L is for LOOKOUT – If you want to get a panoramic view of Warsaw, the only place to go is to the viewing floor of the Pałac Kultury, at 238m high remains the tallest building in the city. On a good day the view is excellent. The day I took the photo below was not a good day but you can get the general idea. The picture is a link to a gallery with more of these and also some better ones taken from the roof of the Rondo 1 office block, which is not somewhere you can get to but is close to the Pałac K. There is another small viewing tower close to Ziggy’s column in the old town. You don’t have the height of PK but it still gives a good view of the surrounding area, especially the old town.
M is for MARIENSZTAT – a rather strange part of Warsaw that always has a sort of ‘deserted’ feel about it. It lies at the northern end of the ‘Powiśle’ district, which is the low-level area that lies between the Wisła-Strada highway (next to the river) and the higher ground where you will find the old town and indeed the rest of Warsaw. Mariensztat is bounded by “Most Śląsko-Dąbrowski” to the north, the river to the east, Krakowskie Przedmieście up the hill to the west and either Bednarska or Karowa streets to the south. The street Ulica Mariensztat runs right through the middle and was originally formed as a route from the Cistercian (or Bernardine) monastery on Krakowskie Przedmieście to Ulica Dobra. The area dates back to the 18th century and is named after Maria Kątstka as her husband got the land as part of her dowry. The rather German “sztat” was added to please the Saxon king. Rumour has it that this area was notorious for bordellos and bare-knuckle boxing matches. To be honest, I think that’s what it needs right now because it’s pretty boring as it is! It has a small square from the mid 19th century when it was the main market square of Powiśle, but it’s not used for anything today as far as I have seen. There are a few pubs looking onto the square that do decent enough drink and grub but sitting by the exit/entrance ramps for the bridge don’t help the outdoor ambiance. The area was completely demolished in the war but rebuilt immediately afterwards in the original 18th century style and was, in 1948, the very first housing complex to be built post-war and held up as a shining example of socialism at work. It features in a film “Przygoda Na Mariensztacie”. Very close to this area you can find a good hospital in which to have a baby, a good school, a strange new building supposedly very secret and something to do with security of the nation (at the bottom of the 100+ year old viaduct of Stanisław Markiewicz) and a little further down Ul. Dobra, the new Warsaw University library. Most famous of all, of course, is my sister-in-law’s accountancy office! However, if you find yourself stranded in this area, the best thing you can do is walk up the steep and cobbled street Bednarska, which has a few interesting shops and restaurants, and get yourself back to civilisation!
N is for NEVSKY – the Nevsky Cathedral is my most amazing find in terms of architectural mysteries of Warsaw. Built between 1894 and 1912 by the Imperial Russian authorities, slap bang in the middle of Saski Place, now Plac Piłsudskiego. Talk about going out of your way to piss another nation off! When it was completed, it was 70m high and the tallest building in Warsaw. Shortly after Poland gained independence as a result of the end of WWI, the Nevsky was demolished. It had stood there for less than 15 years! I know its demolition was sort if inevitable, but I think it’s a shame it happened. As far as I can work out, when Pope JPII did his thing in Plac Piłsudskiego in 1979, he was right above the foundations of Nevsky.
O is for OLD TOWN – I can’t take Warsaw’s old town seriously I’m afraid. To me, an “old town” needs to be “old” and Warsaw’s was built in the 1950s. Fair enough, it’s nobody’s fault but the Germans who razed the place and the Russians who stood and watched while they did it but nevertheless, it’s not old. On the plus side, it was built precisely according to the original plans and so it does look like it once looked but the current state of repair suggests that the materials available in the 50s were clearly not up to the same standard as those used when it was first established in the 13th century. Remember that Warsaw Old Town is really two places – the old old town and the new old town. The new old town is not quite as old as the old old town, it was built in the 15th century, but in my opinion it is a nicer area to walk around. If you wander enough around the new town area, you’ll be sure to bump into the church where I got married and also my in-law’s apartment. In fact, we got married in the new old town and had the reception in the old old town! You get to the new old town by walking through the Barbican gate and along Ulica Freta. Watch out for the morons dressed up and pretending to want to chop your head off on the way. They are a pain in the pupa but have been there for a few years now and show no signs of going away. Must be good business. Just behind where they hang out is the restaurant I mentioned as being good for herrings and stuff. Click the picture for a gallery of old town (old and new) shots.
P is for PAWIAK – a famous prison in Warsaw built by the tsarist authorities between 1829 and 1835. It was operational until 1939. During the January Uprising it was used as a transfer camp for Poles sentenced to forced resettlement to Siberia. After Poland regained independence in 1918 it became the main prison for male criminals in Warsaw. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 it was turned into a German Gestapo prison and then part of the Warsaw concentration camp. Approximately 100 000 men and 20 000 women passed through the prison, mostly members of the Armia Krajowa, political prisoners and civilians taken as hostages in łapankas. Approximately 37 000 of them were shot while further 60 000 were sent to German death and concentration camps. The final transport of prisoners took place shortly before the Warsaw Uprising, on July 30, 1944. 2 000 men and the remaining 400 women were sent to Gross-Rosen and Ravensbrück. After the area was secured during the Warsaw Uprising and subsequently again lost to German forces, on August 21 an unknown number of remaining prisoners was shot and the buildings burnt and blown up. The exact number of victims is unknown since the archives were never found. The building was not rebuilt after the war. Today it is a museum and you can find it at the junction of Jana Pawła II and Dzielna. For various reasons, the power of the Jewish lobby amongst them, most visitors to Warsaw will be aware of the Jewish ghetto and go in search of it. This place is an example of the non-Jewish suffering that was just as terrible although far less publicised.
This tree “of remembrance” is an exact replica of the original one that stood in the same spot but became too weak to maintain.