Author Archives: Decoy

Merry Christmas/ Wesołych Świąt

To all from Polandian, have a Merry and peaceful Christmas. May the holiday season be one to catch up with loved ones, rest and hopefully eat, drink and be merry.

Merry Christmas

And now to play us out, we have Ladypank!

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Going Underground – Krakow

Following on from my Warsaw museum visit, I spent some time last weekend in a Krakow museum, this time in the Rynek Underground Museum (Podziemia Rynku). The market square has always been one of Krakow’s main highlights, with sights such as Mariacki church, the Ratusz (town hall), numerous restaurants with outdoor seating under umbrellas and of course, the Sukiennice (cloth hall). However, in 2005, an archaelogical dig revealed there was even more to the market square than met the eye with many items of historical significance being found just under the squares cobbles around the Sukiennice. It was then decided in 2007 to build and open a museum that would house most of the archarlogical findings, and make them available to the public. Underground 2

With about 800 years of history on show, the museum tries to blend an old world and modern feel in what is presented. There are a few visual tricks, some hi-tech options and then ‘real’ items to be touched and felt. The entrance is found just at the end of the Sukiennice, and entrance is limited to a maximum of 300 people at one time. This is controlled by musuem staff and some security guards, in order to make sure that the experience can be fully savoured without too many people. However, with temperatures of -16 last Saturday, it meant that there were no queues for entry, but rather only for the cloakroom, as everyone was discarding heavy jackets once entering. The entrance fee is 17zl for adults, with concession prices of 14zl for those young or old enough to qualify. Underground 1

The first sight on entry was a real-life smoke screen with a projector showing Krakowians from the Middle Ages welcoming you to the exhibit. Visitors can put their hands and more through it, as it is only a steam projection. Later there are some water pools showing ripples of people walking by, also using projectors. There were many kids having great fun there. From there, the exhibits get more ‘real’ as there are paving slabs from the 14th century, rebuilt houses of blacksmiths and goldsmiths, and then some re-created graves and burial grounds, with full skeletons inside. Indeed one of the surprises is when walking around and crossing a glass walkway to see a skeleton sitting in the hollowed space under the glass walkway. For me, the highlight came next in the centre of the space, where a scale model of Krakow from the 15th century was shown. It was very realistic, but it was also the only part of museum visible under natural light, as above it, there is the 4-sided pyramid skylight, which can be seen from above ground on the Rynek (as seen in a summer shot below). Pyramid

The second part of the musuem is more of a walking tour, with long passages ways with small nooks and crannies available with small archaelogical treasures found in most of them, including some skulls which had been found, and are estimated to be from soldiers who had died trying to defend Krakow from the Swedish ‘Flood’ in the early 17th century. There are many small artefacts such as necklaces, small knives, spears and so on which would have all been used in Krakow’s market through the ages.Skelton

Overall our visit lasted about 1 hour, although that can be lengthened or shortened depending on the level of detail you would wish to see. There were numerous tour groups, but as it was December, most of them were receiving the tour in Polish. Most of the exhibits had 7 language options, including Polish, English, German and French, among others. The visit was well worthwhile, and can show more of Krakow and the Rynek than just the standard options.

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Warsaw Uprising Museum

I had the chance a few months ago to visit the Warsaw Rising museum (Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego), while in Warsaw. I take a keen interest in history, especially of that time period, and as a result the museum was among the best I have visited. Open since the 60th anniversary of the Rising in 2004, it commemorates the efforts of Varsovians to rise against the Germans during the latter stages of World War 2, trying to give a glimpse of live during the 63 days of insurgency. The museum is styled to provide the full atmosphere of the Rising, from the sounds piped in, to video clips and photos of the time, along with items used in the Rising such as guns, papers and clothing. In a few sections of the museum, they have even laid cobblestones to replicate the streets of the time. Another area simulates the sewers with the brick walls, low ceilings and sounds to be expected, while the official museum cafe is styled out in 1940’s to match the period (although prices are at 2012 levels of course).

It is a very good museum, and well worth visiting if you might be in Warsaw and have a few hours to spare. It’s not too expensive (some days such as Sundays are free entry even) and gives an authentic feel for the Rising atmosphere and experience (also covered in Norman Davies’ book Rising ’44: Battle for Warsaw). I’ll let the below pictures speak for themselves.

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Warsaw Uprising – Book Review

The Warsaw Rising is a topic of strong historical and emotional significance for Poles, but yet is one that is not as visible for many outside of Poland, although it took place at a key time in World War 2, and can possibly be seen as a key trigger for the Cold War. I visited Warsaw a few months ago, and had the chance to visit the Uprising Museum (more to come on that later). Following on from that, I also received a present of the book Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw. It is written by Norman Davies, the pre-eminent ‘Western’ writer on Poland and its history. With a strong pedigree in presenting Polish history through examples such as God’s Playground, Davies can be trusted to tell the stories of Poland that were not recognised outside.

Davies presents the story of the Uprising as “one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century” and “a story that has never been properly told”. In order to frame the story well, it is split into the three parts. First comes before the Rising, particularly trying to focus on Poles and how they were impacted by and were impacting the war so far, in order to give an understanding where the desire for Uprising came from. In the centre of the story he tells about the Rising, chronicling the 63 days from August to early October 1944. This middle section is particularly strong and emotive, as he splices in inserts and personal experiences from those involved, mostly from the perspectives of the Varsovians, but also with German, Soviet, British and American views. And in the final section, he covers the aftermath of the Rising and what it meant for Warsaw, Poles and Poland.

The introduction focuses on Poland as the ‘First Ally’, being the reason why Britain declared war on Germany. By 1944, with the Germans on the retreat and the Soviets advancing through eastern Poland, the decision was agreed to make a break against the tyranny of oppressors and launch an insurgency. However – as Davies recounts – the Rising was beset by issues and looking back had a minimal chance of success. Politics between the Western allies, and within each country involved left the Warsaw insurgents mostly fighting alone. The Germans also chose that moment to stage a fight back, recognising Warsaw as a key defence point as the capital, trying to hold off the Soviet advance. It resulted in them preferring to demolish Warsaw than give it up. There was also the case where the Soviets mysteriously stopped their advance on the east bank of the Vistula for two months, after having made rapid gains in the preceding months. For Poles, it was a repeat of history up to and including 1939, where larger neighbours split Poland as they pleased, and allies were slow to react.

What was particularly interesting from my perspective was the presentation of what the post-war effect was. In terms of Warsaw as a city, 75% of it was destroyed. Up to 200,000 civilian deaths were estimated, meaning the population was decimated. And then with the political wrangling, the Soviets installed the Communist government which would rule for 45 years afterwards. This was the final blow for those who had fought to free Poland. The Communists denied the Uprising taking place, as the lack of Soviet involvement and support was airbrushed from history. This meant insurgents being arrested and tried as ‘anti-Soviet’ with some sentenced to   some going to the Gulags. When recognition was given later for an uprising in Warsaw, the Soviets were fine to acknowledge the Ghetto Uprising of 1943. It wasn’t until the 1980’s when Poles could begin to talk about the Rising and recognise it. This is partially why those in ‘Western’ countries have little understanding of it.

Davies’ portrayal of the events of August and September 1944 are strong, and his ties to Poland make it a particularly emotive topic. He does not hold back in criticising the bumbling of the Americans and British in trying to support, and their failings through political wranglings in trying to appease Stalin. He recognises the cold approach of the Soviets, which he notes is a fore-runner of the Soviets extending their sphere of influence ending in the Iron Curtain dividing Europe. The communist regime in Poland, and it’s re-writing of history also get criticism, while the citizens of Warsaw get some credit but ultimately it’s seen as a thankless sacrifice which was worthless in the end.

The book is a very strong retelling of the situations. Davies’ emotions shine through but one or two other choices in presentation are difficult to follow. For example, he made a point of anglicizing all Polish names involved of individuals, cities, streets and other locations. For me, this actually confused the story, as I felt I did not connect with the individuals, as the names seemed to be more nicknames or code names. But overall, it told a story I had not heard before and is one all history buffs should be aware of.

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I Need A Hero!

The sudden rise of Jerzy Janowicz into consciousness over the course of the past few days has highlighted the desire to see a genuine sporting hero emerge from Poland. For those not watching the news at some point in the past few days, Janowicz has risen from mild obscurity to find himself qualifying for the mens ATP tennis tournament in Paris. Simply qualifying would have been considered a huge success for someone ranked as number 221 in the mens world rankings as of one year ago. However, he then performed past any expectations to win five ties and qualify for the final, played today. In qualifying, he proved his potential by beating five players currently ranked in the top 20 of the world rankings. It was only after his quarter final win over Andy Murray though, that he rose to fame and began appearing as a noteworthy person on Polish news reports. Unfortunately, he suffered defeat today in the tournament final, losing in 2 sets to David Ferrer or Spain, but Janowicz’s joy in proceeding so far through the tournament was evident with each successive game.

Jerzy Janowicz shows emotion after his semi-final victory in Paris

The increase in interest through the week showed through his appearance on all of the news reports and sports bulletins, although the 21-year old probably had barely a mention before this. Interviews with parents, coaches and neighbours were all lined up in order to get the low-down on Jerzy and put the spotlight on him. He had some level of success as a junior player, but would expect a big jump in profile now following such success. However, the way in which it has affected life in Poland is interesting. A Yahoo! sports report published yesterday after his semi-final win indicated huge media following already

“Janowicz can now expect to attract some sponsors, especially since TV crews have been besieging his house in Poland. “The street next to my house actually is completely blocked. There is like about nine or 10 cars, TVs, and it’s completely blocked. There is no way to get to my house right now,” Janowicz explained.”

There is even talk of contact from President Komorowski, to congratulate Janowicz on his successful progress through the tournament.

The above seems to highlight the need in Poland to find and hold onto a sporting hero, usually in a sport which is individual. In recent years, the focus has hopped between a few various contenders for the crown of Poland’s most beloved sportstar.

  • For some time, that seemed to be Adam Małysz. In the winter of 2001/02, the Wisła Eagle, as he was known came to prominence through wins in ski-jumping competitions, and became a household name and top contender easch season. He had a strong following, but as success tailed off after the 2006/07 season, he seemed to lose his edge. However, a strong finish gettgin solver in the 2010 Winter Olympics and more success before his retirement in 2011 meant he left well-loved.
  • Justyna Kowalczyk is another name seen as being well recognised across winter sports, with her having the all time record of 10 wins in the Tour de Ski cross-country competitions. She has a hugely impressive record, but has not always gotten the recognition for it, as her style her been based more on power rather than grace which many other skiers use. However, her popularity in Poland has lead to recognition and advertisement for a bank among others.
  • Robert Kubica displayed natural ability for motor racing from an early age, and with success in Formula Renault series, it seemed inevitable for him to move to Formula 1 racing. He built up experience through 2006 and 2007, which then culminated in a race victory in the Canadian Grand Prix of 2008. He continued to progress through 2009 and 201o, getting 7 further podium finished after his win. However, his crash in early 2011 while rally driving in Spain has resulted in him missing 2 seasons of Formula 1 , and there are questions over his potential return.
  • Mariusz Pudzianowski won 5 World’s Strongest Man competitions, more than anyone else, and also finished in second place twice. He has recently switched to MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) competitions, with 5 wins and 2 losses from his 8 bouts so far. During his time in the Strong Man competitions, he was a household name and would be easily recognised as one of the best.
  • Agnieszka Radwańska has made strong progress through the ranks of women’s tennis, improving steadily over the past few years and picking up 10 tournament wins. This was highlighted by her reaching the final of the 2012 Wimbled0n tournament, although she lost that over three sets to Venus Williams. She reached the world ranking of number 2 also during this year, showing consistent performance over sustained periods.
  • And now Jerzy Janowicz makes further tennis progress, this time on the mens side.

What connects all the above (in one way at least) is that they are all participating in individual sports, fighting for themselves rather than for a club, group or national team. Apart from the volleyball squads (which do not get the same level of profile, despite good success levels), there seems to be more focus on finding that individual sports hero or heroine who can represent the best of Poland. The expectation is set with a few years of monitoring performances closely, at least until the next new idividual star comes along. Thus the question for Poland will be if Janowicz can pick up the ‘hero’ mantle from those who have gone before.

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