Friday, July 19, 2013

Visting Malbork

Having secured a hotel reservation that allowed me to stay in Gdansk more than originally planned I took off for a day trip to Malbork. Assuming I would be walking a great deal at Malbork I took a taxi from the hotel to the train station.

It is a very bright and cheerful station. I had read somewhere that the train station benefited from Euro 2012; it was one of the buildings renovated in preparation for the games.

I had found a 10:00 train to Malbork and wanted that because it was a fast train, saving me time in the morning. When I went to the Kasa the woman there looked at my note and said, "Expensive." I told her it was OK. Got to Malbork and found I couldn't open the train door to get out. Noticed a woman at the very opposite of the car asking if I wanted help. So glad she was there or I might have ended up somewhere else!

Got on the platform and found the peron/platform area at Malbork was under major renovation. I followed the Exit signs and ended up at a deadend. Started all over again and finally had a woman for help for the route to leave. Made sure I knew the secret place to access the platform for my return trip.

Got a taxi to the castle. I had thought about walking, but the route looked complicated and there wasn't a single sign directing one to the zamek. In a combination of English and Polish I asked about a return trip to the train station, and the taxi driver gave me a business card.

Went to the Kasa and bought a ticket. My wrinkles must be showing, for without any questions at all the clerk sold me a senior citizen ticket! I asked about English audio guide and was directed around the corner. There I found a sign about gathering for English tours. The next was at 1:30, so I decided obiad was next on the agenda. I walked to a charming restuarant.

This restaurant is in the corner of the Middle Castle.

Here is my lovely lunch/obiad. The cost was less than I would have paid for a similar meal in Gdansk, so the restaurants are not taking advantage of visitors to the castle.

Around the castle there is, however, no shortage of opportunities to buy souvenirs.

Walked back to the tour meeting area noting this view.

The guide started the tour right on time. She spoke very good English. She did a good job of filling in visitors about the history of the castle without making it boring. We learned there were originally three castles. The area in which we had been waiting was the Low Castle. This area was for the workers and servants.

We began the tour by entering the Middle Castle. This area was used for visitors to the castle. From the beginning -- or at least when the castle was finished after more than 100 years of building -- about 400 guests could be accommodated.
Here the guide is explaining the defenses associated with castle entrance. The small door meant a person would have to crawl through it, reducing the possibility of using weapons coming through the door.

Next we headed to the refectory area, the dining room for the guests in the castle. Because people ate with their fingers, not with cutlery, a hand washing area was provided outside the refectory.

Next we learned how the area was heated; northern winters would have required something.

A fire burned in this area of rocks.

We climbed up a flight of stairs and entered the refectory. Here are the heat registers that allowed heat from the fire below to enter the room. Quite an ingenious plan.

 The room itself looks like this.

The pillars themselves are made to look like palm trees, reminiscent of Jerusalem where the Teutonic Knights were founded.

Up a few more stairs and we were in a room to one side of the refectory. Our guide explained that not all guests were "friends." During meals the beer and wine flowed freely, (and we need to remember at this time too, that people did not drink water because it was not safe) and this door allowed the Grand Master to listen and see if anyone became indiscreet and spilled secrets while they were drunk. So what's new in the 21st century regarding spying isn't really new; it's only the application of different technology.

Next we walked to the area in which guests would have arrived when first getting to the castle.  Again there was a place for washing, including a place for washing feet. This attention to hand washing, plus the placement of the toilets a 60 M walk from any living area, certainly helped to control infectious disease. The guide said despite a large number of people about, disease was not really a problem in the medieval time, quite an achievement.
 From here we walked in the Middle Castle courtyard for a bit of break.

There we found statues of the Grand Masters who had lived and worked in the castle. (Remember the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 led to reduction in the power of the Teutonic Knights, although they remained here another 40 years. The order is still active today, now based in Vienna.)

Next we entered the High Castle. This area was reserved for the Grand Master, the House Commander, and the Head Chef and 60 knight who were also monks. (Interesting, the Head Chef's job was not cooking but rather food tasting to provide evidence and reassurance that the food being served was not poison!)

 Above is entrance to the High Castle, complete with two windows over the door. These could have been used for pouring down boiling water or oil.The figure suspended in the air is not part of the castle history; rather it is one piece from a recent modern sculpture workshop held at the castle.)

In the courtyard we found a well. The presence of water plus storage space for food meant the High Castle could have withstood siege for two years, although this ability was never truly tested.

Next the guide walked us to a poster showing what the Castle area had looked like at the end of WWII. The castle had been a Nazi fortress, housing many soldiers so was heavily assaulted by the Russian Army. When the Russian Army had the castle under control more damage was done to castle in an effort to destroy any of its religious features.  

During the tour, the guide took care to point out what was original, what was repairs from normal wear and tear before WWII, and then what was restoration post war.

We toured the cooking area of the High Castle and then walked quickly through the living quarters for the Grand Master, the House Commander and the Head Chef.

We entered the "decision room." This was the room in which issues of great importance were debated and determined. The acoustics of the room are designed to promote echoing, an effort made to prevent someone outside the room eves-dropping.

The openings in the wall are to the chapel. This allowed sounds from singing and prayers to enter the room and further mask sound and overhearing by any undesirable persons. This room is now used for concerts because of its good acoustics.

Then we were off to the toilets, a room in which I didn't take any photos.
Found the toilet area really worked quite well, because it was over the moat which had continuous water flow.

 Our next destination, shown above, was the knights' dormitory. It was located between the toilets and chapel, for the knights, who were also monks, were required to get up twice nightly for prayers.

The dormitory area is now used to display art. One very usual item is this altar piece.

The altar piece depicts the Coronation of Mary. As we view it, Jesus is on the right side and God is on the left. I think this is the first time I've ever seen a piece of religious art that attempted to show God.

Our last viewpoint was the chapel in the High Castle, still in need of restoration.

 Restoration slowly continues with funding coming from Poland, the EU, and also through its designation as a UNESCO site. Norway, as an individual country, has been a benefactor of restoration.

As you can see I had a through tour of the Malbork Castle. It took 2.5 hours which is long time to be walking, standing, and climbing up and down countless stairs! I was ready to leave. Took me a bit of puzzling to find the exit, not the same place we came in, but through the gift shop areas

My next task wast to find someone to help me call for a taxi because I was not certain anyone would speak English if I called, and my Polish isn't good enough to explain where I was and where I wanted to go with any accuracy.

The area around the Kasa was now very quiet. I was approached by a young man, university age, handing out flyers for a restaurant. I asked him if he spoke English. Yes. I explained what I wanted and handed him my Polish phone. About 10 minutes later a taxi appeared and I went back to the train station.

I went into the train station to learn what peron for my train. Wow! it's beautiful.

 The blue area on the left side is the digital display announcing the train arrivals and departures.
This photo shows more detail for the cities' coat of arms that make up the room border.

 Here is the ceiling of the hallway that leads to the train platforms. When the peron area renovation is done this will truly be a wonderful station.

Great day visiting Malbork. Glad I waited this long, for last winter on PBS in the United States I watched a series of programs about castle offensive and defensive strategies. That knowledge made this visit much more meaningful.

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