04 September 2015
Warsaw is the tortured capital of Poland, which saw over 80% of its buildings destroyed in 1945. Since then it has been patiently and labourously rebuilt.
The following Cold War years under the iron grip of its soviet neighbour did certainly not add to its glamour. However, today as the economic centre of a Poland that is more european than ever, Warsaw has experienced a rebirth.
Of course, the city is not quiet as trendy and fashionable as Berlin but certain streets can be likened to the East Berlin of the 1990s and certainly deserves a visit. In particular, the Praga neighbourhood, which is set to become the trendy, arty and bohemian spot of an authentic and slightly wild Warsaw, deserves to be rediscovered.
For the “happening” district of Warsaw – look no further than Praga. This town, independent for a long time, is accesible by crossing the Visule river and was preserved from the german bombs at the end of World War II. The streets of Praga are lined with many pre-war buildings which offer a snapshot of the architectual beauty that reigned in pre-war Warsaw. It is in fact in one of Praga’s steets, Mata, that Roman Polanski shot part of his film ‘The Pianist’ to take advantage of the historical setting and streets of the 40s. However, things are changing and the “hipsters” of warsaw are envading the neighbourhood. Especially since a new subway line, which was inaugurated in spring of 2015, connects the area to the city centre in minutes! No doubt, Praga could soon be transformed under the influence of this high income population who seek the peace and quiet not found in the city centre. We suggest starting off your discovery with the orchestra that sits on a small square just off Florianska street. These street bands have always been popular in Praga and today you just need to send a text to the number enscribed on a plaque to hear a traditional song played out on the loud speakers. Continue your journey through the charming and old-fashioned Rozyckiego Bazaar to find everything and anything and lose yourself in the small streets where street art and decrepit buildings form a backdrop like no other. Could you possibly need any other proof that Praga is the up and coming arty neighbhoood of Warsaw? Then know that this is also the place where french artist Julien de Casabianca creates his masterpieces when he passes through! The artist takes photos of ancient forgotten portaits that he finds in the museums of capital citys. He then prints them and puts them up in the streets. These historical characters in the portaits illuminate the streets of Praga like nowhere else in Warsaw!
This ancient munitions factory complex has become the creative heart of Warsaw with design studios, shops, restaurants, advertising agencies and web agencys all setting up there. A major project is underway to add luxury lofts and apartments. In short, it is an enclave in an area of Praga, still relatively working class and not serviced by the subway, which was built with the mythic soho area of New York as a reference. Walking around, it feels more like you’re in London, New York or Sydney than Warsaw. ‘Rage Age’ a high-end mens fashion brand recently opened a flagship store and ‘Soho Store’ sells collections from young budding polish designers. The areas food stalls are definitely the areas to be seen. Soho Factory is without a doubt the epicentre of an area that is constantly improving and which houses the towns two atypical museums (see below)…
Whilst shops remained empty and sales nonexistant during Poland’s dark Cold War era, the neon signs that remained illuminated brought a small amount of heat to Warsaws inhabitants and gave them confort as if they were just in any normal town…an illusion that many Varsavians still remember today. Indeed the neon sign’s polish designers certainly brought a creative flair typical of the 40s and 50s. The signs were unfortunatly taken down and forgotton, until recently, when a passionate couple started collecting them and saved them from inevitable destruction. 3 years ago, the couple chose the heart of Soho Factory, in one of the last remaining red brick buildings , as the place to showcase their collection of neon signs, a museum unique in the world! One walks around admiring the stunning iluminations of another time. Signs whose captivating and poetic nature is so powerful we would love to see them on our own streets.
Across the street from Soho Factory, a symbol of the modernity and creativity of the Poland of today, lies a recently opened small and unassuming museum which exhibits everyday objects of the communist era. The “Charm of the PRL” Museum was created by the founder of Warsaw Adventre, a company which offers a unique and unusual experience of Warsaw. Like with the Neon Museum it was a bit by accident that the founders started collecting these everyday objects. Objects that most liberated poles cast aside without second thought. In the museum, one can sit in a 60s style “Formica” living room, admire a “Frania” washing machine which was also used to make butter and wine! One can also wander around an empty shop, like it would have been at the time. Or even caress an authentic toilet roll which was a very rare and prized commodity at the time! In short, this small fun-natured museum is the ideal place to better understand the state of organised shortage which prevailed in post-war Poland up until the 90s.
Although Praga is naturally very attractive to western visitors in search of traces of a preserved past, one can not simply ignore a visit to Warsaw’s city centre. If only to admire the Palace of Culture and Science, a kind of huge neo-gothic wedding cake which has become the icon of the city. This “Palace” conceived by Stalin as a “gift to the polish people” has long been dispised by the inhabitants of Warsaw. Built between 1952 and 1955, it cost a fortune in a country that was barely recovering from the second world war. Years after its completion, the “Gotham city” style building, sat pristine and immaculate among the ruins of a city that had not yet been rebuilt! After the fall of the Berlin wall, Varsovians even planned to destroy it…Fortunatly however, they decided against it and we can now visit what remains of an architectual feat filled with memories of a dark past. From the top of the tower, the views are simply breathtaking. For a final shopping trip, be sure to visit Mysia 3 which includes several floors of shops many of which showcase local designers. In particular, special attention must be paid for Ewelina Kustra and her shop “She’s a riot” which offers a great selection of both Polish and French goods.