Periodic maintenance

Just to say I’ve tidied up the comments, which is to say I’ve deleted a few hundred of those “Hey, your blog looks great and I just wanted to say I really appreciate all the work you’ve done here…..etc” spammy things and approved a few others from normal, hard working, decent people!

Yes, we do occasionally come back and check the place out just to make sure no squatters have moved in.

Anyway, it’ll soon be time for our Happy Christmas 2013 post so not much longer to wait.

he he

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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