Samstag, 17.04.2021 05:30 Uhr

Baltic Diary 4/4 - He stopped the Sun and moved the Earth

Verantwortlicher Autor: Jochen Raffelberg Frombork (Frauenburg), 13.11.2019, 16:11 Uhr
Nachricht/Bericht: +++ Reise & Tourismus +++ Bericht 6588x gelesen
At dawn: Frombork Cathedral Hill where Copernicus changed our view of the universe
At dawn: Frombork Cathedral Hill where Copernicus changed our view of the universe   Bild: Jochen Raffelberg

Frombork (Frauenburg) [ENA] Leaving behind Kaliningrad I had crossed the exclave’s border with Poland and was cycling on the E28 highway towards Frombork. The tiring headwinds persisted. A police officer near Pęciszewo whisked me off the carriageway and advised a shortcut to Gronowo, the first village behind the frontier.

From Gronowo (the former Grunau) I continued via country roads along the Vistula Lagoon (Frisches Haff), some ten kilometers to the west. Cycling and all other traffic to Poland via the Vistula Spit is impossible for lack of border checkpoints on the peninsula. Instead I passed the villages of Rodow, Mloteczno and Siedlisko before arriving in Braniewo (Braunsberg), a town in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship (Ermland-Masuren). Not only did the wind slow me down, a multitude of one-lane roadworks added dangerous hazards on my way to Frombork. Thanks God before dusk the spires of the Frombork cathedral at long last peeked over the rolling Masurian hills and half an hour later I had my first pint of beer at the Kopernik Hotel.

An early dinner and a sumptuous breakfast at the Kopernik (45 euro, including the room) made me forget the previous day’s grueling ride from Russia. Before touring the home of Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer and mathematician whose heliocentric theory was condemned by the Catholic Church as heretical, the breakfast buffet including marinated herring, salmon, a variety of eggs, Russian and beetroot salads, meat, sausages plus white and brown bread galvanized me for things to come. Since the professional hotel staff went out of their way to cater for their guests’ whims I donated my bicycle to them, as a token of appreciation. Also I had intended its disposal anyway since I couldn’t take it on my return flight.

The former owners of my hotel were Germans © J Raffelberg
Copernicus watching his workplace on Cathedral Hill from Frombork market © J Raffelberg
Belfry on Cathedral Hill with a Foucault’s pendulum © J Raffelberg

The encyclopedia informs that Frombork is a Polish fishing village on the Vistula Lagoon not far from Gdansk. Formerly part of Prussia and later Germany, it had been known by its German name Frauenburg from the Middle Ages until 1945. The Renaissance canon and scientist Copernicus, born in Torun in 1473, worked in Frombork until his death in 1543. Copernicus changed our view of the universe by proposing that the earth was not its center but that together with the other planets the earth orbited the sun. This made the man from Masuria whose final version of his theory De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri did not appear in print until 1543, one of the heralds of the early modern period of modern history.

The Catholic Church for several decades did not object to his theory and it was ironically left to early Protestants like Melanchthon to criticize the work of Copernicus, “who moves the earth and stops the sun,” as “absurd”. The local tourism office says that Cathedral Hill, although many times destructed and reconstructed had retained basic elements of its Middle Age architectural conception. Its centerpiece and oldest building is the Gothic Basilica of Our Lady Mary and St. Andrew Apostle from 1329. One epitaph in its nave has been attributed to the unmarried Copernicus thought to have been an ordained priest in Frombork. Other places of note include the Copernicus Tower and the Belfry with a Foucault’s pendulum.

Copernicus lived and worked on Cathedral Hill for many years © J Raffelberg
The astronomer and cantor is said to be buried inside the Cathedral © J Raffelberg

The putative remains of Copernicus were found in 2004 after several attempts over the centuries at finding them at his Cathedral had failed. Hairs from one of the canon’s books had matched the DNA of bones recovered from beneath the Church seemingly confirming his identity. The Independent daily wrote in 2010 that Copernicus had been “reburied by Polish priests as a hero” 467 years after he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave. His reburial in a tomb in the cathedral where he once had served as a church canon and doctor indicated how far the church had come in making peace with the scientist. He had spent years laboring in his free time developing his theory, which was later condemned as heretical by the church.

Since my bicycle days had ended in Frombork a week after I had set out on my trip from Lithuania, I managed the last leg Frombork-Elblag (Elbing)-Gdansk (Danzig) by bus in just under two hours – still far longer than the flight home. Gdansk is a popular and picturesque port city on the Baltic Sea, which in contrast to Kaliningrad has been restored to its former beauty. The Second World War started near here 80 years ago. In the Old Town, close to the city’s most famous landmark, the Crane Gate (Krantor), a gallery selling art works by Guenter Grass, the Danzig-born German sculptor and novelist (recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature), attracted my interest. I also climbed the 409 steps of the St Mary Basilica’s steeple.

The demanding ascent is rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree view from the 82-meter tower over the city and its hinterland. In the distance I spotted Lech Walesa’s former Lenin Shipyard where he and his colleagues started the Solidarność Union in 1980 to successfully fight the Communist regime in Poland. During my days in Gdansk I stayed at the central Gdansk Boutique Hotel, nestled in a 17th century warehouse and located opposite the Krantor on the River Motlawa (Mottlau). Although room rates of around 100 euro posed a drain on my budget I enjoyed the visit after many a discomfort of my cycling tour.

World famous landmark in Gdansk: the Krantor © J Raffelberg
The Gdansk Old Town fully restored after WWII © J Raffelberg
View from St Mary's Cathedral over Gdansk © J Raffelberg
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