Not that long ago, we visited Toruń for the first time and came across the Center of Modernity: Windmill of Knowledge. That museum is heavily focused on science and pays much-deserved tribute to the great Nicolaus Copernicus. This time though, our visit to Toruń turned out to be equally interesting as we discovered a great place to stimulate our taste buds: The Living Museum of Gingerbread, which is the only such place in Europe. The Museum is located in the historic tenement house in the oldest part of the city and close to the neighborhoods of the Old Town, New Town and the Castle. We were also lucky enough to ask several questions to the founder of the Museum — Andrzej Olszewski.
So where did the idea of creating such place came from? When did it all start?
It started over a dozen years ago, because of a coincidence, unfortunately including some quite sad circumstances. I had to find a new professional goal for my life. I began to analyze the business trends in Poland and Europe. All the macroeconomic indicators showed the growth in the sectors of tourism and service. I have started thinking how we can use that in Toruń, a city of such a rich history, including five hundred years of gingerbread tradition. Naturally, an idea of creating such Museum of Gingerbread appeared. We didn’t want to set a place that would be classically about showcases and slippers. That’s why we bet on the interactivity as the base for the Museum. It all supposed to start with collective preparing the gingerbread dough, kneading it, then baking so each of our visitors could leave the Museum with their very own, still warm, souvenir gingerbread cookie in their hand.
What does it mean that the Museum calls itself a „narrative one?” What can guests expect?
In our Museum you don’t follow a strict route, walking from one exhibit to another. Firstly, our visitors enter our medieval bakery and they’re immediately taken on the journey to Toruń from the Middle Ages. They get to know the histories about the spices or about the origins of gingerbread recipes. Most of all, they get to know the oldest one! Everything is just a preparation for baking the gingerbread the way they were doing it five hundred years ago. Then, our guests are taken to the bakery from the beginning of twentieth century, where they are introduced to the gingerbread baking methods from that period as well as they can find out plenty of practical tips about decorating the gingerbread cookies with the royal frosting. Everyone who’s interested can take part in the brief training to later on decorate the cookies with colorful frostings.
Is there any special gingerbread legend?
Yes, and there is more than one! There is one about the journeyman Bogumił, who once saved the life of the queen of bees. The queen was so grateful to Bogumił that she advised him to add a little bit of honey to the gingerbread dough before baking it. There is one about Kathryn (Katarzyna in Polish), a daughter of a baking master, who wanted to prepare the gingerbread medallions and she created the first „Katarzynki.” She put the gingerbread medallions too close on the baking try and in the over the medallion mixed together creating a shape of joined hearts. There is one about Kathryn who slept so long that her dough for gingerbread got hard as rock. There is one about the nun Kathryn, who saved people of Toruń from hunger by feeding them with gingerbread cookies. There is many, many more.
So what’s the greatest attraction of the Museum?
The experience itself… The stimulation of the senses and emotions… When our guests enter the Museum they can forget about their everyday life, they are transferred to the different world. They can touch everything, they can smell everything. They biggest attraction is the experience, the feelings, the association with them and, most of all, the handmade gingerbread cookie that will stay with them forever. They can always remember the pleasant work in the bakery and smile, while recalling the memory.
It’s important to know that each tour is led by the Gingerbread Master and Spicy Witch (!). Witch is the right hand of the Master and not everyone knows that in Polish the word „witch/wiedźma” comes from „wiedza” that is „knowledge”. The Witch has a great knowledge of spices and herbs. That team of highly qualified animators make the gingerbread experience even better. The Museum also runs its own little shop, where everyone can buy the souvenirs, gingerbread or baking molds that are beautifully carved in the wood of fruit trees. No worries if you didn’t have enough time to buy a little something at the Museum, there is also an online shop operating.
The Living Museum of Gingerbread has a quite rich list of achievements. In 2016, they managed to establish the record of Poland at baking the largest shape-heard gingerbread cookie. The cookie was about twelve meters square and was about 238 kilograms! Everyone in Toruń was helping with baking and decorating that sweet giant! The Museum has also achieved several prestigious distinctions, including a National Geographic Traveler Competition for the „New Seven Miracle of Poland” in 2012; it was also named as one of the ten the most interesting museums in Poland in 2016. In 2015, it was nominated by The Huffington Post as one of the places in the world (!) that you must visit. Thanks to its uniqueness, the Museum is often referred as the best place to see in Toruń either by TripAdvisor or Polish Organization of Tourism.
We should also mention that the whole visit in the Museum takes about eighty minutes and the shows start at on the hour. It’s best to book the trip in advance as there is limited number of seats for the baking shows. Due to the historical value of the building, there is possibility of having maximum sixty people on the tour.
The founders of the Museum discovered a way to capture the great tradition and the symbol of the city of Toruń. Through baking and tasting you get a chance to find out about the historical and mythical side of it. Everyone leaves the Museum with a beautiful souvenir that was they actually prepared themselves!
There is nothing more to add - The Living Museum of Gingerbread is an absolute must when you are traveling across northern Poland. Stop by for some great baking experience!