The Exploseum Bydgoszcz
Outside of one of Poland’s largest cities, down an old dirt path in the middle of a forest, are the abandoned remains of one of Nazi Germany’s largest ammunition plants. Today, it’s been turned into an underground museum.
In 1876, Alfred Nobel & Company changed its name to Dynamitaktiengesellschaft (DAG). Alfred Nobel & Co was founded just eleven years earlier by its namesake and successfully developed the stable explosive, dynamite, launching Nobel and his company to eternal fame.
Fast forward more than half a century to World War II and the German company’s primary products had switched to explosives and ammunition for the Nazi military. In occupied Poland in 1939, with the aid of Nazi government grants, DAG began construction on a new facility outside Bydgoszcz with the primary purpose of increasing production and aiding the war effort.
Over the next 6 years, more than 1,000 buildings, 400 kilometers (250 miles) of underground passageways and 40 kilometers of underground railroads were built over a 23 square acre site. Some 30,000 to 40,000 workers, many of local concentration camps and Poles from surrounding villages, were forced to build the massive compound and its dangerous merchandise.
The spread layout and underground character of the factory had two purposes: to offer camouflage from spy planes and to offer protection and safeguard other buildings in case of an inline explosion. Many of the underground tunnels and buildings still remain and have recently been turned into an eerie, walkable museum.
The expansive character of the museum happens along a 2-kilometer route and follows dimly lit underground tunnels through various ammunition production facilities where visitors learn about Alfred Nobel, his company, the events leading up to the war and life for Polish residents during the German occupation. It continues with exhibits on the forced laborers, weapons used during the war, and a history of major conflicts. One of the last rooms finishes on a somber note as it touches on the future of modern war and the world annihilating weapons that could destroy us all.
Fara Church Bydgoszcz
During World War II and the occupation of Poland by Germany, symbols that were tied to Polish independence were removed or destroyed by the Nazis. Depictions of national pride, culture, or history—on buildings or in homes—were crushed by the unwelcome invaders. In some places, even the Polish language was banned.
Unsurprisingly, the Poles—who revered the banned symbols of their heritage—did not take this well. In the city of Bydgoszcz, on the outside of the famous Fara Church, there is one symbol that survived, overlooked by the Germans: a Polish White Eagle from the nation’s coat of arms.
The eagle was hidden in plain sight, on a downspout of the roof gutter that surrounds the church. The gutter had been installed in 1919 by a master roofer named Louis Sosnowski, and the eagle was added to symbolize Poland’s post-World War 1 independence following the fall of the German Empire.
The symbolic eagle gained even more sentimental value throughout the Second World War, as locals would often come to the church, look up in secret and pay tribute to this relic of national identity, untouched and unseen by the enemy all around.
To this day it remains an emblem of the struggle and pride of the people who fought back for Polish independence once again.
Museum of Soap and History of Dirt Bydgoszcz
With regular bathing frowned upon, medieval Europe was not known for its standards of hygiene. There was at least one exception though: the Polish city of Bydgoszcz, where their clean record with suds and soot is celebrated at the Museum of Soap and History of Dirt.
Opened in 2012 and the first of its kind, the museum honors Bydgoszcz’s salubrious past and long tradition of quality soap manufacturing, from centuries-old versions made of mutton fat and olive oil, to modern laundry flakes like Persil and Cypisek.
Records from the 14th century show there was also a popular bath called “Plugawy” (translation, “Filthy”) in Bydgoszcz, on historic Wyspa Młyńska (Mill Island) in the Brda River. Although a single attendant ran it, Plugawy was a full-service spa for the people of Bydgoszcz where you could not only bathe, but get your rotten teeth pulled, get deloused, and have a good leech-activated blood-letting.
But all was not so clean at Plugawy. The general consensus at the time saw bathing as a form of sexual debauchery and a way for the Devil to enter your soul. And if the Devil didn’t get you, illness probably would, as it was widely believed that being naked and letting the water touch you could make you sick (a belief perhaps linked to prostitution in public baths).
Over the centuries, soap-making techniques slowly made their way to Europe from farther east, and washing entered into cultural norms. By the 1700's, attitudes about hygiene and modern medicine began to change, and the virtues of keeping yourself clean were touted. This eventually led to the commercial manufacturing of soap, and the burgeoning industry that thrived in Bydgoszcz—where it was already a clean, old friend.