What if I were a time traveler moving through anti-matter faster than a photon? Would I land in a phantom place filled with poltergeists who couldn’t quite keep their mouths shut and was no longer secret?
As a postmodern fulcrum for the fantastic, I would wage my very last zloty (or, now, euro) that the jagged Prussian puzzle piece of Gdansk, Poland or Danzig, Germany, depending on your geopolitical point of view, is in reality one and the same.
So now sitting on a wobbly boat bar on the Vistula in modern-day Gdansk, I viewed the startlingly rebuilt Baroque facades of multicolored rowhouses through the eye of my Elf.
I decidedly thought it seemed like so-called World War II had never happened here.
Apparently, the entire Hanseatic League city has magically reappeared using the dusty old plans of the original architects, as well as old postcards flickering in the gaslight of the unreliable official past. Is it possible that European filmmakers used special effects upon black-and-white propaganda films in order to save Gdansk from complete and utter destruction?
“Gdansk” or “Danzig” is over 1,011 years old, and seems like it. The first shot of the second world war was supposedly fired from an off-shore German U-boat; the first shouts of Lech Walensa’s Solidarnosc (Solidarity) were heard here leading to a legal separation from Soviet control in 1980, thus immortalizing the Gdansk Shipyards, from where the victory march ensued. The 15th-century Gdansk Crane proves symbolic year after year, with both tourists and stevedores ogling a bustling port which would make even Polish-English scribe Joseph Conrad feel a little seasick.
Unfortunately, I had never read local hero Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum (set in Gdansk or Danzig), but I had read a number of articles from the Internet. The recreated 16th-century Old Town, and the showpiece “Route Royal,” with its Medieval city gates, old churches, and narrow houses were more than captivating, especially when viewed from an ittybitty boat, with a beer in your hand, the color of Baltic amber which here floats naturally to shore like sleepyseeds.
According to an Ask Jeeves Internet search, Gdansk holds over 300 hotels, not including informal hostels and private “zimmers.” Why so many? I’m glad you asked.
This is why.
“It’s almost as if the war never happened,” I commented stupidly to the boat bar owner, a man with fabulous Prussian mustaches resembling a 19th century barbershop quartet singer or even a young swashbuckling Kaiser Wilhelm.
“Ja, ja, ja,” the owner, a dead-ringer for the evil baron played by Gert Frobe in Cubby Broccoli’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, responded. Obviously, he spoke no English.
“Americansky!” I pointed to my chest filling up with air like a Michelin pneu.
A beautiful blonde girl wearing a tight black concert T-shirt advertising SOUNDGARTEN was sitting at the next table and got up and said, “It is incredible what you just said: our city is rebuilt after war. Many damage…”
I held up my oversize beer with the fancy Royal label: “Proust!”
Everyone on the boat prosted and clinked bottles resembling deactivated Warsaw Pact missiles. Then, as if this were some sort of archaic festival tradition, everyone genuflected and crossed themselves.
Getting messy sloppy drunk, I began singing in low decibels, “Gdansk with me, I want to be your partner, can’t you see…”
I could sing a little bit since I played in garage bands in New Jersey, filled with hard-working Polish immigrants, during high school with Page McConnell, now the keyboardist from PHISH Also I turned down a job as lead bassist for STP [The Stone Temple Pilots] way back when before they were big. Plus I helped write “PLUSH,” voted The Best Song of the 20th Century by Rolling Stone Magazine.
However I was hopeless at polka.
The good-looking blonde with finely chiseled, marbly Slavik cheeks (both top and bottom) laughed and said with a shout, “I know that song!” Then loosening up even more, she came up with her own cover of “Danzig Queen”–in the tune of the Swedish pop band ABBA’s greatest one-hit wonder.
One of her über-damsel friends joined with another sampling, “Danzig With Mr. D!” Which I believe is the lead track to The Rolling Stones’s Goat’s Head Soup album, once banned by the Soviet authorities and still frowned upon by the completely Catholic local population, thanks to the first Polish pope Pope John Paul II.
I thought to myself: They are just giving it away.
Now on my last day in this cosmicomic German/Polish city I already had plenty of good quotes to grow an essay.
“Goldfinger” Gert cocked his head towards the clutch of good-looking gals, all of them hotbod cougars, as if to say, Take your pick.
“Frei,” he added.
No local lads were there to protest against an American backpacker seized with wanderlust, trying to pick up any of their girlfriends or sisters.
Or, unreliable wives.
The best-looking of the bunch, resembling Blondie (or “Pogo” because of her botch-job New Wave doo), allowed, “You can do whatever you want here,” after I told her I too had both German and Polish ancestry through my grandmother Helen Havighurst Edwards’s side. Through her I was a Mayflower descendant directly related to William Bradford, the first Governor of the Massachusettes Bay Colony (1620), forerunner to United States.
This part of DNA dopfelgangered Europe, which was originally the separate country of “Prussia,” now only to be found in old atlases and military maps, was, I suppose, also a colony of sorts.
Pogo ordered me a “goldwasser” (gold water), a fiery potent drink made with herbs and (in the past at least) powdered gold flecks.
Then Gert brought over a plate of sliced kielbasa and “choucroute.” Apparently, like many of the Polish nobility during Frederic Chopin’s time, Gert spoke a decent pigeon French and was addicted to “liberty cabbage.”
“Merci beaucoup!” I immediately capitalized upon an opportune linguistic connection, after Gert dropped the plate in front of me. It wobbled like a let-loose Lada hubcap.
“De rien.” He seemed surprised that an American could actually speak French.
“Vous parlez bien francais!”
Grabbing my unpasteurized local beer bottle resembling masturbation, foam slipping down the sides like premature ejaculation, I decided there was no other place right now that I would rather be than on this river running to the sea.
But later after hopping a train I found out that the huge passenger ship that had originally carried me from Helsinki to Gdansk, with of course a huge casino in the cargohold, had sunk not so long ago in the biblical bile of the Baltic Sea.
Having studied History and English at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, and after watching old propaganda films from both the Allied and Axis point of views, I wondered vaguely if the populace at large knew that the worst of the POW death camps were completely unknown to the outside world until after the war ended.
Seriously! I saw the filmstrip, with an atmospheric soundtrack of beeping Morse Code.
Everyone all found out about the campgrounds after just one intercept of a communiqué late in 1945.
The idea of any “holocaust”–(whichever one in whichever time)–was taken right out of Dante’s Inferno.
Outrageous, yes, but apparently mostly true.
After all, War is Hell.
I let myself disappear from this elementally charmed preserved city, with no solution to the pyroclastic revisionism buzzing in my brain like New York City cab-colored bumble bees bumping into each other, whose drivers swore at each other in different Indo-European languages.
It was almost as if I had revised myself out of one troubling sociopolitical epoch into another one potentially even worse, while never having really been there in the first place, rubbed out by the eraser of Polish poet Czecheslau Milos:
“They shrieked in the tongues of dwarves!”