Poland 20 years later

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s domestic-scale epic Dekalog (The Decalogue) showed life in Poland in the simultaneously dull and precarious late 1980s*. The series provides a fascinating window on Polish culture and everyday life on the eve of the fall of communism. An in-depth analysis of shifts in social patterns and ways of life between 1988 and today would have been fascinating and, well, hard – so instead we’ve just grabbed some screen shots from the films and taken photos of what these locations look like today (all photos taken by Scatts).

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The Osiedle

Most of the main characters in the films live on this osiedle (estate) in Warsaw. In some of the films almost all the action takes place here, in others it is just glimpsed, and sometimes you only find out a character lives there when you see them in the background of another film.

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Marian the taxi driver from Dekalog 5 on his way to work – his last day of work as it turns out. A longer version of Dekalog 5 was released as A Short Film About Killing, which may give you a clue as to why this is his last day of work.

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The Dekalog osiedle, on ul. Inflancka, as it is today. Unfortunately our intrepid photographer Scatts was unable to get inside to find exactly the same scenes because the estate now has a fence around it and guards who have orders to keep deadbeats out. I don’t know if means the place has become significantly more exclusive than it was in 1989, or if this is just an example of a growing trend towards ‘gated communities.’ Oddly enough this is the second time Scatts has fallen foul of security on this estate while on active duty for Polandian. In his series of posts about the Warsaw Ghetto you can see the same estate in the background of an attempted photo of the Umschlagplatz.

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The Old Town

A significant portion of the first half of Dekalog 5 (or A Short Film About Killing) is set in Warsaw’s Old Town and surrounding streets as we follow the wanderings of angry-young-man Jacek. Since the Old Town is the most famous part of present-day Warsaw we thought it would be interesting to compare it then and now.

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Looking towards the Royal Castle on Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square) from the parapet over the tunnel that carries Aleja Solidarności (Solidarity Avenue) under the Old Town. Jacek pauses here and drops a rock on the traffic below. Presumably Aleja Solidarności was called something else then. Nice piece of prescience on the part of Kieślowski, or an unusually cunning piece of road renaming on the part of whoever renames roads.

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The same scene today. Unusually the castle isn’t plastered with advertising. History does not record if Scatts played the same trick with a rock and only time will tell if the street below will one day be renamed Aleja Polandian.

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Looking towards the Royal Castle from the steps of Zygmunt’s Column. Jacek can be seen in this shot annoying an old lady by scaring her pigeons away.

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Twenty years later the castle is looking smart but there are significantly less old ladies and pigeons, the absence of one possibly accounting for the absence of the other.

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A taxi stand on the corner of Krakowskie Przedmieście.

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The corner of Krakowskie Przedmieście today, pedestrianized, revamped and generally made pretty as part of the recent renovations to the street.

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A young girl has her portrait drawn on a corner of Warsaw’s Old Town Square. In the film we learn that Jacek’s young sister was killed in an accident.

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The same corner today. I love the way that little window in the building behind her is still open 20 years later.

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The artist drawing the little girl. Most of the Old Town Square is visible in the background.

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The same view of the Old Town Square today.

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Around Town

There are not a huge number of identifiable outside location shots in the series, and many of these are set at night. Kieślowski does, however, give us a few other glimpses of daytime Warsaw c. 1988.

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In this scene from Dekalog 7 we see the train carrying Majka and her daughter away from Warsaw crossing the Most Średnicowy (Średnicowy Bridge).

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Most Średnicowy today from exactly the same position. Vegetation on the far side of the river has encroached on the fourth pillar and it looks like there is now a sand bank that was not there in 1988 – not to mention some graffiti on the third pillar.

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Most Średnicowy again, but with a train on it… for those of you who like trains.

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Another scene from Dekalog 7. Ewa searches frantically for her lost daughter who is, in fact, her granddaughter and who has been kidnapped by her real daughter, who is pretending to be her granddaughter’s sister – it’s all terribly confusing. Fortunately the location is easy enough to identify – the steps at the front of the Palace of Culture and Science looking towards the central rail station.

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The same location today. The most obvious additions to the skyline are the Millennium Plaza tower behind the station and the Zlote Tarasy shopping center (and associated Skylight Tower) peeking out from behind the Palace itself. As Scatts points out, the only buildings that haven’t changed, the Palace and train station, are arguably the ones that would have benefited most from some work in the past 20 years.

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A random shot of ul. Nowy Świat from Dekalog 10 (also known as ‘the funny one’).

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The same random shot of Nowy Świat today.

*Interestingly (or not) I can’t figure out exactly when Dekalog was released. Some sources say 1987, some 1988, and some 1989.

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Mystery Location Challenge!

A really cynical person might say “I see what they’re doing here. They couldn’t find these locations so they’re getting us to do all the work.” Fortunately none of our fine readers are that cynical, so we’ll probably get away with it.

Identifying a street / locations wins points. Taking a photo of said street or location wins BIG points.*

Five scenes from Dekalog 5

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1. A street scene during Jacek’s wanderings, but what it that building?

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2. Jacek witnesses a fight in a back alley, but where is the alley?

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3. Jacek chooses Marian’s taxi, but where was this taxi stand?

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4. Marian drives Jacek past this monument, but where is it now?

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5. A Militiaman on the street outside the cafe where Jacek spits in his coffee, but which street?

Scenes from Dekalog 7, 9, and 10

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6. From Dekalog 7. Majka’s leaving, but from which station (not in Warsaw)?

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7. From Dekalog 9. Roman takes his last bike ride. What’s the name of that church?

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8. From Dekalog 10. A secret meeting on a street corner, but which street corner?

*Polandian points may be exchanged for super, super prizes! But only in the afterlife.

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22 thoughts on “Poland 20 years later

  1. Scatts says:

    I wonder if 6 could be Józefów? :-)

  2. guest says:

    Most Średnicowy will be painted red like the golden gate bridge.

  3. Scatts says:

    If only the other side could be a nice as the other side of the Golden Gate!

  4. Pawel says:

    What’s on the other side of the Golden Gate? A pot of gold?

  5. Pawel says:

    BTW great work Scatts:) You did a lot of running around the town:)

  6. expateek says:

    Yes, I was going to also say that number 6 is Józefów, and I think I should get full points rather than Scatts, because as you know, I am 7 hours earlier than you, here in Chicago, so obviously I posted first and I won. Ah, the wonders of international time zones, eh?

    And I beg to differ, on the train station and the Palace. Two amazing pieces of architecture which need to be maintained. As soon as they’re ripped down, everyone will be all, “OMG, I loved that thing! It was such a period piece!” Like Danish Modern furniture and Baroque Rococo kitsch, Polish “vintage Communist-era buildings” will have their renaissance just after they become scarce. Don’t let Warsaw lose these pieces of history!

    I love the sense of alienation and dislocation felt when one is in either of these buildings. You just can’t duplicate it, describe it, or read about it. It’s like Brunelleschi, only not so pretty. Architecture exists in real space, and I would be so sad to see these two things significantly altered or destroyed. Pictures can’t convey the emotional or historic impact…

  7. Sylwia says:

    1. Kościół Św. Anny, Krakowskie Przedmieście
    2. – 4. No idea, but perhaps watching the episode would help.
    5. Krakowskie Przedmieście – the wooden ramp was around Bristol Hotel when it was being rebuilt. Europejski on the right, the rounded building is MON’s, and Św. Krzyża church in the background.
    6. Obviously Józefów.
    7. Św. Józef in Gdynia.
    8. My first thought was pl. Konstytucji, and second – filharmonia, but now I’m not sure. Seems like some soc-realism though.

    Not all osiedle scenes were made in Inflancka. The lake in the first episode is near Ostrobramska. There were many more easily recognisable places in the series. You should find them.

  8. Scatts says:

    1. Thanks, I was sure it was Krak Przed somewhere. Could have shot that whilst doing the others. Main changes since ’88 are the whole renovation of krak przed and primarily making it impossible for those cars to park there today.

    2. Feels like Praga.

    3. What’s that funky thing at the far end of the right-hand terrace?

    4. It reminds me of the Syrena overlooking Solidarnosci, behind Senatorska but it’s not that.

    7. Surely they didn’t go all the way to Gdynia?? These churches all come from the same mould anyway so it might be the same design but in Warsaw.

    8. Looks to me like what used to be the Hotel Warszawa opposite the national bank, corner of Swietokrzyska, Szpitalna, Mazowiecka? Mind you, that street looks too narrow to be Swieto.

  9. island1 says:

    expateek: Oh alright then, 99 points. I know what you mean about the central station. I like the interior of the main hall, it’s a really dramatic space. Could do with some work though, not necessarily demolition – though I’m guessing this is what will happen in the end. No particular merit in the Palace but it is a landmark and I can’t see it ever coming down.

  10. island1 says:

    Sylwia and Scatts:

    1. Glad we got that one sorted out. It looked so familiar but I couldn’t place it.

    2. Theoretically it should be close to Krak Przed or Nowy Swiat.

    3. “Funky thing”? Isn’t that what’s referred to as a “tree” in technical circles? In the film this street is right next to 5, so it could be Osslińskich.

    4. In the film Jacek asks the taxi driver to take him to “Mokotow” and they pass this monument on the way. Doesn’t mean it’s in Mokotow of course.

    5. Makes sense to me.

    6. There had to be one everybody could get :)

    7. In fact I did read something about some scenes being shot in Gdynia.

    8. I also had the feeling it was somewhere around Jasna / Filharmonia area.

    We knew the pond was near Ostrobramska somewhere, but Scatts didn’t have time to trudge around Praga looking for it (plus he’s scared).

  11. island1 says:

    Yep. Definitely Gdynia. http://www.panoramio.com/photo/1136214

    I suppose the hills in the background should have been a give away that it wasn’t in Warsaw!

  12. Scatts says:

    It’s a tree is it?? My eyes, even with glasses on couldn’t quite decipher at this size! One little old lonely tree.

  13. Sylwia says:

    No, no. 2. is the Old Town. Those are renaissance windows. I’m only puzzled because it’s near the archcathedral, while he’s supposed to be walking from the New Town to the Old Town square.

    3. Ossolinskich street, on the back of Europejski where Jacek had his ptyś.

    4. I’m sure I’ve seen this monument, but I cannot recall it now. It should be somewhere in Wilanów. That’s where they’re going.

    7. They did! It’s Gdynia.

  14. Sylwia says:

    BTW Warsaw’s districts differed back then. Mokotów was everything south on the left bank of the river, including Ursynów and Wilanów. The taxi driver doesn’t want to turn left, saying that Vogla street is closer if one goes ahead. It’s Wilanów. One should drive to Powsińska and Wiertnicza to look for it. ;)

  15. Sylwia says:

    Yes, you’re right, Island. 8. is Świętokrzyska 20/Jasna, that is one way street.

    Expateek, I fully agree with you. The railway station has its character, while Złote Tarasy will be outdated in just a couple of years.

  16. Json says:

    Island 1
    I always enjoy your then and now posts.

    My girlfriend and I were in Warsaw in late December and stayed in a corner room of the Castle Inn over looking the square. Scatts photos of the it and the Royal Castle brought back good memories.

    Thanks

  17. Chris says:

    Krakowskie Przedmieście almost looks like our Eastman Theater and its on a corner also. http://tinyurl.com/oa2xeq

  18. Scatts says:

    Yes indeed, the rail station has a character full of darkness and urine.

  19. Gabriela says:

    Island1:
    Nice pictures. Good for Scatts!
    Where you already living in Poland back in 1989?
    Saluditos.

  20. […] re-visits and photographs locations depicted in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s work. Cancel this […]

  21. […] Polandian re-visits and photographs locations depicted in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s work. […]

  22. […] blog post that does a photo comparison between Communist and current Warsaw. You can check that out here. This entry was posted in Gallery, History, Journal. Bookmark the permalink. ← Journal […]

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