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From Vikings to education – Denmark traces in Gdansk

We have a long history of relations with Denmark, our neighbour from across the Baltic Sea. What exactly? Learn from the latest article by prof. Andrzej Januszajtis.



In 1210, Msciwoj I, the Duke of Gdansk, accepted the authority of Danish King Valdemar II, which lasted only until 1212. In 1248, the aforementioned Malgorzata (the daughter of Sambor II, the Duke of Tczew, and Msciwoj’s granddaughter) married Christopher I, who became King of Denmark in 1252. After his death in 1259, she ruled Denmark until the coming of age of their son and successor, Eric V Klipping (1264). She died in 1282 and was buried in Bad Doberan near Rostock.

In 1458, during the Thirteen Years’ War, the Mayor of Gdansk, Rajnold Niederhof, personally declared war on the King of Denmark, Christian I of the Oldenburg dynasty in the name of King Casimir IV Jagiellon. The previous defeat of the Danes in the battle of Bornholm and the increasing frequency of Gdansk’s naval attacks led to the signing of an armistice between Poland and Denmark in the same year in Gdansk, resulting in Denmark withdrawing its support for the Teutonic Order.

Old Gdansk’s most famous builder, Antoni van Obberghen from the Netherlands (who served the city from 1586 to 1611), the designer of the Old Town City Hall, the marvellous Armoury and many other structures, came to Gdansk from Denmark. There, he had gained fame for his famous rebuilding of Helsingor’s Kronborg Castle, which is referred to as Hamlet’s Castle.

On the other hand, one of Gdansk’s premier composers, Kacper Forster the Younger, after his stay in Warsaw, where he was a member of the Royal Band, moved to Copenhagen in 1652 and spent three years as a prominent member of the Danish Royal Band. The death of his father in 1655 forced him to return to Gdansk, however, where he took over the seat as the band leader of the Council Band. Most of the manuscripts containing his music are stored in the Uppsala Library.

Gdansk astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687) knew of and continued the work of Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer (1546-1601) who worked in the observatory on the island of Hven. The names of their observatories are proof of this continuity: Tycho’s was named Uraniborg and Hevelius’s Sternenburg. Another scholar from Gdansk and a pioneer of thermometry, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736), worked together with Ole Romer in Copenhagen (1644-1710).

In 1795, Dane Soren Bjorn began to plant trees on the moving dunes of Stogi. The operation was gradual – with breaks during the Napoleonic era – and lasted until 1829. By that time, the forests extended all the way to Krakowiec. In the 1820s, Bjorn’s son built an inn on the western side of the beautiful Forest Lake, the German name of which (Heidsee) was polonised after the war and changed to Empty Lake, a name which is completely unfounded.

The first headmasters of the Gdansk Navigation School (founded in 1817), the first of its kind in Prussia (and in the Polish lands), were Danes. Initially, the acting headmaster was the school’s organiser, Ludolf Herman Tobiesen, succeeded in 1819 by Commodore Michael Bille, a long-time officer of the Danish navy and a lecturer at the Danish Maritime Academy. During his administration of the school (in 1826), it acquired a new building on Karpia Street (which, unfortunately, has not survived to modern times), and the number of students grew from 40 to 120. His successor was Norwegian Hain Lous (1838-1842), who in turn was succeeded by Dane Dierckinck Holmfeld.