Category Archives: WARSAW

The Beautiful People

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Today Avon have their annual conference at the Sala Kongresowa and are celebrating 20 years in Poland. The streets are awash with high heeled ladies who are not strangers to the solarium or fashion shops. There is the sweet smell of success in the air as you would expect from a gathering of the fifth-largest beauty company and largest direct selling enterprise in the world. As of 2010, Avon had annual sales of $10.8 billion worldwide and 6.4 million representatives.

Twenty years means Avon started early in Poland, 1992, but that’s nothing compared to the 126 years that have elapsed since the business started in New York, then called The California Perfume Company. The late 1800’s were a good time for health, hygiene and products that were good for you, for example only ten years after Avon got started Colgate became the first toothpaste in a collapsible tube, introduced in 1896. In 1882 the company Nivea was founded. I’m sure there are many other examples.

These days, I find it quite encouraging to come across any business that has managed to survive and thrive for so long. A nice counter to the endlessly depressing smash & grab stories of banks and other firms clearly designed to get a few people rich and then disappear.

Personally, I have very vague memories of the “Avon Lady” calling on my mum way back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and more recently I now have a member of my Polish family actually working for Avon at their factory in Garwolin, south of Warsaw.

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There one minute, gone the next!

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As our temporarily absent holiday reporter Decoy wrote a while back, there’s no knowing whether a new restaurant is going to stay open long enough to establish itself or not.

The picture is a shot from my office window down to the latest example of here-today-gone-tomorrowness in the culinary sector of Warsaw. The brown boarded up windows were, for perhaps a month or two at the most, the appetisingly titled “Cafe Bar Restauracyjny A P Foods”, located at the bottom of a block of flats opposite the PKiN on Emilii Plater.

Despite having a food court and numerous restaurants inside Zlote T as well as various options in the surrounding area, the workers here still find themselves short of options and are always keen to try out something new. Mainly what we are short of is good food for a sensible price. At the lunacy end of the spectrum you can spend about 35 zeds in Coffee Heaven for a nothing special sandwich, muffin and drink, while at the other end you can go to the “hole-in-the-wall cafe” and get rosół plus kotlet schabowy and all the bits for 12 zeds.

Asian food is slowly becoming more popular but all of the options inside ZT are going to set you back around 30 zeds or more, Thai Wok in the foodcourt being my favourite. The now boarded up place set out to provide a filling (gigantic in fact) portion of Asian food for less than 20 zeds and might well have proved to be very busy.

It’s a mystery as to what happened. It opened, we tried it out with noodle dishes and decided that whilst it could have been tastier it was pretty good value. A little eccentric perhaps. Obviously genuine Asian staff doing to cooking but with a manager/owner who looked a little out of place, more used to being seen exposing herself on Pudelek or having her life examined in Viva or Gala than wandering around a cheap cafe. We tried it once more when I went for the “7 litre – meal in a soup” option. Have to say I started to worry when the majority of pieces of meat in the soup were hard to pin down to a known species, certainly didn’t look like any chicken parts I had previously encountered but the Chinese clients were tucking in nicely so perhaps it was just me?

Next thing we knew it was closed with paper covering the windows and a note about a remont. We assumed they’d decided it was working and were tarting it up or adding more seats. It reopened for about a day looking no different, then closed again this time with boarded up windows and no note about what was going on. It’s been that way now for a couple of months at least.

We’re hoping it does reopen (after having found better meat suppliers), or something similar takes its place but the circumstances are strange enough to suggest that perhaps this will not be the case. We certainly don’t need another high-end grocery store or overpriced coffee shop but with Złota 44 right next door and one day to fill with Warsaw’s rich and famous (ROTFL), the pressure to be “posh” might be overwhelming.

What I can’t quite get my head around with things like this is why people go to some fairly considerable effort to create something that is clearly a flawed enterprise? They had to rent the place, create a business, make and install a sign, find some Asian cooks, fit-out the kitchen and restaurant, buy ingredients……..etc. A lot of work and cost only for it to close after a month or two? What the hell?

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Warsaw – a bomb waiting to go off

News today that construction workers on the new metro line have discovered a two tonne WWII era bomb under Plac Powstańców (more or less under the Polish National Bank). This comes not long after they found a “surprise” underground lake and flooded one of the cities main roads. They’re not having much luck really.

The bomb squad

Many people evacuated. I have no idea what sort of damage a two tonne bomb would cause but it sounds big! According to the article a smaller but still significant UXB was found earlier this month by sewage system workers not far away on Marszałkowska. Back in April last year I posted elsewhere about the WWII bunker that had been found when doing work on the tram system.

None of this should be surprising really. I often wonder what we would find if we were able to remove the top layer of Warsaw and inspect what lays a few centimetres below the feet and wheels of current day Warsaw commuters. No doubt a mix of wonder and horror as the last days of the war gave way to rushed redevelopment. I don’t know what kind of “tidying up” was done but given the circumstances at the time, the lack of human resources, the overwhelming extent of the devastation and the need to get the city back on its feet again the temptation must have been to just paper over the cracks leaving quite a story laying underground and undisturbed until we need a new metro or sewer or tram line.

There’s a programme on British TV called “Time Team”, another called “Pub Dig”, where teams of archaeologists, historians and so forth go around digging up promising parts of the country to see what they find. The results are often very interesting although in the UK the findings often go back far further in history than WWII – Bronze Age, Roman and so forth. It would be fascinating to do something similar over here and, I think, would also make for riveting TV as well.

My vote for where to start would be under the Chinese Embassy on Bonifraterska. As far as I know, this is built on the site of an old factory that used slave labour within the walls of the Jewish Ghetto and is not somewhere that has been subject of any redevelopment at all for many years. I’m sure there are many, many other good candidate locations that are almost guaranteed to yield interesting results.

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Operation Heads

Another post by mochafueld (Lon). There’s no holding him back once he gets started. Edited slightly by me, scatts.

A giant statue of French President Charles de Gaulle in the middle of Warsaw? Why is there a giant cross near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? What is that symbol that I keep seeing on buildings of what looks like an “anchor with a P?” These are just some of the questions I asked myself as I started to spend time in Warsaw last year. I quickly learned that Warsaw’s streets, statues and buildings have many interesting stories to tell to anyone who will stop to look and read (or even a Google search). More interestingly I have found that Warsaw has many stories that lay buried or unmarked due to Communist era suppression, lack of funds, or just being lost to time and the destruction of Warsaw in 1944.

I will admit I am one of those people who loves history and taking trips to visit obscure battlefields or museums just to walk the ground and lean more. It was this curiosity and a chance picture I took off a plaque on the ground in front of Park Ujazdowski, located on Aleje Ujazdowski street, that led me to the Story of Operation Kutschera – the assassination of a Nazi SS General in early 1944 by the resistance.

Now I don’t read or speak Polish so it was not until I had a friend translate this plaque followed by a Google search that for me this incredible story and the even bigger story of Operation Heads in in World War II Poland. Briefly, Operation Heads was the Polish Home Armies answer to the cruel treatment of its citizens by the occupying Germans and their collaborators. The answer, targeted assassination of those who were most cruel in carrying out reprisals against the Polish population (in 1942-44, 400 people a day on average were being murdered).*

What fascinated me about this event was that it took place on streets that people now casually walk along every day and near such a lovely park, without really knowing what happened here only a few decades ago. Additionally the men and women who carried out the assassination were mostly teenagers – the plaque talks about a 14 year old girl who took a dangerous and key position in full view of the Germans so she could signal the start of the action. Today this event is honored every year by the Polish Boy Scouts and a rock/plaque stands in front of the building where the event happened.

I set out to find out more and took a few pictures along the way, which can seen in the slideshow below.

Reading about this WW II operation led me to consider what other pieces of history was I missing out on? Over the next few months I spent time; at the Casino Monument (dedicated to Polish soldiers who fought in Italy) at Ratusz Metro, tracked down the story of the statue at the Plac Bankowy tram stop (Mayor of Warsaw in 1939 who disappeared into concentration camp), was shown the still standing parts of the Warsaw ghetto walls and toured the old Jewish Cemetery with a Polish friend, dug further into the incredible story of the only British airman to survive the explosion of his bomber (delivering supplies to the uprising in 44) over Park Skaryszewski in Praga and read as many plaques (i.e took a picture and asked a friend later!) that I came across. My eyes were opened to the incredible history that that Warsaw has to tell. Curiosity killed the cat, but I was enjoying it.

Now I am not going to give you the answers to my opening paragraph that will be up to the reader. A great starting point for people visiting Warsaw is the Uprising Museum dedicated to the events of 1944; you will find a lot of information here and if you want to learn more I am sure the staff can help. It should be noted again that many of the interesting stories from WW II and that emphasize Polish nationalism were suppressed under communism so finding the locations or stories themselves take a little work.

Another story from Operation Heads that of Operation Burkl. This was the second action of Operation Heads and the first success. The assassination of Franz Burkl took place at the junction of Marszałkowska and Litewska. The shot below, taken from the linked website, which is very helpful by the way (but in Polish) shows how the junction looked then. In the slideshow is a shot of how it looks today.

How it looked in 1943

So I/we would love to hear from the readers what places have they discovered or would suggest are worth visiting or knowing more about?

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*It must be noted that between 1940-43 over 250,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw ghetto to German concentration camps to die plus another 50,000 died in the uprising of 1943.

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Park Ujazdowski – the best park in Warsaw?

Lon (mochafueled) is back with another guest post for Polandian. This time about a nice park, with no litter!

So what is the best park in Warsaw?

For me Park Ujazdowski located on Aleje Ujazdowskie is the best of many great parks in Warsaw. Warsaw’s public parks are its special treasure in my opinion and I am sure others would agree. I can’t say I have visited every green spot in Warsaw but I can say I have spent time in the most well-known of them during my visits to this interesting capital city. As the city gets ready for Euro Cup 2012 I thought I would state my favorite and urge a visit by those who passing through and ask readers their opinion on the best park and will even expend the question to include other Euro Cup 2012 venues Poznan, Wroclaw and Gdansk.

Dedicated in 1896 and then renovated again in 2000-2002 this small park bordering the more famous Łazienki Park and located only a short distance from several embassies is for me the perfect combination of greenery, lake, statues, walking paths, and benches. Also well maintained and clean, probably as a result of closing at night. This can be also be said for a couple of other parks but for me this place and its quiet peaceful surroundings just draws me in and is that place that I go when I need to relax and just walk or sit for awhile. I will let a few pictures speak for me both winter and spring/summer. This is a park to be enjoyed year round.

Also this park was also played a role in a famous WW II assassination and gun battle in early 1944; a marker on the sidewalk bears witness to a part of the remarkable story of “Operation Heads”.

Further information on the park history

Further reading on WW II event, which will be subject of a more detailed forthcoming post on Polandian.

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