The most populous post-communist member of the European Union, Poland is a major player in the reconciliation of the old continent. Its territory was central to much of the political Poland had an troubled history in the decades leading up to the Second World War and it was to suffer terribly during the war itself, with an estimated six million Poles loosing their lives and almost 90% of the Polish Jewish population was annihilated.
It was liberated by the Soviet Union who then dominated the country during the Cold War years. In the 1980s, the independent Solidarnosc (Solidarity) trade union movement, born in the shipyards of Gdansk, gave an early impetus towards to the fall of the Iron Curtain across the Eastern Block.
The Solidarnosc (Solidarity) Union was set up in the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland regained full sovereignty and the intervening years have seen the country develop rapidly. It joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. There remain many reminders of its turbulant twentieth century history, many of which can be explored along EuroVelo 13 - Iron Curtain Trail.
Both the First and the Second World Wars were devastating for the country. In World War I, the country was transformed into a big battlefield. During World War II, it was once again attacked on both sides. The Nazi occupation of Poland was particularly brutal and some 6 million Poles died during the war. By the end of the war it had extended its western border to the west, with the backing of the Soviet Union. During the following years a communist regime was established under the control of the Soviet Union. Following the expansion of NATO to West Germany in 1954, the Warsaw Pact was signed in 1955. This collective defence treaty laid the foundations for a lasting and entrenched Cold War period.
Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, it was from within that the change was to come. In 1980, the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) Union was set up in the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk. It was the first trade union in a Warsaw Pact country that was not controlled by the Communist Party. Membership reached 10 million in 1981, equivalent to a third of the working age population of Poland.
Polish Tourism Organisation (PTO)
The Polish National Tourism Office provides a good introduction to cycling in Poland, including an overview of some of the main cycling regions and routes.
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