The first time I met my friend Rafal, I noticed his necktie bedecked with a subtle heraldic pattern. “I gather you’re German,” says young Cusack, summoning his Sherlockian deductive genius. “What makes you say that?” “The coat of arms on your tie: it’s Danzig.” “Actually I am Polish, and it’s Gdańsk!”
Well, so much for my deductive powers, (and Rafal is a secret wannabe-German anyhow) but the arms and flag of the Baltic city — once German, now Polish — combine the usual strong characteristics of any design: simplicity and beauty.
Danzig has a very complicated history, torn between Germany and Poland. It first gained independence as a Napoleonic client state from 1807 til 1814. After the First World War, it was again granted autonomy as a free city under the protection of the League of Nations. Despite being overwhelmingly German in population, the Poles desired access to the city for its port facilities, which the somewhat awkward autonomous status provided them. The Free City of Danzig was taken over by the Nazis in 1933, but the Third Reich waited until the Invasion of Poland in 1939 to formally incorporate it into Germany.
At the Yalta conference, the Allies awarded the city to Poland, and the overwhelming majority of its German population either fled or faced expulsion, to be replaced by Poles from the parts of Eastern Poland annexed by the Soviet Union.
You can read more about the arms of Danzig/Gdańsk here.
Above, the arms of the Free City of Danzig, below those of today’s Gdańsk.