Authentic pre-war monuments are hard to find in Elbląg’s Old Town. Fierce battles fought in the winter of 1945 turned the city into a rubble heap. The formerly beautiful district was mostly rebuilt in the form of so-called retroversion, i.e. new buildings containing elements loosely referring to the buildings of that time. The reconstruction of the Gothic tenement house at 34 Studzienna Street is an example of one of the few relatively faithful reconstructions to the original. Today they are a reminder of Elbląg’s rich history.
The original brick building was erected on this site around 1390. It was one of the few Gothic houses in the Old Town that did not face the street with its gable wall, but with its ridge. It was therefore a so-called transverse house (“Querhaus”). In the building at the former Wilhelmstr. 56, which still belonged to the former Dominican monastery, August Terletzki founded an organ-building workshop in 1857, which became famous far beyond Elbing and was also the oldest organ-building workshop of its kind in north-east Germany. Despite being rebuilt and modernised several times (including plastering the façade, replastering window openings and adding neo-Gothic elements), the building has retained its Gothic character. The interiors, with the great hallway at the forefront, have also survived without major changes.
34 Studziena Street. by Kownatzki Hermann Brückenkopf Elbing, Elbing: Preussenverlag, 1936 Source: Polon Digital National Library
During World War II, the entire economic and social life of Elbing was subordinated to its needs, but the city remained untouched until the end of the conflict. The first Soviet troops approached the city on 23 January 1945. In a short time it was surrounded from three sides. Heavy fighting then began. Elbląg was occupied by the Red Army on 10 February 1945. A fierce exchange of fire turned the beautiful city into dust. The historic buildings of the Old Town and the city centre were destroyed. Human losses were difficult to determine. Many of the pre-war inhabitants of Elbląg drowned during their panicky escape to the West across the Vistula Lagoon.
Aerial photograph of Elbląg in 1944 and 2022. Most of the buildings visible today were built after the war. Source: National Collection of Aerial Photography and Google Maps
Zygmunt August Boulevard around 1930 and in 2008. Source: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons and Benhamburg at wikivoyage shared, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The tenement house at 34 Studzienna Street was burnt down and did not live to see reconstruction after the war. Its ruins, like the entire development quarter, were eventually razed to the ground. In 2015, a private investor rebuilt part of the Studzienna Street frontage. The new development had to meet the general dimensional requirements set by the conservation officer. The more valuable buildings in the development plan were envisaged to be reconstructed, in accordance with the state before the destruction. The Gothic house, however, returned to Elbląg’s Old Town in an idealised version, cleared of later additions and close to its original medieval form. The building structure was made of reinforced concrete, with thermal insulation. The façade and some of the interior walls were faced with brick in the Gothic style.
Reconstruction of a gothic tenement house in Elbląg – the building circa 1920 and today. Source: Deutsche Fotothek and Marek W./fotopolska.eu
The basement of the tenement during the period when the organ-building workshop operated there. Source: Elbinger Nachrichten Uelzen/Münster and Marek W./fotopolska.eu
The building is one of several reconstructions in Elbląg’s Old Town – alongside the Hotel pod Lwem on Kowalska Street and the Royal House on the Old Market Square. There are plans to reconstruct several more tenement houses in the Old Town, where few buildings survived the war and the post-war demolitions. The construction of a new centre, on the old street grid and in the style of a postmodern revival, is widely celebrated in architectural history circles around the world.
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