From the outside, it looks like just about any other small shop in Gdansk’s tourist-filled old town center. But inside the Old Toys Gallery, or Galeria Starych Zabawek, are three rooms filled with some of the city’s most mischievous 20th century history.
More specifically, it’s a collection of some 4,000 toys produced in Poland from 1920-1989 — the only museum of its kind in the country. Browsing the dozens of glass-cased shelves offers up plenty of sentimentality. But there’s also valuable insight as well into the varied periods of Poland’s recent past.
The collection, a labor of love for owner Wojciech Szymanski, who’s been piecing it together for the past 15 years, spans the gamut, from dolls, doll houses and stuffed animals to cars, guns, farm equipment and board games.
The craftsmanship of the older pieces, some of the dolls in particular, is exemplary. The ‘create your own’ doll kits stood out, as did a small but real motorbike designed for kids –decades before Barbie cars took over the sidewalks and cul de sacs of suburbia in the west.
My trip down memory lane?
Some of the examples, the cheaper plastic ones, reminded me of what was for sale during my summer visits to 1970s Yugoslavia, from small cheap cars and musical instruments to dolls with bad hair and dislocated shoulders. Then there were the intricate model trains, the serious toys, well-crafted and engineered. I wish I still had mine.
Be warned: I planned to stay about ten minutes, and wound up browsing for nearly an hour. Child-time takes over.
Note about the photos: no flash or tripod allowed, so given the somewhat dark conditions, the colors rendered here aren’t one hundred percent accurate. Enjoy!
Admission: 8 PLN (1.85 EUR/ 2.10 USD on 26 Jul 2016); additional 25 PLN (5.75 EUR/ 6.50 USD) if you want to take photos.