Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Fountain of Neptune in Gdansk

I like fountains. But not the tacky, choreographed ones spewing out hectoliters of water for no apparent reason other than the owners showing off they can afford it, like the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I’m more of a Manneken Pis kind of girl. And I'm pretty sure there’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m not quite sure where.
But yeah, show me a statue of a naked guy (or an almost naked guy, because a strategically positioned fig leaf is OK too, or an almost guy, because the little pisser in Brussels is more of an overgrown toddler variety) discharging vast amounts of liquid and I’ll be happily amusing myself for hours. Snapping pictures, of course. What did you think, huh?

And that brings us to the most famous fountain in Gdansk (or rather Gdańsk, as they spell it over here), if not in all of Poland. The Neptune on Długi Targ Street. I always get confused whether it’s Długi Targ Street or Długa Street, those names are too similar for my liking. And it IS confusing, because I just looked it up on the map, and Długa actually morphs into Długi Targ.

Anyway, back to the fountain. The legend goes that the good merchants of Gdansk traveled a bit, sold stuff here and there, and apparently liked what they saw in the distant lands, especially in Italy. And they decided they wanted to have their own statue of a naked man brandishing a pitchfork, I mean a trident. Inspired by the fountains of the Sea God in Florence and in Bologna, they erected their own. You know, just to show the world what a classy and up with the times place Gdansk was.

They put something together and plopped it in the middle of the street (or a donkey tract, not sure if they had proper streets back then) in 1550, give or take a year. But a few years later, it wasn’t fancy enough for their liking anymore. So the good merchants of Gdansk hired a bunch of Flemish guys to create something with more flair and bigger private parts (judging by the size of their cover). Fortunately, one of the Flemish guys happened to be Abraham van den Block (or was it Blocke? different sources give different spellings), a rather famous sculptor back then.

Actually, there was a whole family of very artistic van den Blocks, who by some magnificent coincidence, decided to settle in Gdansk. And they were not the only ones. Hordes of Dutch and Germans moved to Gdansk back in those olden, golden days. It was a very trendy place full of very trendy people. I’m not surprised they wanted to have their own trendy Neptune fountain. Another famous guy with a vaguely foreign name – Jan Roggen, a very talented ironworker, added the gate and the city coat of arms. Anyway, in 1633, the new and improved Neptune was turned on and started bringing forth streams of cold water.

But as with all new toys, after a while they become old toys and the poor Neptune was no exception. By 1759, it was rotten and nasty, and probably would have crumbled to nothing, if not for a bored dude named Jan Karol Stender. He not only had a lot of time, but also a lot of money, and so he used both to return the fountain to its former glory. In the process, he upgraded the ornaments making them more rococo. Because, you know, you can never have enough rococo. Right? (At least that's what my very fabulous French hair dresser used to say).

Neptune 1

Anyway, all was well until right before the war, from what I heard from really old people, the fountain was viciously vandalized in 1935. Or was it 1936? Not sure. The person telling me the story in heavily accented German wasn’t sure herself. She used to live in Gdansk as a child and left with her family for Germany right before WW2 started. Or was it soon after WW2 started? She wasn't sure either.

I ran into her on Długi Targ, or rather, she being a half-blind, old lady, bumped into me, made me drop my camera and instead of apologizing cursed me out in Bavarian. I cursed her out in Hochdeutsch and  we had no choice but to start talking. She was on a package trip with her old lady care home group from whatever Bavarian village it is that she lives in now. And as it usually happens with old ladies, she was simply delighted to have someone listen to her stories. Or, if not listen, then at least pretend to listen to her stories, because let's face it, Bavarian is not my first choice of a foreign language.

What happened to the fountain after the war? The lady wasn’t so sure, so I looked it up on the internet. It was restored, or rather - reconstructed, because from what I understood, not much was left of it after the war, and returned to its current place in front of that pretty white building on July 22, 1954. And it’s been there ever since doing what fountains normally do. Sometimes even wearing a scarf during colder weather.

And that’s the story of the fountain of Neptune, which is THE symbol of Gdansk as far as I'm concerned, as told to me by an old monk who lives on some mountaintop somewhere, I mean an old lady who lives in a care home in Germany somewhere, which is practically the same thing.

Neptune 3

PS. And my Sony Alpha? Survived the fall, but had to go to a camera hospital for some TLC. I'm picking it up next week.

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