Ratusz staromiejski
Ratusz staromiejski. Fot. Kapitel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Old Town Hall in Malbork – a Gothic monument in the middle of a block of flats

The Old Town Hall in Malbork is one of the handful of monuments that survived in the local Old Town after the tragic destruction of the Second World War. After 1945, the burnt-out and partially damaged townhouses were demolished and the bricks obtained were used to rebuild other Old Towns. Today, the medieval town hall stands in the middle of a block of flats that was erected in place of the townhouses. Recently, renovation work began on it, which the building had been waiting for for many years.

The Old Town Hall was built between 1365 and 1380 in Gothic style, on the site of an earlier building. It was reconstructed at the end of the 15th century (after the damage suffered in 1457-1460, during the Thirteen Years’ War) and in 1901 (after the tragic town fire of July 1899).

The market square and town hall in Malbork on a lithograph from 1839. Photo: Heinrich Wilhelm Teichgräber – http://digital.ub.uni-duesseldorf.de/ihd/content/titleinfo/4011828

The two-storey building was built on a rectangular plan, with a basement. It has a gabled roof with two decorative gables and a turret in the middle of the ridge. Destroyed in the fire of 1899, the roof was rebuilt by Bernhard Schmid, who placed a cross, a ball and a flag with the date 1686 on the turret that had been saved from the fire. The turret also housed a bell that was cast in 1407. The first floor of the building housed the council chambers and benches. The Gothic-vaulted cellars housed the “Ratskeller” restaurant from the 19th century onwards, with the Paul von Hindenburg Memorial Room opened in 1925 on the initiative of the mayor. Until 1919, the building served the needs of the municipal government, and after its relocation to the New Town Hall, part of the premises were used by the police.

Old Town Hall, 1926 and present appearance. Source: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg i Kapitel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the years of World War II, the town hall was the place of death for Poles, tormented by the Gestapo in the local cellars. As a result of the battles fought for Malbork in early 1945 by the Red Army and the Wehrmacht, 80% of the building fabric was destroyed. The city was then incorporated into Poland and the German population was displaced. After the war, the gradual removal of war damage amounted to the systematic demolition of the remains of the city’s buildings. The recovered bricks were given to rebuild the Old Towns in Warsaw and Gdansk. The only relics that were decided to be rebuilt were the parish church, the town hall, the two city gates and fragments of the defensive walls. Today, the Old Town in Malbork is occupied by a settlement of four-storey blocks of flats with loose buildings. However, the orientational layout of the medieval streets with a long market square and farm streets has been preserved.

View of the Old Town, postcard from the early 20th century and current appearance. Source: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg and mamik/photopolska.eu, Licence: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Today, the town hall houses the Municipal House of Culture “Ratusz”. In the lower storey one can admire the extensive arcades and in the upper storey there are pointed-arch niches with windows. The walls are decorated with battlements, there are overhanging turrets and decorative gables in the corners. There is a neo-Gothic lantern on the roof. The Malbork local government had been trying for years to obtain grants to save the historic building, unfortunately without success for a long time. Finally, shortly before last year’s elections, it managed to receive PLN 3.2 million from the Government Programme for the Rebuilding of Monuments.

The Town Hall in 1945 and 2013. Source: http://www.archiwa.gov.pl and Sławomir Milejski, CC BY-SA 3.0 PL, via Wikimedia Commons

It will cost several times that amount to restore the town hall to its former glory, but it will be enough for the most urgent works. The work has started with a thorough repair of the roof to stop damp penetrating the medieval walls. The money will also be used to partially restore the town hall’s façade and rebuild the former fountain in front of the building, including the restoration of the statue standing there. The installation was unveiled on 30 May 1926 through the efforts of the Malbork Shooting Fraternity. The stone pedestal, made by stonemason Hermann Still, survived, but the figure of the crossbowman by sculptor Walter Rosenberg from Königsberg did not. It will be reconstructed using 3D technology.

The Malbork local government is on the lookout for further opportunities to raise extra-budgetary funds for further work on the town hall.

Source: visitmalbork.pl, zawszepomorze.pl

Read also: Architecture in Poland | Interesting facts | History | City | Monument | whiteMAD on Instagram

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