Ten uses for a Polish balcony


Balconies are a sacred and little discussed part of modern Polish culture. When I first moved to Poland my flat had a balcony and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Almost nobody in the UK has one, you either have a garden or nothing. I quickly spotted that almost everyone in Poland has a balcony, which made me feel a bit less special but didn’t detract from the essential coolness of the thing. Over the years I’ve slowly come to understand the central role of the balcony in Polish life.

Balconies as far as the eye can see (photo from this guy)

1. Dog ‘exercise’ area

Polish people like dogs, the bigger and noisier the better. Most Polish people also live in tiny flats in massive residential blocks – not a good combination. When the incessant barking of your 50 kilo Rottweiler gets too much you can simply shoo it onto the balcony. Suddenly the dog has a whole new world of exciting things to bark at, but at least the pain is then being shared by 800 other people.

2. Clothes drying area

Most balconies are permanently festooned with dripping laundry. I heard recently that the government is trying to ban this practice. They have about as much chance of banning snow in the Arctic. On the TV news report I saw there were a lot a red-faced women of a certain age with fiercely crossed arms: I’m not sure what they were saying about the idea but it was quite high pitched and didn’t sound conciliatory.

The way it should be.

3. Underwear display area

Polish people pretend they’re quite conservative and moral but in fact they like nothing better than showing off their skimpies to the neighbors. I have no idea why. The practice of leaving underwear out on the balcony ‘to dry’ often leads to a phenomenon known as ‘fairy’s panties;’ this occurs when you wake up in the morning after an unexpectedly blustery night to find your balcony festooned with g-strings and boxer shorts that have rained down from neighboring balconies. It was four years before I actually had to buy new underwear.

Coming soon to a balcony near you, if those pegs don’t hold out.

4. ‘Discussion’ arena

A balcony is a great place for a frank and open exchange of views with the neighbors, if they’re too timid to come out onto their own balcony to face you it’s often possible to shout directly through their open windows from your balcony. Alternatively you can wait until you see them passing in the street below and share you views with the entire neighborhood. Combat by mop can sometimes be observed 30 meters off the ground between housefraus on neighboring platforms; it’s almost heraldic.

5. Staring platform

Polish people like to stare. If staring were an Olympic event the Poles would walk away with gold every time… in fact they’d probably stick around for a bit of extra staring first, but you know what I mean. The balcony is a custom-built staring platform. I have a theory this is what they were invented for in the first place. You’ll sometimes see it in real estate ads “Fifth floor balcony, comfortable railings for leaning on, plenty of things to stare at.”

6. Panic and hand-wringing potential

Poles like a good panic and bout of hand-wringing as much as the next man and balconies provide endless opportunities. By far the favorite is ‘balcony collapse’ panic. Hardly a month goes by without someone somewhere announcing that communist-era balconies are structurally unsound and likely to collapse at any moment. Men with overalls and huge bellies come round periodically from the municipal works office and give every balcony in the area a couple of whacks with a massive hammer, then everyone feels better for a while.

7. Barbecue area

There’s nothing better than a night out under the stars roasting your own weiner, as they say. In fact the only thing that is better is a night out under the stars on your own balcony with a disposable barbecue from the garage forecourt, 18 cans of Tatra Mocne and as many friends as you can fit into a one meter by two meter area. Ideally you should wait until all your neighbors have put their washing out to dry so that you can generously infuse their smalls with the odor of blackened kiełbasa.

8. Storage area

Anything from motorcycle chassis to ‘spare’ fridges to troublesome dotty aunts can be stored on the balcony. The area of the balcony is often included in the official square meter area of the apartment, thereby adding to its market value, and it would be crazy to waste it on empty air.

9. Farming activities

Once, many years ago, I was quizzed in a door-to-door survey. Actually I think it was an official census, but I wasn’t paying sufficient attention at the time to be sure. There were a lot of tedious questions about who the head of the household was, where everybody was from, how many socks we had between us etc. etc. One question struck me as odd: “Do you engage in any agricultural activity?” I glanced around my 12 meter square room, and then out onto my precious balcony. My mouth fell open slightly and I looked back at the questioner with wonder in my eyes, “You mean… on the balcony?” I asked, not entirely in jest. “For example” she replied with a perfectly straight face. Since that moment I’ve often wondered if I’m missing something.

10. Comedic potential

Imagine growing up in a country where every child has the inalienable right to drop wet sticky things onto the heads of innocent passers by. Balconies are inherently funny because they put people in weird spatial relationships to other people. I’ve never seen a Polish sitcom or comedy film that didn’t, at some point, make use of this fact.

Dog knows Cat is down there somewhere but can’t quite see to give him a proper barking at. Cat knows Dog is up there somewhere and is silently pissing himself laughing.

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22 thoughts on “Ten uses for a Polish balcony

  1. michael farris says:

    IME balconies are not calculated in official square meter count of the apartment at least in terms of purchase price (at least not in Poznan, a city whose residents are legendary for their simultaneous cheapness and willingness to squeeze every last grosz out of a potential buyer.

    And not all balconies are created equal. The best are those (sometimes called teras) supported by a roof below (I love my 10 m2 teras from late april till october). The worst are the tiny things sticking out into the void that anybody with more sense than the dog is afraid to set foot (or anything heavier than a frame for drying clothes) on.

    True, I’ve never heard of one of those balconies collapsing beneath the weight of an adult human being but no one wants to be the first.

  2. wiosanna says:

    Nice :) I like it. I dream I will have my own balcony some day ;)
    But you haven’t written about any romantic uses of balcony and I guess there are some :) And of course Polish balcony is also room for smokers :)
    And I don’t know if you know this site polish news in English http://www.polskieradio.pl/thenews/ and in German http://www.polskieradio.pl/nachrichten/

  3. Pawel says:

    Oh my god, Island1 you killed me! I’m SOOO totally on the floor laughing my lungs out:D

    I know you don’t want us to comment each others posts, but you will have to forgive me since you can’t really help it :))

    I particularly enjoyed points 5 and 9. How was your last year’s balcony harvest?:DD

    Btw is there an English name for “gardening” on balcony? In Poland there are special shows on daytime television devoted to this subect…

  4. Ai says:

    how i wish i have a balcony here so i could also do some other useful things. my style (lol). good entry today today.

  5. island1 says:

    wiosanna: I know, I miss not having one any more, although I can climb on my roof and see almost into the Rynek. Romantic uses? Do tell!

    Pawel: Who died and made me president? Anyway, everyone’s ignored this suggestion more or less from day one. In this case I will restrain my anger at your disobedience and allow you to heap praise upon me :)

    ai: What would these useful things ‘your style’ be? Sound interesting.

  6. Ansien says:

    That was veeery funny!! :)
    Have you ever thought about writting skeches for cabarets or something like that?:)

  7. island1 says:

    Ansien: Actually I write all the sketches for Kabaret Który, but don’t tell anyone ;)

  8. […] Ten uses for a Polish balcony “Fifth floor balcony, comfortable railings for leaning on, plenty of things to stare at.” […]

  9. Ian says:

    Why do these posts have nothing to do with the article? And why are there only 8 shown? Where are the other 22?? Is this is some sort of bug?

    Pozdrowienia z Wawy :^)


  10. island1 says:

    Ian: Looks like you’re seeing the famous ‘comments under the wrong post’ screw up that sometimes happens on WordPress. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it, we are at the mercy of the WordPress system, but sorry anyway. Usually refreshing the page fixes the problem.

  11. anna says:

    staring platform, hahahaha, i can see that very often but i`ve never thout about it in this way. U rock!

  12. island1 says:

    anna: You’re too kind I’m sure. I’ve been stared at from many balconies, glad it’s not just me – I was starting to get paranoid.

  13. Marek says:

    Polish balconies are perfect perving platforms.

    When I visit my friend’s flat in Czestochowa, they think I spend all my time on the balcony because I like sunbathing. Hah, what do they know ! I’m surveying the local talent (with my 10x zoom camera by the side of me ! )

  14. anna says:

    Hi, I was wondering if I could publish this post in the Krakow Post’s June 2008 edition, for our “from the blogosphere” section. Please give me an e-mail at editor at krakowpost dot com.


  15. island1 says:

    Marek: You’re a very disturbing man, but then you probably knew that already.

  16. […] Inspired by Polandian […]

  17. Pawel says:

    Island1, which cabaret?

  18. […] More uses for Polish balconies […]

  19. Meadowender says:

    Great and funny observations but one important one that you’ve missed: It is obligatory, in fact it may even be a law, that during the summer months anyone over 55 years of age must only wear their underwear when on their balcony.

  20. wu says:

    Wanna see more balconies? Go to Greece :D
    Seriously – even I, a girl who apparently grew in a balcony-infested country was amazed by the number of these things there…

  21. Kelvin Rolland says:

    This is Rolland and i will like to know if you do you carry Metal Balconies?I can you offer me Metal Balconies Size 2150mm polyester powder coated finish and what would be the price?Thanks and your early responds will highly appreciated.
    Kelvin Rolland

  22. Anonymous says:


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