare, but I absolutely loved walking around with friends buying street food and gifts for my loved ones.


A cool visit for those interested in history is Westerplatte. A boat ride away, Westerplatte is where the first armed resistance in World War II occurred. The tour covers a variety of locations within Westerplatte, showing off a destroyed headquarters building, a monument dedicated to the fallen, and a symbolic cemetery. For a World War II buff or someone spending many days in Gdansk I would recommend the trip to Westerplatte. Read more about my tour here.


Walking the Streets

My favorite thing to do in Gdansk is simple: walking around. Gdansk is fantastic because the city feels small. It’s fun walking down cobblestone roads with small independent shops and squares everywhere you turn. The Royal Way, the most populous street in Gdansk, is where the king would enter when visiting, is gorgeous, and the Długi Targ (Long Market) features the famed Neptune statue. Out of everything in Gdansk walking around, getting lost, and exploring new streets could potentially be the best way to fall in love with the city.

St. Mary’s Cathedral

St. Mary’s Cathedral is stunning church, featuring an organ that blew me away. Something of note is that, much like the Astrological Clock in Prague, it also has a famous clock that has an attraction at noon. While slightly more interesting than the show in Prague, I still would not recommend setting your schedule around the show – it consists of two rows of saints exiting the clock, the clock chiming, and them going back in the clock. It wasn’t particularly interesting, and had I built it up like I had the Prague Astrological Clock I’m sure I would have been even more disappointed.

What is fantastic about St. Mary’s Cathedral is the view. There is a tower with 400 steps you are able to climb. The stairs were not as difficult as I was expecting, in part because while the beginning is extremely narrow, the top half are spread out on the interior of the church itself, which leads to an interesting view inside the church. The view of the city is magnificent. When you reach the top there is a small landing where you can see all of Gdansk, from the Ferris wheel to the shipyard. The view is worth the climb, especially on a nice day.


Sopot: Trip to the Baltic Sea

Gdansk is one of the three Tricity cities in northern part of Poland, and one of the other two, Sopot, is worth a day trip for the beach. A short train ride away, Sopot is a cute beach town featuring a lighthouse, a beautiful pier, and a beach that leads right into the Baltic Sea. I’m not the biggest fan of beaches, but it’s definitely fun, especially if you are with a group of friends. Be sure to also check out the Crooked House while there, it’s one of the most unusual buildings you’ll ever see.


European Solidarity Center

Gdansk is important in history not only for being the location of the first armed resistance in World War II, but also for Solidarity. Solidarity, a Polish trade union that developed into a famous social movement, started in the shipyards of Gdansk. Solidarity is not only important in Polish history, but in world history, thanks to its part in bringing down Communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The European Solidarity Center in Gdansk does a fantastic job of displaying information about the Solidarity movement. Although more than just a museum, the museum section of the center takes you through the history of Solidarity, from the issues that led to its origins to the aftereffects of the movement. Whether interested in history or not, a visit to the European Solidarity Center is a must. It does a superb job of explaining such an important time in Polish history, a history intrinsically tied into the city of Gdansk. Read more about my tour here.


Amber Museum

Potentially my favorite museum of every one I saw in Gdansk was one I went to on a whim: The Amber Museum. I had bought my mother an amber necklace for her birthday, so I figured I should learn more about it at the museum one of my tour guides had recommended. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the museum.

What I liked about the Amber Museum was that it wasn’t necessarily the museum design itself that was cool, but rather the content in the museum. I was surprised by how interesting amber is, and how the museum could have multiple exhibits highlighting its different aspects. There was a section on amber in nature, focusing on plant and animal inclusions (there was even a lizard on display!), on the history of amber within Gdansk and Poland, on the ancient amber trade routes and their importance in history, on its healing aspects, on crafts made from amber, and more.

The museum provided a bevy of information about the stone, much more than expected. I would recommend a visit to anyone with a few hours free, because even though I didn’t walk in thinking I was going to be interested, I was completely blown away.


Gdansk is my favorite city in Poland. Not only is it absolutely stunning, but there is so much to do. I wish I had more time, as there were more museums and attractions that I unfortunately did not have time to visit. I fully expect to return to Gdansk some day, and would consider it the best Polish city to visit.

The post ‘Top 8 Gdansk Attractions‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

The History of Polish Amber

One of the engaging museums I visited in Gdansk was the Amber Museum. I thought it would be interesting to see preserved insects and animals, but left wanting to learn much more about amber. The museum covered the history of amber, its relation to Gdansk, and its importance in science. It was very informative, and sparked an interest in amber, something I never expected me caring about. Below is a look into some of the exhibits featured at the museum.

Amber in Nature

What exactly amber is has eluded people for centuries. Initially it was thought to be a stone, when it is in fact a mineraloid. Because it was so mysterious there were many stories of what amber was and where it came from. It was originally thought to either be feces of mythical beasts, wax from giant ants, fossilized spawn of unknown fish, or elephant semen.

Another story describing where amber came from is rooted in myth. Helios, the sun god, let his son Phaeton drive his carriage one day. Phaeton was unable to handle the task of driving the sun around the world, so Zeus killed him to protect the people of Earth. Phaeton’s sisters buried him after his death, and they shed tears of amber on the banks of the Eridanus River in mourning.

Scientists today believe that Baltic amber was formed most likely about 40 million years ago, and it is thought to be fossilized resin of coniferous trees. The exact species of the ‘amber tree’ however has still not been agreed on.


My favorite part of the museum was the section focused on inclusions. Inclusions are plants or animals trapped in the fossilized resin. They are very valuable scientific material (as well as collectors’ items) because they help scientists understand the ancient flora and fauna of the amber forest.

There are two types of inclusions: plants and animals.

Plant inclusions are relatively rare, and scientists have identified about 215 species of plants from amber inclusions.


Animal inclusions are more frequent, but which animals are included differ. Incests are most commonly preserved, with the Baltic region having approximately 70.6% of inclusions flies alone. The average animal inclusion is 1 cm, with larger inclusions being extremely rare. There are few lizards that have been trapped by amber, one which the Museum of Amber has on display. Although there are some reports of inclusions with frogs and fish, the authenticity is doubted.


Properties of Amber

Five properties of amber that make it unique are how light it is, it being a cross section of a shell, soft, burnable, and how it can easily develop a static charge.

Amber in seawater floats, which is why it washes up so frequently on beaches. Salt-saturated water will help identify whether amber is real or an imitation.

Amber also burns with a bright flame, and produces a distinctive smell. It produces a white smoke and smells sweet while burning, the reason it has been used as incense for so many years.

Amber can also be identified by its ability to develop a charge. After being rubbed it has the ability to attract small objects, like hair or pieces of paper. It is also warm to the touch after rubbing.

The Amber Routes

Amber has been historically important for years. The earliest finds of amber artifacts date to the end of the Paleolithic period (12000-8000BC) where amber artifacts were mostly made into pendents and amulets.

Baltic region amber craft developed in early Neolithic period (5000-2000BC) with pipes or cylinder-shaped beads, and round or oval pendant.

The Early Bronze Age (1800-1300BC) saw an increased interest in amber, with period glass, bronze and amber beads being made into necklaces.

Towards the end of the last millennium BC the Celtic tribes played an important role in spreading amber. It was most likely the Celts who found the main amber route from northeastern Italy to the amber coast. These amber routes resulted in cities like Gdansk and Rome to specialize in amber ornaments and amber trade as a whole.



Amber has also been linked to healing for many centuries. In antiquity amber was used to treat tonsillitis, sore throat, ear and eye inflammation, as well as for headaches and to lessen fevers. It was administered as a powder blended with honey, rose oil, or mastic.

In the Middle Ages homes were fumigated with the smoke of burning amber to prevent the plague, with white amber in particular attributed as having the greatest medical properties.

In the 19th century every pharmacy sold creams, balms, and other medicines containing amber. Baltic amber in particular had health benefits, as it contains around 3-8% succinic acid, which is though to be responsible for the medical properties of amber. Succinic acid today is still used in modern medicine.


Amber was also believed to contain magical properties, with the oldest beliefs dating to the Stone Age. Scholars have linked ancient talismans to different ancient cults depending on their shape and form. For instance ancient hunters used amber talismans to ensure successful hunting, while female figurines represent fertility cults.

Amber has also been thought to ensure health and prosperity, and was made as an offering in foundation offerings before building a house to ensure safety.

Amber Craft in Gdansk

In the Early Middle Ages the tradition of amber processing returned to areas where amber was found naturally. Because of this in the 8th and 9th centuries amber production centers appeared on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, becoming the dominant craft of the area.

During the rule of the Teutonic Order (1310-1466) amber craftsmen were forbidden settlement in the Teutonic state, resulting in amber warehouse becoming heavily guarded and the act of hiding amber stones punishable under death. Teutonic craftsmen had a monopoly over the amber craft, but they weren’t able to process all of the amber the Order held, so they focused on creating rosaries.

At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries Gdansk experienced a golden age of amber. Amber products were seen in royal courts all over Europe, with the works of Gdansk amber craftsmen among the most precious diplomatic gifts given to popes, tsars, sultans, and monarchs.

In the 18th century there were changing fashions which brought new trends in the amber craft, focused on joining amber with other materials. This technique was used in the famously lost Amber Room.

The Amber Room originated and was designed by a Gdansk amber craftsman Andreas Schluter, with the first executor was also from Gdansk, craftsman Gottfried Wolfram.

After a period of development, the mid-18th century saw a twilight of the golden age, as there were increasing difficulties obtaining raw amber supplies and changing fashions. The fashions resulted in objects merely decorated with amber, or with objects fused with amber, no longer amber on its own. In the 19th century guilds proper ceased to exist.


Amber in Art

Amber in art has been important for centuries, but in modern times it has seen a renewal. In 1945 Gdansk craftsmen began from scratch, new workshops were founded, but only in the late 1960s did artists begin to show interest in quality amber craft, with businesses attracting more attention and appreciation.

Gdansk also hosts the largest amber fair in the world, Amberif, which each year has an increasingly larger number of exhibitors. This fair has taken place in Gdansk every year since 1994, and for several years the Gdansk amber craftsmen have been extremely successful in the European, Far Eastern, and American markets.

Gdansk is more frequently referred as the amber capital of the world, with 8,000 people in Gdansk and the vicinity are employed in the amber market.


The post ‘The History of Polish Amber‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

The Controversy of the World War II Museum

One of the coolest museums my study abroad group visited in Gdansk was one that technically wasn’t a museum yet – rather the promise of one. The World War II Museum in Gdansk was set to be open, but thanks to complications the opening has been postponed. Today it is a partially constructed building, one I was able to tour.

Walking around the interior of a partially constructed museum was fascinating, especially since my guide was involved in the planning process of the museum. While there weren’t any exhibits currently on display, he was able to walk my group around the museum pointing out where everything is eventually going to be displayed.

Another interesting aspect was how some of the largest displays in the museums had to be placed in the building first. For larger exhibits, like a military tank, the museum has to be built around it. It simply isn’t feasible to drive a tank into the middle of a finished museum, so it needs to be placed months before the museum is even near finished.


What was also interesting was that besides the museum structure itself, my group was also able to  examine some artifacts that will be placed in the museum, at times even handling them, such as a German gun everyone was able to hold and an Enigma machine.


While at the headquarters of the the museum, my group also saw a video pitching the museum, which highlighted not only what the museum was going to look like at completion, but also the intention of the museum. What makes the museum unique, as well as controversial, is the emphasis of the museum. Rather than on the military or political history, it focuses on the impact on civilians. It intends on commemorating civilian causalities from many different nationalities, including Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians.

There is debate as to whether the museum will ever be open to the public, or if it is, whether it will be presented as it is planned now. There are issues with some new members of the Polish government, as the museum focuses on an objective truth about Poland’s involvement during the war. And while Poland did have its moments of glory, it also engaged in crueler acts, such as the town of Jedwabne where the Poles murdered their Jewish neighbors. The museum wants to take the good with the bad, and become the largest objective museum on World War II, giving an honest look into Polish history.

Unfortunately this isn’t sitting well with the current Polish government. They would prefer that the museum be repurposed, and rather than focusing on an objective history of World War II, it showcase the Polish heroes of World War II. While a museum focusing on Polish heroes would be a great museum to have, it should not be made in lieu of a museum focusing on realities of World War II.

The politics involved with the museum were even more upsetting because our guide was an open supporter of the original framework of the museum, and it is suspected that the day he gave us our tour was his last day. He and a significant number of people working on the creation of the museum were being let go and replaced with others the government had appointed to take over. The majority of the money going towards the museum is provided by the Polish government, and thus they have more clout when it comes to decision making.

I find the situation of the World War II Museum unfortunate and infuriating. I understand and appreciate the fact that it is uncomfortable to acknowledge wrongdoings. It can’t be easy for Poles to come to terms with the fact that while they themselves suffered, they were not solely victims, but also perpetrators of violence at times, especially towards the Jewish population.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be remembered. The quote by George Santayana featured at Auschwitz says “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and that couldn’t be more true in this case. To avoid repeating the past it needs to be acknowledged. Forgiveness can’t be achieved if there is a refusal to accept blame for one’s actions. While Poland had atrocities committed against them, it does not excuse the pain inflicted on others.

That’s why museums like the World War II Museum in Gdansk, how it is intended, are important. History can be uncomfortable. Bad things have happened in the past, and it’s uncomfortable and heartbreaking. But it’s important to teach and remember both sides, to show that people aren’t perfect and mistakes are made, but that we are ultimately able to move forward. If all wrongs committed are covered up we will never have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. And if we never learn, we will never have the opportunity to improve our future.

The post ‘The Controversy of the World War II Museum‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

The European Solidarity Centre and Design

In Poland I have seen many amazing museums, each with something special about it. Some are completely immersive, others are making improvements on data collection, and yet others are controversial. If I had to attribute any defining characteristic to the European Solidarity Centre, it would be its design.

The European Solidarity Centre in Gdansk is not merely a museum. While part is a museum dedicated to teaching about the Polish trade union Solidarity, it is also a “place to create the future.” The building also hosts cultural events like debates and conferences, has rotating exhibitions, is home to NGO offices and a publishing house, and has a large library. As our guide described, the European Solidarity Centre is intended to help people answer questions about democracy and freedom today.

The building as a whole is unique. It is designed to appear industrial, to feel in part as though it is from the shipyard, much like the Solidarity movement was. There are high ceilings, steel walls, and concrete structuring. Most interestingly is the material used for the building: weathering steel, or COR-TEN. This material is meant to give the look of rust, as it in fact is rust. This type of steel rusts the exterior up to a certain point, which gives the center the look of a ship in a shipyard, adding to the feel of the museum.


The museum portion of the European Solidarity Centre maintains creativity in design as well. There are six halls in the museum, each styled differently than the one previous. There were three that particularly stood out to me. The first was the entrance, the hall devoted to the shipyard strike. While most museums focus solely on the walls of the museum, few utilize the floors and ceilings as part of the exhibit. At the Solidarity Centre the ceiling was put to use, featuring hard hats of workers who went on strike during the beginning of Solidarity. This aspect of the exhibit helps immediately immerse a visitor in the museum.


The second design feature that stood out to me was in Hall C, which focuses on the unexpected freedoms Solidarity won beginning August 1980, and lasting for sixteen months until it was banned under martial law. This section is magnificent thanks to the way the freedoms and subsequent recall of freedoms are displayed. Taking up almost the entirety of the room is the logo of Solidarity, and within the logo there is information relating to the freedoms Solidarity won. There is also information outside of the logo, all of which is related to the freedoms stripped from Solidarity. It’s interesting how everything inside the logo relates to the freedoms, while everything outside focuses on martial law and forces that tried to destroy Solidarity.

The final design highlight that stood out to me was the additional hall at the end, the Pope John Paul II hall. This room is entirely white, with a quote by Pope John Paul II featured on the wall. This room was meant as a place to give a moment’s reflection on Solidarity, and to the left of the quote is a window which faces the Monument of the Fallen Shipyard Workers 1970, which commemorates the people killed December 1970 protests.


The European Solidarity Centre was an enjoyable museum, thanks not only for its interesting history, but for its creative take on showcasing history. If ever in Gdansk a trip to the European Solidarity Centre is a must.

The post ‘The European Solidarity Centre and Design‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

Westerplatte and World War II History

While in Gdansk I had the opportunity to visit an important location in World War II history, a place that I had never heard about prior to my time in Poland: Westerplatte. Westerplatte is where the first battle of World War II took place, with Polish armed resistance fighting against invading German naval forces and Danzig police.


The tour I took of Westerplatte was interesting, mostly because I am interested in history. To get to Westerplatte from Gdansk I took a boat with my study abroad group. The boat ride took approximately forty minutes, and was fun as our group decided to travel on a ship designed to resemble a pirate ship. While obviously gimmicky and meant for tourist, I will admit it was more fun.


The first location I visited while on the tour was an old guardhouse. This for me was the worst part of the tour, as we did not enter the guardhouse, rather just examined the exterior. The exterior was fascinating because bullet holes from the first battle of World War II are visible, but I would have liked to go inside as well. Near the guardhouse was a symbolic cemetery. There were 15 graves, commemorating the men killed during the seven days of defense of Westerplatte.


My favorite part of the tour was directly after the symbolic cemetery: the old headquarters, or more accurately, the ruins of headquarters. The headquarters was initially a two-story villa with very thick walls. It was used as a kitchen, as well as a hospital, during the outbreak of the war. While at Westerplatte I had the opportunity to walk throughout the ruins. Not only was this exciting, but it gave me the chance to see where everything would have been located had it still been standing today.


The tour ended with the monument commemorating the Battle of Westerplatte and Polish lives lost throughout the war. The monument itself was interesting, located at the top of Westerplatte, meaning it was possible to climb up to the monument and see a large portion of Westerplatte from above. Also interesting is the mistake on the monument: the name of the post office the Polish used throughout the war is written not in Polish, but rather in German on the monument.


Overall I did find the Westerplatte tour was engaging, but it is not something I would do again, nor is it something I would recommend to anyone without an interest in history. But for those interested in history, especially World War II history, Westerplatte would be a shame to miss.

The post ‘Westerplatte and World War II History‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

Top 9 Warsaw Attractions

Warsaw is fascinating because nearly everything is new. During World War II the Nazis completely demolished Warsaw, destroying approximately 85% of the city. Yet today the city has been restored to its prewar glory, with each section of the city maintaining its uniqueness. I enjoyed the differences between each area of Warsaw, and loved exploring the city. There are many fun places and attractions to visit in Warsaw, my nine favorite listed below.

Palace of Culture and Science

Next to a major train station in Warsaw is one of the most impressive buildings in Warsaw: The Palace of Culture and Science. This building is also one of the most controversial buildings in Warsaw, as it was initially a gift from the Soviet Union, with the name ‘the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science.’ The ‘Joseph Stalin’ part of the name was later removed during destalinization. While there were protests to the name and how the building represented Soviet domination, there were also protests over the building itself, as people claimed it ruined the aesthetics of Warsaw. In recent years more and more skyscrapers have been built around the Palace of Culture and Science, which makes it less offensive to the skyline.

Disregarding the controversies, one thing is for certain: the Palace of Culture and Science is stunning. For 22 zloty you can go to the top of the building at night (during the day for less, even less if you have a student ID card). At night the view is incredible. Something amazing about the building is that some nights it lights up – and not just a single color, but switching all throughout the rainbow. While it looks spectacular from the outside, being inside the tower is just as extraordinary. The observation section is where some of the lights are, so you are bathed in the colors seen by onlookers below.

The view is also absolutely incredible. I prefer views that are high while still being able to distinguish individual buildings, and the Palace of Culture and Science was just that. Every direction provided an amazing look into Warsaw, and it was here I first realized how beautiful the city of Warsaw is. Viewing the Palace of Culture and Science is impossible to miss while in Warsaw, but going up to the top to check out the city is an extra trip that is an absolute necessity.


Church of the Holy Cross

One of the first places I visited in Warsaw was the Church of the Holy Cross. The church was absolutely beautiful, giving me a fantastic first impression of Warsaw. To make it even more magnificent, a choral group was practicing for a World Youth Day performance, making the entire visit even more magical.

The church is famous for hosting something particularly unique: Chopin’s heart. Literally. When Chopin died he wanted part of him to remain in Warsaw, the city he loved. Upon his death an urn was filled with cognac, preserving his heart, and was featured at the Church of the Holy Cross. April 2014 his heart was exhumed and examined, and the church to this day has a section dedicated to Chopin and his remains.

In front of the church is a sculpture I took particular interest in. Pius Weloński created Christ Bearing His Cross, a sculpture that miraculously survived the destruction of the city of Warsaw. While the church itself was ruined, the sculpture remains as it was, located in front of the church.


University of Warsaw

A stunning place worth exploring is the University of Warsaw’s library. While the library itself is cool (because libraries and book in general are amazing) what is spectacular about this library is the exterior. If you exit the library, you walk into a grassy area, much like a park or garden. What’s really amazing is that the library itself is almost enclosed within the garden.

To the side of the library is a staircase, which leads to the garden above the library. The side of the library is covered with ivy, so it seems as though nature is consuming the library. The garden at the top is spectacular, with archways, bridges, observation areas, and a fantastic view of the city. It is a beautiful area to spend time in, especially if the hustle of the city makes you want to take a break and relax. The only way my afternoon could have been better spent at the garden would have been if I had a book to read and relax with.


Taras Widokowy at St. Anne’s Church

One of the best views in Warsaw is at the top of St. Anne’s Church towers. The church itself is absolutely gorgeous, with its baroque interior and daily organ concerts. Thanks in part to this beauty, there is a two year long waiting list to get married here.

While I did not have much time to explore the church itself while in Warsaw, I did have the opportunity to climb 150 stairs to the top of the tower that gives a stunning view of Old Town. While Old Town from the street is gorgeous, from above, where there are less people and the ability to see it in its entity, it’s simply breathtaking.


Old Town

Old Town is the oldest and one of the most beautiful places in Warsaw. Although it was completely demolished during the Second World War, in the years following the war it was meticulously rebuilt to resemble how it looked pre-war, even using original bricks whenever possible.

There are a variety of squares within Old Town that make it so beautiful. The most popular one is Castle Square, which can been seen by a tower at St. Anne’s Church. This square is in front of the Royal Castle, where old Polish monarchs used to live.

My favorite square in Old Town is Old Town Market Place. This square is the oldest part of Old Town, and was destroyed during World War II. This square is my favorite because of the building facades and the mermaid statue. The buildings were primarily owned by merchants, and to help advertise each merchant had the facade of his home show off what trade the family was in. This resulted in beautiful designs on the exterior of the homes throughout the square.

The square also features a statue of the Warsaw Mermaid in the center of the square. The mermaid is tied to the legend of Warsaw. The legend states that a mermaid once washed up on the shore of a river near Old Town, where after examining the town she decided she liked it too much to leave. She and a fisherman ended up falling in love, and when a merchant attempted to capture her the fisherman came to her rescue, saving her. From then on she has been ready with sword and shield to protect Warsaw. I find it interesting how each city I’ve been to has its own story relating to mythical beasts: Wroclaw with gnomes, Krakow with dragons, and Warsaw with mermaids.


Warsaw Uprising Museum

The Warsaw Uprising Museum was one of the more interesting museums in Warsaw. Depicting the uprising that aimed to liberate Warsaw from the German forces, this museum is extremely well designed, and completely immersive. As someone with an interest in history I found the museum interesting, and I think it gives a good look into the struggles the people of Warsaw had during World War II. Read about my experience here.


Wilanów Palace

Wilanów Palace is not only a beautiful building to visit, but historically significant – it survived not only Poland’s partitions, but both of the World Wars. Considering more than 85% of Warsaw was leveled during World War II, it’s amazing a building this large survived.

While visiting I did not have the opportunity to explore the interior, which I hear is just as beautiful as the exterior (which I imagine is difficult to do). Inside there is a large collection of artwork, including the beautiful architecture of the palace. The palace as a whole is a repository of the country’s royal and artistic heritage, a large expectation to live up to that I have no doubt the Wilanów Palace meets.

What I enjoyed most while visiting was the garden. Greenery is seen all around Wilanów Palace. The front of the building has a spacious lawn, while the back has an ornate flower garden. There is even more beyond the flower garden however. Walking behind the palace leads to a wooded area with a lake.

This is what I found most serene. I absolutely love lakes and this area of Wilanów Palace was picturesque. There is an option to rent rowboats, discover the vastness of the grounds, and even explore a Chinese gazebo. For a break from the busy city of Warsaw, Wilanów Palace is a fantastic stop.


POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews

If you are interested in Polish history, Jewish history, or history in general, the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews is the museum for you. Jewish history is particularly interesting in Poland thanks to World War II, but this museum expands the narrative beyond a handful of years. The museum examines over 1,000 years of history of the Polish Jews. The museum is also extremely interactive, which helps to enhance the experience of visiting. To read more about the museum, check out my experience here.


Football Game

In typical European fashion, the Poles love their football. When I was in Warsaw I had the opportunity to attend a Legia Warsaw game, where they played Piast Gliwice at the Polish Army Stadium. While the game itself was interesting, what I enjoyed most was the energy in the stadium. Football fans are intense. For the entirety of the game the Legia fans chanted, cheered, booed and hollered, having the time of their lives. I’ve been to multiple professional sporting games in the United States, but no game I’ve attended has ever come close to matching the energy of a European game. Even if football isn’t your sport of choosing, it’s a game the Poles are passionate about, and worth watching.


The post ‘Top 9 Warsaw Attractions‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

Chopin Museum: Marketing Analytics and Public History

The most technologically advanced museum I visited in Warsaw was the Chopin Museum. While I’ve recently written about how fantastic interactive and immersive museums are, the Chopin Museum takes this to the next level.

The ticket you receive, instead of a typical paper stub, is a digital card similar to that of a hotel room key. Upon entry, you active your card by tapping it against a digital card reader. Once activated, your ticket grants you access to additional features of the museum.


The Chopin Museum is arranged chronologically, with each room featuring music and information relating to only a certain time frame of Frédéric Chopin’s life. The way a visitor is able to interact with this information differs depending on the room however.

For the room focused on Chopin’s childhood there are listening pods where you can sit, scan your ticket, and listen to Chopin’s earlier works. For Chopin’s adult life you can scan your card and flip pages in a book that are computer generated. When learning about the women in his life there is a touch screen computer activated by your card that plays a short video. All of this is presented in your native language, which is selected upon entry.


While each room proposes a different way to interact with Chopin’s music and life, one aspect remains the same: your keycard is necessary to active the exhibit.

The ingenuity blows me away, almost more than the museum itself did. The data collection from the card system must be so helpful to the administration, and it has the potential to revolutionize the public history industry.

In your average museum data collected is simplistic, focused mostly on how many people buy tickets. If a new exhibit comes in and ticket sales go up, it can be concluded that the exhibit was the contributing factor. But how long were people interacting with the exhibit? Did people enter just for the featured exhibit, or did they then explore the rest of the museum? How much did people like the exhibit, or the museum in its entirety?

While some of these questions could potentially be answered through surveying patrons, it is almost impossible to get information on every visitor’s experience.

The Chopin Museum is an example of how that is changing.

When you enter the Chopin Museum and activate your card, you are instantly assisting the museum with its data collection. To access exhibits and information your card needs to be scanned, which helps the museum see which exhibits are performing better than others. Some of the exhibits require extra involvement, such as touching a screen or flipping a page, which gives the museum a guess as to how long each exhibit is being interacted with. And at the end of your visit you tap your card out and return it, giving the museum an exact time of your visit.


This absolutely fascinates me thanks to its similarity to marketing analytics. Marketing analytics is “the processes and technologies that enable marketers to evaluate the success of their marketing initiatives by measuring performing using important business metrics, such as ROI, marketing attribution and overall marketing effectiveness. In other words, it tells you how your marketing programs are really performing.”

While the Chopin Museum is most likely using the information for more than just its marketing efforts, the concept is still the same: finding ways to get more data to make more informed decisions. If very few people watch the videos on Chopin, but many listen to his music, it makes sense that future exhibits would be audio-based rather than visual-based.

Analytics gives you the opportunity to see what has and has not been performing well, and to make decisions based on these findings. You learn so much through data: who your audience is, what forms of media they prefer, and what type of content they enjoy.

This kind of information is invaluable. As a business, having a greater understanding of your audience can help you create content that resonates better with the people you are most trying to connect with. By then providing value to prospects you are showing them that you understand their needs, and that you are a good company to invest time and money into.

Marketing analytics, and data collection as a whole, is so interesting. Using information to improve a customer’s experience is a fantastic opportunity, one I’m excited to see museums adopt. While the Chopin Museum isn’t the first of its kind (the National World War II Museum in New Orleans has a similar approach) it highlights the future of museums and public history as a whole, a future I’m excited to see develop.

The post ‘Chopin Museum: Marketing Analytics and Public History‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.

The Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Case for Immersive History

One museum I toured while in Warsaw was the Warsaw Uprising Museum, commemorating the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The uprising was an attempt by the Polish resistance in World War II to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. Ultimately the uprising was unsuccessful, but it showed the dedication of a people unwilling to sit back and have freedoms stripped from them.

The Warsaw Uprising Museum, which opened in 2004, is an example of a fantastically designed museum. When entering the room you are not looking at a typical museum showing pictures and featuring exhibits with just information about the Warsaw Uprising. You are instead walking into a room that makes you feel as though you’re stepping into history itself. The Warsaw Uprising Museum’s first room is designed as a street in 1940s Warsaw, complete with a cobblestone floor, walls littered with anti-Nazi graffiti, and a soundtrack featuring a heartbeat that occasionally switches to planes dropping bombs overhead.

The museum went above and beyond, completely immersing you in the museum with little details: a wall littered with bullet holes where whispers of people presumedly hiding can be heard, drawers you can pull out to read about the lives of individual soldiers in the uprising, a short 3D movie recreating what Warsaw would have looked like after its destruction, and a small replica of the sewage system tunnels resistance fighters maneuvered through you are able to crawl through.

Creating an interactive museum is one of the best ways to get people interested in history. I firmly believe that the more immersed someone is in history, the more he or she begins to care about it. That’s why museums like the Warsaw Uprising Museum are fantastic. By creating an atmosphere where someone feels as though he or she is part of history, he or she can better relate to it. While learning about the Warsaw Uprising might be interesting for some people, for others facts alone aren’t enough to spark an interest. But by introducing multimedia and interactive exhibits, everything changes. Instead of being a passive listener, you become an active participant.

Museums like the Warsaw Uprising Museum, as well as ones like the POLIN History of the Polish JewsSchindler’s Factor, and the National World War II Museum get me excited about history, and about the prospects of others loving history. They help me identify what is fantastic about history: bringing a story to life. What I love about history is the fact that there are so many amazing stories of people, places, and events that we are able to learn more about for the sole purpose of enriching our own lives by learning from the past. Being able to visit a museum that helps these stories become visualized is incredible. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it makes me excited about the future of museums and public history as a whole.


The post ‘The Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Case for Immersive History‘ appeared first on Katherine A Hayes’ personal website.