Tag Archives: Warszawa

Liberté! Égalité! Homosexualité!

Polandian is always there to report on interesting things going on around the country. On Saturday the 7th I went to Warsaw to experience the Warsaw Pride March…

Parada Równości 2008

We’re Polish, we’re queer and we’re not going away. photo: PAP

Warsaw Pride is a march in support of gay and lesbian emancipation, non-discrimination and equal rights. Homosexuality is a very controversial issue in Polish public debate. There are four factors that contribute to this in my opinion:

1) Sexuality in general, of any kind, is a rather sensitive subject and surrounded by hypocrisy. It would be tremendously difficult for a politician to admit, for example, that sex is a source of pleasure and health — not only a means of procreation. Public debate is prudish, sex is a bit of a taboo.

2) Poles find it very easy to discriminate on any grounds and feel they have the right to judge other people’s lives, and to interfere in them (as to any Polish people, this unfortunately also applies to Polish gay people).

3) Sexual education is poor, so is education on peaceful coexistence, on solving disputes, on coping with one’s emotions and frustrations… Many people therefore unload their frustrations onto whoever is the easiest target at that moment. Could be gay people, could be someone else.

4) The gay rights movement is not very strong. It is probably the strongest of all the grass-roots democracy movements in Poland, but only a tiny percentage of Poland’s 1.5 million gay people are involved. Gay Poles, like other Poles are not eager to associate, to use democratic process or to realise their interests in an organised and professional manner. But this is a universal Polish problem. Other associations, for instance associations of disabled people, are even weaker and virtually unable to provide results for their communities.

My perspective on the Warsaw Pride event is the perspective of a gay person, a gay man who is Polish and who loves this country, who is young and wants to make a change.

This year the colourful crowd started gathering on the square between the Blue Skyscraper and the City Hall a few minutes before 2 pm. The weather was, as every year, very good – sunny and warm. A picnic atmosphere encouraged people to sit back and relax in the square, or to walk around and check out the diverse people who had turned up… there were elderly ladies waving rainbow flags, cool students, guys in wheelchairs, families with children, pensioners, gay couples, beautiful drag queens, muscle guys without t-shirts, socialists, greens, anarchists, people wanting to legalize marihuana, a priest, famous people: authors, professors, philosophers, newspaper editors, gay rights activists, actors… Sources say there were 7 to 8 thousand people — people who want things to be different.

Marszałkowska

Parading down Marszałkowska, one of the main streets of Warsaw.
photo: Joe Ruffles

Marszałkowska

Further down Marszałkowska.
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

It was truly amazing to see such a huge crowd of positive people in Poland. No haters, no bad feelings, having fun, being open-minded… I certainly hope these people are the future of this country and that they will change the face of this earth… I hope that we will build somewhere better and easier to live in…

This is only a tiny percentage out of million and half of gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people in Poland. Even tinier if we add their friends and families.

There were many banners, slogans carried, as well as flags: Polish, Swedish, British, Israeli, Canadian, Dutch, EU, and of course rainbow.

Warming up before the march on Bankowy square.
photo (left and right): Joe Ruffles

Anti-gays also turned up – 100-200 of them. Haters, Christian fundamentalists, nationalists… you name them, they were there to look us the eye. Many among them were violent, hence a strong presence of police and special agents in disguise

Police and FBI
Police and the FBI. photo: Joe Ruffles


The common cheer was supported by the music provided by speakers on nine floats – a record number. Among the trucks of LGBT organisations, gay clubs and political parties, was also an ecological float of The Green Party (Zieloni 2004) which was moving by muscle power, rather then by burning petrol (or gasoline as they say across the pond).

From one of the floats Brazillian-style female dancers distributed leaflets about safe sex. M25, one of the gay clubs provided the best music (Skinni Patrini were giving a live performance), and half-naked muscle guys (very popular with the crowd), and also had a VIP area with golden cushions. We spotted Kinga Dunin, Jacek Poniedziałek, Krystian Legierski and Maciej Nowak sipping something that looked like champagne (forbidden during the pride), but we didn’t taste it, so it could have been bubbly apple juice.

Anarchists moved around by foot – in a boat. Try to work that one out.

Some of the floats:

KPH

Zieloni 2004left: The Green Party; right: Kampania Przeciw Homofobii
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

ASDPL

left: Socialdemocratic Party of Poland; right: Anarchists (European float in the background)
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

The only public institution to fly the rainbow flag and support the LGBT emancipation movement was the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Warsaw. It was noticed by the people.

British Embassy

The British Embassy in Warsaw, in front of which marched the Gay Pride. photo: Bert Kommerij

This year the march has ended in front of the prime-minister’s office. When will we see a rainbow flag there? The place was not picked by accident, it was intended to encourage the new government, currently preoccupied with the policy of not doing anything, to act. To meet with LGBT organisations, to recognise the need for legislation acknowledging the reality of existence of same-sex couples. To implement policies preventing intolerance within public institutions and businesses and between individuals. No one at the prime-minister’s office was there to meet the demonstrators. Warsaw Pride this year, unlike previously, ended without concluding speeches, which some people found disappointing.

At the PM office

Approaching the Prime-Minister’s office. Photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

Wish you were there? Next parade in 2009! And 2010 will see a massive influx of gay people, camp, lederhosen, and wigs as Warsaw will be the host of Europride! It will be the first time in history that this event will be held in a former Eastern bloc country.

How was the parade received by the Polish media? News channels did some live broadcasts, however prime-time bulletins barely mentioned it. Traditionally mainstream media presented bigots and haters as equal sides in the argument.

At the time of the parade Prime Minister Donald Tusk was in his home town of Sopot. Asked about the parade he reportedly said that “Everyone has the right to manifest their opinion“. He also stressed that “such controversial” events as Warsaw Pride and countermanifestations are becoming more “civillised”, and no longer end with “physical violence and abusive language”. And added “And that’s how I understand the role of a prime-minister — to guarantee the safety and freedom for people to express their opinions, with whom I don’t always agree”. According to Mr Tusk “with many demands expressed at the Warsaw pride every decent person would agree. No one can be discriminated, everyone should be equal in rights, and should be able to count on tolerance and friendliness from others”.

It is a different language then what we used to hear during the reign of the Law and Justice party and Kaczynski brothers. But no difference in policies.

It proves that time itself won’t change anything for the better. If we want things to change, we have to fight for it, we have to fight for our freedom and dignity, we have to make LGBT rights a matter of political dispute. We have to be active and organise ourselves – no one will give us anything, we have to take it for ourselves.

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Big thanks to the authors of the pictures for their consent to have them used in this post.

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A Guide To Songs About Poland, Heavily YouTube Loaded

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There was a time I envied Hungary a bit of a lot:

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Jethro Tull, my band #1 to take to an inhabited tropical island (or wherever my pension is going to take me) gave out a song “Budapest”. Before the ultimate tearing the Iron Curtain off and away, and today, too, to a certain extent, the national pride of Poland had longed for any honourable mentions in Western production. So that we’d know the civilised world knows we’re not a Russian colony with no history or ambitions.

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We would idolise people feeding our starving egos – like Marino Marini, a medium-popular Italian songster with a one-timer in heavily-accented Polish (but damn, the song is so sentimentally kitsch it’s beautiful):

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Or like Classix Nouveaux. (They’ll never never come out of my mobile). The problem with bands like CN was they would requite the love Poles felt for them — but were not recognised too worldly.

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And Poles would probably remind an English or German foreigner some internationally famous tunes may be of Polish origin.

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Or that Polish Roman Polański directed a movie about Polish Władysław Szpilman playing Polish Fryderyk Szopen. If music should not be enough:

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Or that Gazebo would sing “I like Chopin” [but did he mean Chopin vodka?].

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Or that Midnight Oil sing about Kościuszko, though Aussies misspell and mispronounce him and often think he’s just a mount.

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Or we would speak of Charles Bronson, who was Polish (oh really?), and a harmonica virtuoso.

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Or we would be happy Maidens want us to play pray with them:

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Or that they visit our airports.

That they visit our cities.

That they play our football.

That they see our people.

That they attend our weddings.

So that they could say “Na zdrowie”:

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Or that U2 made a Solidarnosc-inspired song (for which Poles would pay back waving their shirts the other time).

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Or Kim Wilde? Long before she was covered in Cambodia by Apoptygma Berzerk, Polish “affectionate people” had covered her with flowers and kisses and kisses and improvised dancing, live, probably to thank her she came to us capable of saying “Cześć” or “Dziękuję”:

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Hey, we even liked strangers when their admiration came through imitation. For example: Vox, the first Polish boys-will-be-boys-band, singing about aloha-sunny-banana way of life when it was grey and communist outside. The song has been kicking arse, amen. And it still kicks, even if in a Czech remake meant for a TV commercial.

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Our hearts soar when someone such as Eddie Vedder speaks Polish (even if it’s read, and it’s B16 Polish more than Polish Polish).

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Yes, our depression could be low.

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So, what more?

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This premiere-league metal musician took Danzig for his alias. (And Danzig is German for Gdańsk. Hurrah!)

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And then there’s Christopher Poland. (What a nice surname!)

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Any common denominator? Considering Chris got himself into metal albums, and that I found heavy bands like these Danes, it seems the natural way you would musically relate to Poland would be loud and clearly hard.

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Type O Negative is a first class metal band, and its core-man is Peter Steele, born Ratajczyk. Just when one could boast his Polish surname, one would learn Peter sings about faeces, or women that cheat on him, that he posed for Playgirl, that he was clinically treated for depression, or that he converted from atheism to Catholicism. Let’s be confused: is it good PR, or not?

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There are exports, too (to boost up our pride aware of them admiring our guys).

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Vader – the best (selling) thing in music from Poland (*).
I still recall the thrill of the time I saw
the first Polish words on MTVfirst Polish words on MTV, a Polish ballet dancer, a Polish power plant, lots of first class loudness in their video. On the other hand, Vader is not a Polish name, the band IS good (while goodness is international) and singing in English. [And how! Uttering loud lines “We await the silent empire” and “We do believe in silence” is clear irony and wit, and they will discuss stuff like for-snobs-only Pynchonisms, with unprecedented speed (try to say “You’d better never antagonize the horn” in 0.8 second).]

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(*) Since that etude thing Chopin wrote. Yes, that borrowing from a prelude by Birkin. The lending to Beyond The Sea. Yes, the song in American…Or’s it English?…French?…Or Corsican French?…Or French-English on Japanese tv? — It’s all one, anyway.
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Anyway. Jethro Tull went on with “Budapest” for 10 minutes long and more. This could hurt the national pride of a non-Hungarian. Despite the fact Poles and Hungarians have been considered “brethren”. (We don’t speak our brother’s language, we don’t see one another too often, we hardly shared borders. Yes, warm feelings are feasible.)

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Granted, Jethro Tull mentions Poland alright (“the beat of distant Africa or a Polish factory town”) but that’s not quite what I’d expect. I mean — where’s a song entitled “Warsaw”?

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Well, I’ll tell you where.

Joy Division.
Porcupine Tree.
David Bowie (with Brian Eno).

Plus Tangerine Dream (with Poland) ?
Plus Niemen in French?

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Not often a place earns a Babylonian god’s song with German title, English words, Swedish voice.
Not always a madam’s cul in that place gets a mention in a French song, Belgian voice, first verse.
Not bad. Not bad at all.

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PS But now I am going to listen to Laibach. Whose “words are for you, Poland”, says the third sentence, and the beginning rings the bell in its unmistakenly Polish way.

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I can’t dance, I can’t sing.

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Inside Warsaw: V-Ż

V is for VISTULA (Wisła) – The Wisła runs straight through Warsaw, south to north, heading for Gdansk. Whilst it is a significant feature of the city, it is more of an obstacle than an attraction. There is nothing especially pretty about it, there are no interesting developments on its banks and as the land is flat on both sides the river does not open up wide and interesting vistas from strategic vantage points. There is almost nothing to do ‘on’ the river either. No ferry rides or nice restaurants or tourist’s scenic tours, as far as I can see. You have to realise that this is most definitely NOT the Thames, Seine, Danube or any of the more worthwhile rivers flowing through the capitals of Europe. Not by a long chalk. In general terms, the west side of the river is where all the action is to be found. The east has some interesting parts but is generally seen as being poorer and a little bit smelly! For me, the most significant news item related to the Wisła has been the replacement of the old Syrena bridge with the new Most Świętokrzyski. The old bridge was erected by the army in 1985 supposedly only for use while the Poniatowski bridge was renovated. In fact, it lasted until the new bridge in that location was opened in 2000. I struggled to find pictures of the old army bridge, it was not very pretty so that’s perhaps why, but I did find a couple taken at time when the new bridge was built but the army bridge had not been demolished. (If anyone does have a good picture of the old army bridge, without the new bridge, would you let me know please).

Here follows the usual blurb about the Vistula: The largest river of Poland and of the Baltic sea drainage basin. Its branches include the Bug, Wieprz, San, Narew, Nida, Pilica, Brda, and Wierzyca rivers. It is 1,047km long and has a drainage basin of 194,500 square km. The source is found south of Bielsko-Biała on the northern slopes of the western Beskid range, in southern Poland, at an altitude of 1,106 metres. The average elevation of the Vistula basin is 590 feet above sea level; the mean river gradient is 0.10 percent, and the mean velocity is 2.6 feet per second. Climatic variations in the Vistula basin cause marked oscillations in the water level of the river, which averages 12 feet in the upper, 25 feet in the middle, and up to 33 feet in the lower reaches. Exceptionally heavy floods occurred in 1924, 1934, 1947, 1960, 1962, and 1970. Usually ice forms on the surface of the Vistula in the first half of January, breaking up toward the end of February. (not this year though) The mean annual temperature of the Vistula water is 46° F (8° C) in the upper reaches and 49° F (9° C). In winter the water temperature is 36° to 37° F (2° to 3° C); in summer it varies from 54° to 59° F (12° to 15° C). More than 40 kinds of fish exist in the Vistula. In the upper reach, turbot is the most common, with bream in the middle and lower reaches, and, in the waters of the estuary, salmon trout and vimba vimba. Despite the Vistula’s potential role as a transport link between the heavy industrial centres of southern Poland and the Baltic ports, navigational hazards have restricted its traffic.

W is for WARSAW GHETTO – Clearly, this is a topic for a few hundred books and not for this post, however, I should give it a mention as it is what many people visiting the city will have on their agenda. The ghetto was huge, the image below is a very helpful map for locating parts of the ghetto, click for large size. Some of the road layouts have changed since this time but you can work it out.

I didn’t know until looking at this map that what is now the Chinese Embassy is build on what used to be a brush factory (B). As far as I can tell, this factory was run by Walther Tobbens, a man who had been busy busy exploiting the plight of the Jews in Germany since 1933 and started operations here in 1941. At its height, Tobbens factories in the ghetto employed 6-8,000 people. As well a brushes, furs (Fritz Shultz company of Danzig (Gdansk)) & textiles were also produced in the ghetto. A days wages did not cover the cost of half a loaf of bread. Anyone with an eye on Chinese human rights issues will appreciate the irony of its Warsaw Embassy location.

I’ve actually spent a fair bit of my time in Warsaw in or very close to what was the old ghetto area. My in-laws actually live inside its boundaries, two of my offices have also been within the old ghetto area. One of the first things I did when I arrived was to try and find some remains of the ghetto. I followed the guide books carefully but was never really sure if I’d found something or not. Apparently there are remains of the old ghetto walls but I found them very hard to find.

X is for X MARKS THE SPOT – As the majority of the city was completely demolished during the war, especially the ghetto area above, this is the only way you are going to find what you’re looking for – “Here stood the yadda yadda” or “Here, in 1941, blah blah”. There are plaques and monuments scattered all over the city. For the Jewish history there is the “Path of Remembrance” that takes in such things as the location of the rail terminal for trains leaving to Auschwitz and many memorial stones discussing the events and heroes of the time. From a more Polish viewpoint there are memorial plaques all over the city usually commenting on who Hitler’s troops killed at this place and on what date. The one pictured below is a different style and content in that it talks about the immediate post-war period (1945-1954) and the thousands of Poles imprisoned, tortured and killed in this building by the “Ministry of Public Safety”, AKA communists stamping their authority on the city.

The sheer number of memorials really does give you a feeling for the history, in terms of the war and afterwards, of the city and the magnitude of personal suffering endured by the people of Warsaw. It is nice to see that most of them are well cared for, cleaned, repainted and have fresh flowers, flags and ribbons.

Y is for YOOF – There are a lot of young people in Warsaw, either for studying or for working. It is, in fact, hard to find people who were actually born and raised in Warsaw. The majority of people you talk to will have parents in far flung parts of Poland who they visit at times like Easter and Christmas or in the case of men, every two weeks to get their washing done! What’s nice about young people in Warsaw is that they don’t appear to be at all threatening. They drink, they take drugs, they have issues, but none of this seems to make them want to stab you with a screwdriver or give you any bother at all. I feel considerably safer here than I would do at home in the UK.

Z is for Z, Ź, Ż – What can I say? Polish is a strange language and with the letter Z being so popular they decided that they needed three of them! The first is a bit like a normal Z, the last sounds a bit like the “je” in the French “je ne sais quoi”, often confused in Polish with the letter combination RZ. The one in the middle is a kind of higher pitched version of the last one but has more of an “i” (as in igloo) going on at the end. Impossible for me to explain really! All you need to know is that every word, person, street or thing you are likely to encounter will have one of these letters at the beginning, a few in the middle and one at the end. Warsaw examples: I live in Żoliborz (similar sound at the beginning and end but one’s a Z and the others RZ, tricky eh?), I like to visit Łazienki park (bringing in another wild card with the ZI combination!), I often drive down Żelazna street (this one actually has a normally pronounced Z in the middle). I could go on all night, but I won’t.

Well, that’s the end of the alphabet, I hope you enjoyed it. When I’ve done a little research I’ll be back with “Warsaw by Numbers”. Stay tuned!

Personal blog’s here by the way.

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Inside Warsaw: Q-U

Q is for Q – You have to feel sorry for the letter Q. Not terribly popular in the English language, it is pretty much completely ignored po polsku. It is in the Polish alphabet but it’s one of those strange letters you might not even bother saying on your way from A-Ż. My “Great Polish-English Dictionary” goes directly from “pyzaty” (chubby, full-faced) to “rab” (servant, slave). It doesn’t even have a ‘Q’ title with “nie ma” written underneath. Looking at the index of my DK Eyewitness guide to Warsaw, there is only one entry for ‘Q’ and that is “Qchnia Artystychnia”, which is a restaurant I mentioned earlier as being a good place for kaszanka, or indeed anything. The restaurant can be found at the rear (possibly originally the front?) of the Ujazdowski Palace which any taxi driver will be able to find for you. When you end up in the car park, make your way round to the other side (facing you in the picture below), it is not exactly well signposted. Just to give you a clue, it is about 15 minutes walk from the Sheraton Hotel and right across the street from Łazienki park. More on this general area can be found below under ‘U’.

The palace today is primarily given over to the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art. We have wandered around the museum a few times and, although some of the exhibits leave me cold, it is generally a rewarding experience and gives more evidence of the artistic talent that can be found in Poland. There is a shop where you can buy things of a ‘modern’ verging on weird nature made by students and artists. In browsing for this article, I found this article about the new Modern Art Museum to be built next to the Pałac Kultury as part of the master plan to revitalise the centre of Warsaw. [pause while I laugh my arse off] Well, reading this article is very enlightening. Firstly in the way that it shows exactly the kind of development that is badly needed around the PK. Secondly because it gives in the last paragraphs an insight into the political nonsense that stops any development happening and is still happening – start year 2006-2007 – yeah, right! I know it is easy and popular to have a go at politicians, but Warsaw really does need to get its act together on all this stuff, and fast.

R is for RAJEWSKI, Czesław – who, as he was one of the architects, I am using as a lame excuse to talk about “Stadion Dziesieciolecia”, “Tenth Anniversary Stadium” or as everyone in Warsaw knows it, “The Russian Bazaar”. This was built in 1954-5 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the end of the war, or more likely, 10 years of soviet rule. It has been little used in its lifetime, most notably perhaps being the opening ceremony of the World Festival of Youth in 1955. After that it gradually fell into disrepair until in around 1989 when it became Europe’s largest open-air market. Today it remains as a marketplace, the sleaziest in town and indisputably the place to go if you’re looking to pick up a second hand AK-47. It might also be a good place to buy software at surprisingly low prices, but I wouldn’t know about that. You can find the stadium on the other side of the river in the Saska Kępa area.

S is for STREET MARKET– These pop up all over Warsaw but the one I’m best acquainted with is close to Hala Mirowksa on Al. Jana Pawła II, just the other side of Elektoralna. It is not a daily occurrence and I’m afraid I don’t know on which days it does occur so you’ll just have to go every day and hope for the best! The general idea is to spread a blanket on the pavement, or if you’re a rich trader you can set up a little folding table. On this you spread your wares and wait for the punters. It is a bit like a garage or boot sale but for people who can’t afford garages or boots. The range of items on sale is what you expect to find when poor people sell whatever they can find to other poor people.

T is for TYLMAN van Gameren – Another architect but this time one who was instrumental in the design of numerous, mostly Baroque and Neo-Classical, buildings, primarily palaces and churches in Warsaw and throughout Poland. As the name suggests, he was Dutch, born in Utrecht and then fell in with the Polish hoity toity of the time, mainly Prince Lubomirski. The list of his works is impressive. The ones I am most familiar with in Warsaw are St Casimir’s Church in the new town square, Krasinski Palace close to the monument for the Heroes of the Uprising, which now contains antique prints and manuscripts for the National Library and the small hermitage building at Łazienki park.

U is for UJAZDOWSKIE – This whole area is a good one to take a walk around. The street itself is home to numerous government buildings, embassies & palaces. There is also Ujazdowskie park on this street which is my second favourite after Łazienki (which is accessible from further down the street). There is a very nice walk to be had from Łazienki park, past Ujazdowskie Palace and then winding your way around the back of the Sejm (Parliament) and then further, behind the Sheraton Hotel all the way to Aleja 3ego Maja from where you can cut up to Nowy Swiat and continue along to the old and new town squares. One of, if not the, nicest walks in Warsaw. Probably about an hour one way.

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Inside Warsaw: L-P

L is for LOOKOUT – If you want to get a panoramic view of Warsaw, the only place to go is to the viewing floor of the Pałac Kultury, at 238m high remains the tallest building in the city. On a good day the view is excellent. The day I took the photo below was not a good day but you can get the general idea. The picture is a link to a gallery with more of these and also some better ones taken from the roof of the Rondo 1 office block, which is not somewhere you can get to but is close to the Pałac K. There is another small viewing tower close to Ziggy’s column in the old town. You don’t have the height of PK but it still gives a good view of the surrounding area, especially the old town.

M is for MARIENSZTAT – a rather strange part of Warsaw that always has a sort of ‘deserted’ feel about it. It lies at the northern end of the ‘Powiśle’ district, which is the low-level area that lies between the Wisła-Strada highway (next to the river) and the higher ground where you will find the old town and indeed the rest of Warsaw. Mariensztat is bounded by “Most Śląsko-Dąbrowski” to the north, the river to the east, Krakowskie Przedmieście up the hill to the west and either Bednarska or Karowa streets to the south. The street Ulica Mariensztat runs right through the middle and was originally formed as a route from the Cistercian (or Bernardine) monastery on Krakowskie Przedmieście to Ulica Dobra. The area dates back to the 18th century and is named after Maria Kątstka as her husband got the land as part of her dowry. The rather German “sztat” was added to please the Saxon king. Rumour has it that this area was notorious for bordellos and bare-knuckle boxing matches. To be honest, I think that’s what it needs right now because it’s pretty boring as it is! It has a small square from the mid 19th century when it was the main market square of Powiśle, but it’s not used for anything today as far as I have seen. There are a few pubs looking onto the square that do decent enough drink and grub but sitting by the exit/entrance ramps for the bridge don’t help the outdoor ambiance. The area was completely demolished in the war but rebuilt immediately afterwards in the original 18th century style and was, in 1948, the very first housing complex to be built post-war and held up as a shining example of socialism at work. It features in a film “Przygoda Na Mariensztacie”. Very close to this area you can find a good hospital in which to have a baby, a good school, a strange new building supposedly very secret and something to do with security of the nation (at the bottom of the 100+ year old viaduct of Stanisław Markiewicz) and a little further down Ul. Dobra, the new Warsaw University library. Most famous of all, of course, is my sister-in-law’s accountancy office! However, if you find yourself stranded in this area, the best thing you can do is walk up the steep and cobbled street Bednarska, which has a few interesting shops and restaurants, and get yourself back to civilisation!

N is for NEVSKY – the Nevsky Cathedral is my most amazing find in terms of architectural mysteries of Warsaw. Built between 1894 and 1912 by the Imperial Russian authorities, slap bang in the middle of Saski Place, now Plac Piłsudskiego. Talk about going out of your way to piss another nation off! When it was completed, it was 70m high and the tallest building in Warsaw. Shortly after Poland gained independence as a result of the end of WWI, the Nevsky was demolished. It had stood there for less than 15 years! I know its demolition was sort if inevitable, but I think it’s a shame it happened. As far as I can work out, when Pope JPII did his thing in Plac Piłsudskiego in 1979, he was right above the foundations of Nevsky.

O is for OLD TOWN – I can’t take Warsaw’s old town seriously I’m afraid. To me, an “old town” needs to be “old” and Warsaw’s was built in the 1950s. Fair enough, it’s nobody’s fault but the Germans who razed the place and the Russians who stood and watched while they did it but nevertheless, it’s not old. On the plus side, it was built precisely according to the original plans and so it does look like it once looked but the current state of repair suggests that the materials available in the 50s were clearly not up to the same standard as those used when it was first established in the 13th century. Remember that Warsaw Old Town is really two places – the old old town and the new old town. The new old town is not quite as old as the old old town, it was built in the 15th century, but in my opinion it is a nicer area to walk around. If you wander enough around the new town area, you’ll be sure to bump into the church where I got married and also my in-law’s apartment. In fact, we got married in the new old town and had the reception in the old old town! You get to the new old town by walking through the Barbican gate and along Ulica Freta. Watch out for the morons dressed up and pretending to want to chop your head off on the way. They are a pain in the pupa but have been there for a few years now and show no signs of going away. Must be good business. Just behind where they hang out is the restaurant I mentioned as being good for herrings and stuff. Click the picture for a gallery of old town (old and new) shots.

P is for PAWIAK – a famous prison in Warsaw built by the tsarist authorities between 1829 and 1835. It was operational until 1939. During the January Uprising it was used as a transfer camp for Poles sentenced to forced resettlement to Siberia. After Poland regained independence in 1918 it became the main prison for male criminals in Warsaw. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 it was turned into a German Gestapo prison and then part of the Warsaw concentration camp. Approximately 100 000 men and 20 000 women passed through the prison, mostly members of the Armia Krajowa, political prisoners and civilians taken as hostages in łapankas. Approximately 37 000 of them were shot while further 60 000 were sent to German death and concentration camps. The final transport of prisoners took place shortly before the Warsaw Uprising, on July 30, 1944. 2 000 men and the remaining 400 women were sent to Gross-Rosen and Ravensbrück. After the area was secured during the Warsaw Uprising and subsequently again lost to German forces, on August 21 an unknown number of remaining prisoners was shot and the buildings burnt and blown up. The exact number of victims is unknown since the archives were never found. The building was not rebuilt after the war. Today it is a museum and you can find it at the junction of Jana Pawła II and Dzielna. For various reasons, the power of the Jewish lobby amongst them, most visitors to Warsaw will be aware of the Jewish ghetto and go in search of it. This place is an example of the non-Jewish suffering that was just as terrible although far less publicised.

This tree “of remembrance” is an exact replica of the original one that stood in the same spot but became too weak to maintain.

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