Tag Archives: Polish street

What's in a Name? – Place-names

Having looked at male and female names and how they can sometimes be internationalised, it’s now time to look at some of the place-names, street names and locations in Poland. I find the history behind names interesting, as some are chosen deliberately to honour a person or an event, while others seem to be absolutely random, and even the most curious mind cannot understand the reasoning for choosing such a name. For the most part, street names that I have seen tend to honour a person (such as Jozef Pilsudski, Marie Skłodowska-Curie or Ludwik Zamenhof) or they represent a type of memorial to a historical event, with military history featuring prominently. Streets commemorating Westerplatte, Monte Cassino, Plac Bohaterów Getta and even Bohaterów Wietnamu all feature in Kraków.

“All of the streets in this direction should bear my name!”

Despite the attempts to give meaning and gravitas to placenames and street names, I sometimes get the feeling that those with responsibility for providing possible names suddenly got very bored or decided to have some fun with providing names to be applied. The following are examples of names that I have found funny or interesting* where I guess the creative juices were flowing when creating the names.

*Funny and interesting being subjective, of course

Where the streets have no name?

Picture the scene – a committee meeting in some Krakowian urząd building – the late 1960’s

Urzędnik #1: “Ugh, is it this time of the year again…? More new streets to be named. Where are all these people coming from?”

Urzędnik #2: “Hey, I’ve got to go and meet a man about a dog. He’s told me there will be some whiskey involved. Can we make this quick?”

Urzędnik #1: “Yeah, let’s do this.”

Urzędnik #2: “Ok – how about ‘lovely’, ‘nice’, and ‘last’?”

Urzędnik #1: (sarcastically)Sure… and ‘nursery’ and ‘gardening” too while we are doing it?”

Urzędnik #2: “Ok, I’ve signed the document to submit the names”

Urzędnik #1: “Oh… crap. Well, maybe they won’t notice…”

Street names by committee

Thus you have names of streets such as Ładna (nice), Śliczna (lovely), Ostatnia (last), Szkółkowa (nursery) and Orgodnicza (gardening) – all within a few minutes walk of each other. This also adds to names such as Duża Góra (High Mountain street) and Długa (Long street) found in Kraków as well. I certainly believe some kind of alcohol had to be involved when some of these names were being considered.

A Town Called Malice

Finding names for streets can probably be seen as a difficult task, as even the smallest towns will have numerous streets and eventually you will run out of names of battles and heroes to apply the name from. However, what I have found more interesting have been examples where the name of the town or village is one that is quite funny and interesting.

A few have always caught my eye, with specific examples such as Łódź (meaning Boat) and Piotrków Trybunalski (Peter’s Tribunal) being interesting, as they seem to be very individual and specific in their meaning. However, while travelling in the Polish countryside I have seen some very interesting place names, such as:

Biała Wielka – Great White: “Great white… hope? shark? piece of paper?”

Klucze – Keys: “So that’s where I left them!”

Zielonki – Green: “Recently renamed from Environmentally Hazardous”

And these are just some quick examples – there seem to be thousands more when you consider all of the little towns and villages scattered throughout Poland.

“I live in Boat! No – not a boat-house, but Boat-town”

Interpretation

The final category considers items that are interesting mostly because of their meaning in a foreign language, usually in English for me at least. For example,  an immature smile comes to my face when I see a signpost for Szyce and I try to pronounce it. Then of course, there is the chance to go to Hel while you are still alive! Its location on the end of a peninsula north of Gdansk makes it interesting in itself, and it is popular as a holiday destination for Poles also. However, the below picture shows that someone has a sense of humour when it comes to public transport! Or perhaps alcohol was involved here as well…!

“You’re going straight to Hel – it’s the final stop. Have a nice day!”

So those are my examples I have seen of funny and interesting place names and street names within Poland. I am sure they are not the only ones, so feel free to submit your examples!

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My Polish Street: Przyjaciół

I’ve lived in three places since I’ve been in Poland, gradually moving further out each time. My first apartment was smack-bang in the centre of the Embassy district on a street called “Przyjaciół”, the big red X on the map below (click to enlarge).

I moved into this apartment after having lived in the Sheraton Hotel for many months and not knowing Warsaw as well as I do now, I chose something in an area I was familiar with. As you might have guessed the company was paying for accommodation at the time, I was, I hate to say it, an “expat” in the full sense of the word. I lived alone, rent-free, a stone’s throw from the British Embassy on Aleja Róż and I mixed with other foreign types in the ‘Some Place Else’ bar in the Sheraton hotel or one of the few other places popular with ex-pats at the time – Irish bar on Tamka, Barbados disco near the theatre and so on. When there was a sporting event I watched in the Embassy bar or in the apartment once I got Sky TV set up properly.

The only photo I have of the interior.

Don’t let the photo mislead you about the amount of furniture I had. The bedroom (off to the left) had a cruddy Ikea mattress on the floor, the kitchen (to the right) had one tiny table just big enough for two small people and that was about it!

I had viewed numerous more spacious options including, I remember, a place on ul. Długa close to the old town but I finally decided on Przyjaciół because it ‘felt right’. Took me a while to get the pronunciation worked out though!

“Where do you live?”

“Pea-Choo”

At around 60 m2 it was plenty big enough for me and I liked the area. It was only after having signed the contract that everyone started telling me how “posh” the street was and I suppose, looking back on it, it was. After M moved in towards the end of my stay there she started pointing out the various celebs that lived in the street and opened my eyes to the shoulders I’d been rubbing with. For me it was just a conveniently located and quiet street, thanks to the dead-end blocked by the Sobanski palace (Ujazdowskie 13).

My old apartment block. (Didn’t have silly parking meters back then)

The rent was a staggering $4,000 a month, might even have been $4,500. At the time that was around 15,000 PLN a mind-blowingly massive amount. Looking at offers on domiporta.pl today I see I can get an equivalent apartment on the same street for only 4,000 PLN/month! There is nothing even close to the price we were paying back then, the largest on offer today is 134 m2 for 10,000 PLN/month. The reason for the stupid rent was supply and demand. In those days, Warsaw was awash with mostly American entrepreneurs trying to get rich quick. None of the foreigners really took the zloty seriously or had a good grasp on values, especially exchange rates, everything was dollar based. There was a serious shortage of properties available for both living space or for office use, indeed most companies operated out of villas at the time. This meant the landlords could make the most of the situation and rents were ridiculous. The first crisis of confidence in Central Europe came soon enough though, all the cowboys left town and as more new stock was added to the housing and office market, rents plummeted. How times have changed.

This was a fine apartment though, especially at the weekends. Back then, Warsaw gave a great impression of a ghost town at the weekend, particularly in the summer, so I could wander peacefully around town, visit Łazienki or Ujazdowskie parks or the slightly longer walk down the Royal Route to the old town and back again. There was after all very little else to do. Shopping wise, there was no Galleria Mokotów and therefore no Arkadia, Wola Park or any other decent shopping area either. The best on offer was a pretty ropey ‘Promenada’ across the river, an even worse ‘Panorama’ heading down towards Wilanów or a growing selection of identical French hypermarkets all selling the same junk. Food shopping was a drag with me experimenting in assorted tin-shed skleps until I eventually found the original Mini Europa on Bonifraterska. The place was and still is a rip-off of major proportions but they had things you could not find anywhere else. The only other shop I can recall visiting regularly was a place that sold CDs on Plac Zbawiciela, long since turned into another ‘trendy’ eatery/cafe.

Despite being a short street, I always managed to find a parking space on Przyjaciół. With my first car, a bright red Opel Astra (bez klima!), it was easy because it was so short and such rubbish that I didn’t care how badly I parked it. These were the days before Opel thought they were the next Mercedes. The next car was a Renault Laguna kombi seen below waiting for the ferry near to Kazimierz Dolny. This car is famous for being able to get all the way up the windy and steep road to Morskie Oko in thick February snow without chains and without incident!

The Laguna

The Laguna was harder to park but more importantly it was pitched at just the right level for the times – nice enough but not that nice that it would be stolen. Funny story from those days – the company imported a new managing director from the good old US of A. His name was Mike but he was more of a “Chuck Spank” type and having spent his entire life being Mr Corporate America you could not imagine a fish further away from water as was he in Warsaw. He insisted, against plenty of good advice, that he wanted a big-ass Volvo as his company car. He waited months for the thing to arrive. Two weeks after he took delivery he was held up in the street and the car was stolen. He insisted on another one and guess what, the same thing happened again only this time it was the “I’ll bump gently into the back of your car and invite you round the back to take a look while my mate jumps in and drives your car away” trick. His entire time in Warsaw was a catalogue of things like that. He eventually gave up trying to “blend” and went back to Florida from where I’m sure he’s been telling tales of how bad Warsaw is ever since. Once more, how times have changed.

Przyjaciół had its fair share of weird folk but the best was ‘cat lady’. As with all such streets there was an ever growing population of wild cats living in the basements or wherever they could find shelter. Cat lady would venture out every day and place about a thousand containers along the wall at the end of the street, all kinds of things from Tupperware boxes to old tins to recycled ice-cream packets and all full of cat food, left-overs or milk. Cats would come from miles around for their daily nosh. For all I know she’s still doing it.

I left Przyjaciół for two reasons, firstly because I had to start paying the rent myself (known in the trade as “going local”) and secondly because I was now with M full time and we wanted a place that was ‘ours’. And so it was we moved to Gwiażdzista, of which more in the next post.

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