The third life of the Party House - Enigma Cipher Center in Poznan

Kuba Głaz
11 of October '21

Science, reason and logic have been dedicated to Poznan's new heritage interpretation site. The Enigma Cipher Center was opened in late September. The educational facility commemorates, among other things, the mathematicians from the University of Poznan who broke the code of the German Enigma cipher machine. It also provides knowledge and skills on encryption and the role of science in wartime struggles.

The restoration of the memory of the participation of Polish mathematicians Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski in breaking the Enigma code has been going on in Poznań for more than a decade. First, in 2007, a monument dedicated to them by Grazyna Bielska-Kozakiewicz and Mariusz Kozakiewicz was erected in front of the Zamek Cultural Center (the best monument implementation in the city after 1989). Later, journalist Szymon Mazur of Poznań's Radio Mercury (today: Radio Poznań) threw out a proposal to create a museum that would tell the story of the decryptors and the impact of code-breaking on shortening World War II.

At first, a modest exhibition was shown in a container stylized as an Enigma suitcase, which also stood in front of the Castle, among other places. The permanent exhibition, the result of cooperation between the city and UAM, with a much broader program, opened on September 24 of this year. The Poznan Heritage Center, to which the facility is subordinate, summarizes the essence of the new exhibition this way:

"The main mission of the ENIGMA Cipher Center is to build widespread awareness that the history of breaking the Enigma code began in Poznan, and that the brilliant - Polish - mathematicians were responsible for breaking the code (...). We emphasize the power of the mind, the importance of mathematics and computer science, including in the modern world (...)"

military, party and historians

No new building was built for the Cipher Center. Instead, the interactive exhibition designed by New Amsterdam, a company specializing in such tasks, is located in a place directly related to the work of the decryptors - at the intersection of Święty Marcin and Ratajczaka Streets, next to CK Zamek, in the former Party House from 1950. Before the war, in its place stood a former intendant 's building erected in 1848 for the Prussian army, which - in the interwar period - served the Polish army. It was in it that mathematicians of the University of Poznan worked for some time, who were engaged in breaking the code of the German cipher machine Enigma.

The corner building, which was damaged in 1945, was demolished and replaced with the headquarters of the Provincial Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party, designed by Wladyslaw Czarnecki, a respected Poznan architect and urban planner. This was his last Poznań project (he later devoted himself to academic work), which he designed in the type of monumental modernism close to the projects of the late 1930s. On the facades of the simple building, which is inscribed in the scale of the adjacent tenement houses, it was possible to avoid any inclusions in the spirit of Socialist Real ism, which was decreed throughout the country in the late 1940s. Instead, the interiors and details, which - on the occasion of the realization of the Cipher Center - lived to see careful restoration, verge on Socialist Realism. They can be seen, among others, in the lobby and on the staircase that leads to the exhibition halls located on the second floor of the six-story building.

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An art installation in front of the entrance to the Collegium Martineum building;

Renovated interior and details of the staircase leading to the exhibition;

photo x 2: Jakub Głaz

Indeed, Enigma did not occupy the entire building, which has belonged to the Adam Mickiewicz University since 1990. Until 2015, historians studied here, having moved to the new premises of the Collegium Historicum in the outlying campus of UAM in Morasko. Luckily, contrary to plans, the university did not get rid of the building now renamed Collegium Martineum. It was decided that it would house, among other things, the Enigma Cipher Center and - still planned - a museum of the university's history. The entire edifice is to have a centralizing function and influence the revitalization of the downtown's main street, Saint Martin's.

moderation and scenography

The interiors of the Cipher Center, typical of modern facilities of this type, are clearly distinguished from the character of the former premises. The narrative and largely interactive exhibition leads the viewer through the adapted rooms of the former KW, in which the original details and interior design are only partially visible. The first rooms, which tell the story of encryption and information hiding, are more neutral in nature, and the authors of the exhibition have focused on the viewer's interaction with a number of multimedia stations, as well as devices or more traditional aids for learning the secrets and teaching encryption. Happily, the multimedia does not exude the sounds and effects overused in recent years. Visitors are given individual audio guides that take them through the interiors in an exceptionally friendly manner.

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One of the first interiors of CS Enigma, where viewers are introduced to the history of the place and the secrets of encryption

photo: Jakub Głaz

The scenographic momentum makes itself known in the second part of the facility, where the viewer passes through rooms that transfer into a literally recreated space of the interior of German u-boats with encryption stations and the lecture hall of a pre-war university. The climax and conclusion of the story of ciphers, Enigma and the efforts of mathematicians takes place in the former KW auditorium. Here the main character is the authentic Enigma machine, its impact on the fate of the war and the world, and the subsequent development of computer science and computers. Arranged on a grand scale, the interior operates with a richer range of means of expression. Thanks to its larger scale and scenographic panache - it resembles some of the halls of the World War II Museum in Gdansk, which is not surprising, since the New Amsterdam company also designed the exhibition there.

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Reconstructed interiors of cipher stations in u-boats;

The central part of the exhibition in the former auditorium, with the so-called "cryptologic bomb" visible in the middle

Photo x 2: Jakub Głaz

city-forming impact

The establishment of CS Enigma - except for minor modifications - did not affect the external appearance of the former Party House. It is therefore more of an event in the field of interior architecture and exhibition rather than architecture sensu stricto. However, it deserves attention for three reasons: the subject matter and the emphasis on the role of reason and logic, the shift in emphasis from armed struggle and martyrdom to science, and, last but not least, the revitalization and, in its own way, the restoration of a derelict edifice in the heart of the city. This will indirectly contribute to the renewal efforts of the downtown area and St. Martin Street. It would be great if the entire edifice would eventually become a kind of science center dedicated to various fields of knowledge, scientists and their impact on the reality around us.

Jakub GŁAZ

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