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 an underground museum.
In 1876, Alfred Nobel & Company changed its name to Dynamitaktiengesellschaft (DAG). Alfred Nobel & Co was 11 years younger, founded by its namesake and 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.
Building the complex
Over the next 6 years, more than 1,000 buildings, 400 kilometers (250 miles) of underground passageways and 40 kilometers of underground railroads emerged over a 23 square acre site. Some 30,000 to 40,000 workers, many of local concentration camps and Poles from surrounding villages, built the massive compound and its dangerous merchandise under force.
The spread layout and underground character of the factory had two purposes. It offered camouflage from spy planes and it protected and safeguarded other buildings in case of an inline explosion. Many of the underground tunnels and buildings still remain and have recently become an eerie, walk-through museum.
The expansive character of the museum happens along a 2-kilometer route and follows underground tunnels through various ammunition production facilities. Here 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 thee German occupation of Poland, the Nazis removed or destroyed symbol tied to Polish independence. Depictions of national pride, culture, or history—on buildings or in homes—were crushed by the unwelcome invaders. There was even ban on the Polish language in some places.
The Poles didn’t take this well. In 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 hided in plain sight, on a downspout of the roof gutter that surrounds the church. The gutter is from 1919 by a master roofer named Louis Sosnowski. Adding the eagle symbolizes Poland’s post-World War 1 independence following the fall of the German Empire.
The symbolic eagle gained even more sentimental value throughout World War II, 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 they celebrate their clean record with suds and soot 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. It covers 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 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. It was also a way for the devil to enter your soul. And if the Devil didn’t get you, illness would. It was widely believed that nudity and letting the water touch you could make you sick. The latter believe linked to prostitution in public baths.
Over the centuries, soap-making techniques made their way to Europe from farther east. Washing entered into cultural norms. By the 1700’s, attitudes about hygiene and modern medicine began to change. The virtues of keeping yourself clean were promoted. This led to the commercial manufacturing of soap, and the burgeoning industry that thrived in Bydgoszcz. Where it was already a clean, old friend.