The history of Westerplatte
The Westerplatte spa
The first holiday homes began to sprout on Westerplatte already in the mid-19th century, and there was an inn where guests could eat and spend the night. Westerplatte was a calm locality for rest and bathing until the 1880s, when the numbers of buildings and guests grew gradually from year to year. It developed vigorously in the 1880s and 1890s, and its appearance and character changed significantly. The small local bathing spot was transformed into a resort and health spa with close to 140,000 visitors annually.
A Gdańsk-based sailing company, the Vistula-Gdańsk Steamship Navigation and Seaside Resort Joint-Stock Company (Weichsel-Danziger Dampfschifffahrt und See-Bad Actien Gesellschaft), gave the impulse to this transformation. It constructed the 120-m. long Emperor’s Pier (Kaisersteg) on Westerplatte, with a marina for excursion ships, bathrooms for ladies, gentlemen and families, a spa building with a restaurant, a beach hall, a hotel, curative baths, tennis courts and a bowling alley.
Rest and therapy
In the summer season, the beaches of Westerplatte filled with multilingual and colourful crowds of visitors who came, often with their entire families, from various corners of the German Reich and the Kingdom of Poland, as well as from Gdańsk. They bathed in separate bathing areas for gentlemen, ladies and families, and afterwards rested in beach baskets.
Westerplatte was quickly transformed into a spa whose charms could be enjoyed year-round. Visitors not only bathed in the sea but also took medicinal baths (including brine, mud, sulphur, sitz baths, swing baths and those with spruce needle extracts, carbonic acid or iron). These treatments were to help treat kidney disease, anaemia, paralysis, women’s problems and rheumatism. Apart from taking sea and medicinal baths, the spa guests could pass the time walking or riding wagonettes on the beautiful promenades and paths marked out in the thick forest, which covered the peninsula all the way to Wisłoujście. Strolling along, for example, Linden or Birch Avenue, they could admire the original architecture of the spa buildings and their beautiful fountain-decorated gardens, in which concerts were often held. Wandering further, they passed through thick alder and beech groves, reaching the beaches. There, the broad pier encouraged visitors to continue strolling until, at its tip, they were rewarded with fabulous views. Walks on the beach, all the way to the stone blocks of the breakwaters shielding the entrance to Gdańsk harbour, offered another fabulous experience.
The grim neighbours
Yet views which had nothing to do with rest and recreation interrupted the idyllic walks and the sea- and landscapes. The ammunition shelters and coastal artillery positions being constructed on Westerplatte virtually alongside the spa buildings were conspicuous. Walking in the direction of the harbour canal, visitors might even come upon the remains of entrenchments from the second half of the 18th century, which had been constructed on the orders of Frederick the Great and expanded in the Napoleonic era and in the mid-19th century.
The twilight of the spa
The first sign of the waning splendour of Westerplatte was the drop in the number of visitors during the First World War. The uncertain situation that arose around Gdańsk even after the fighting ended did not favour en masse trips to this Baltic seaside. The spa’s best years were gradually being left behind, and it gradually reverted to being a local bathing beach. In 1919 the Polish Bank of the Union of For-Profit Cooperatives from Poznań became the owner of some of its land. A League of Nations resolution in 1924, which assigned the peninsula to Poland to construct its Military Transit Depot on it, put an end to the spa.