Tag Archives: Krakowskie Przedmieście

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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Saying something nice, for once.

Krakowskie Przedmieście is one of the oldest streets in Warsaw, having started out as a trade route in the 15th century. The rest of the history you can read in the Wiki article!

When I arrived in Warsaw and for many years afterwards Krak Przed was a potentially very nice street spoiled by too much traffic and too little walking space. It also looked like it needed a great deal of TLC.

Well it finally got that TLC when at the end of September 2006 the renovation works began. They spent the first year making a horrible nasty mess of the place, screwing up both pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the process. We endured months of obstacle course pavements as demonstrated in this shot taken almost exactly one year ago:

Slowly, very slowly, the new Krak Przed started to take shape with the first noticeable improvement being the elimination of the used car dealership that masqueraded as a car park right next to Ziggy’s column! Through the mud and fencing it was obvious that the rest of the works were going to bring big improvements too. If it ever finished.

Well, it was finished, eventually. I’m not sure when exactly because I’ve been meaning to take a photo-walk down there for ages but I suppose it must have been very close to two years after it started – i.e. late summer 2008. It’s worth noting that “two years” is quite a good measuring stick for messy things in Warsaw – the airport T2 was two years late, the excavations under Saski palace took two years to finish, Krak Przed took two years to renovate, PiS were in power for two years……….hmmmm.

So, here are some snaps of the new Krak Przed. I’m very impressed with it. It has transformed the area and finally brought the street up to the kind of standard that one would expect to see of such a thoroughfare in a significant European capital city. The traffic is minimal, the pavements are wide, flat and interesting. There are flowerpots, trees, benches, art….I love it.


This last picture shows one of the glass blobs that are scattered around the street displaying the very accurate paintings of Mr. Bellotto. As everyone knows, these were used extensively when reconstructing Warsaw after the war and they do make for meaningful breaks along the Krak Przed stroll route. Personally, I hate these paintings with a passion in terms of anything besides a record of what it used to look like. As a work of art, something to hang on your wall and look at every day – forget it. They are the things you find on the wall of an old, incontinent and slightly senile aunt surrounded by a garish frame and covered with dust. The real Canalettos are better but still deadly boring. What’s funny about these paintings of Warsaw is how everyone thinks they are by THE Canaletto – the artist who’s paintings are worth loads of moolah. Not so.

Bernardo Bellotto (1720-1780) was a Venetian painter but only the nephew and pupil of the renowned artist Canaletto. He often worked under the name of Caneletto when outside of Italy, presumably to make the most of his family connections. I notice that the paintings now displayed on Krak Przed also bear the name Canaletto in brackets so the camouflage continues – “Gee, look honey, Canaletto painted Warsaw!”. Even the Warsaw Voice (article linked to above) was fooled;

“….four glass cubes will appear with reproductions of paintings by Canaletto.”

My last point of interest on the walk was this thing;

This is located at the top of ul. Bednarska at ‘Hoover Square’. I know the Poles make great cleaners but naming parts of the city after vacuum cleaners? Anyway, this building has the appearance of a rusty bus-shelter and is described on the information board as “Zagospodarowanie Skweru Hoover’a i zabudowa obiektami kubaturowymi”. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what this will eventually be? I’m guessing a bar / coffee shop as if memory serves there always used to be some refreshment here in the warmer months at least.

For the Sherlocks amongst you, you might like to join the race to determine the identities of the two people who occupied the coffins they dug up while doing the works!

By the way, Bednarska is a nice street to wander down, if you like mountain climbing!

It goes from Krak Przed down to the Mariensztat part of town and it all has a good atmosphere. It would help if they could stop changing the tenants of the shops/restaurants down Bednarska as it gets a bit confusing when you go there for pancakes and end up with a choice of two pierogi bars instead.

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