A local friend of mine offered to take me on a walking history tour here in Szczecin . He suggested that we meet at the statue of the prince and princess that stands outside the castle gate . And , so we did . What prince and princess I forget , if I ever knew ; but I knew where they stood , and they made a good meeting place .
We walked a hundred yards or so away from the statue , to the corner of the castle , and my guide , Przemek , pointed out the scene of a terrible tram accident in the 1960s . It happened early in the morning . There were three tram cars loaded with about five hundred people , most of them probably shipyard workers headed to work . The tram failed to make the sharp turn at the bottom of the hill . The second car hit a light post and broke in two .
Przemek explained the event step by step , pointing out the specific places , as if it had happened yesterday . There is a freeway nearby the scene today that hadn’t been there in the 1960s , but with his explanation I could visualize the tram accident . The tracks were changed following the disaster , he told me . They were removed .
We were standing on the parapet of the castle , where repair work is now going on . Premek pointed to cannon mounts on the walls . ” Do you remember the cannons ? ” he asked . They were mounted on the castle wall and have been removed during renovation work . Yes , I remember the cannons .
” This brings us to disaster number two , ” he said . He told me about the area just below the walls , down by the river . In past years it had been an open area used as a Sunday market , where people gathered for a little trading and relaxation on Sundays . One Sunday in the early 1970s , during special festivities , young soldiers were assigned to fire the cannons as part of the celebrations . One of the ancient iron cannons blew apart when fired . Premek described the results .
We then walked a few hundred yards further , away from but near the castle . Catherine the Great was born in a house nearby . Premek pointed the house out to me , but our tour was a disaster tour , so we moved along .
It’s good to have a local man tell tales of the city he loves and has lived in all of his life .
And then we came to the plaza where tragic events happened in 1970 , where people were killed and the Communist Party headquarters building was burned . The Solidarity movement ten years later used these events to trace the historical changes in Polish government . Nowadays there is a museum in the plaza area and the sculpture of an angel on the spot . Usually in America we hear of happenings in Gdansk , of Lech Walesa , etc. , connected with Solidarity , but not of events in Sczcecin .
Szczecin was a major shipbuilding center at the time , however . The Szczecin shipyard workers’ union struck , as shipyard workers did in Gdansk , and major historical changes began to take place in Poland .
Przemek summarized the events in December of 1970 for me , and then we moved on up the street to the scene of the Cascada fire . There is a shopping mall on the spot now , called Cascada .
We were having a good time , though , my friend Przemek and I , two history buffs , walking and talking about the city’s past . We both appreciate knowing the value of being aware of from where you’ve come . Maybe it makes us appreciate what we have now a little more .