Friday, 2 May 2008

In Warsaw's Museum Museum

With my brother Marek, Eddie and Moni and their cousin Hoavis, we set off to Warsaw's Palace of Culture to the Museum Museum. It's a museum whose one and only exhibit is a museum of science and technology, circa 1955. Pretty much unchanged since it opened, this truly fascinating place has faithfully captured the stultifying atmosphere of Stalinist-era temples of proletariat learning. Museum staff relate to visitors via a simple two word vocabulary - "Nie dotykać!" (Don't touch!)

Still focused on the advances of socialist technology, the bulk of the musuem's exhibits date back to the days when the communist world really believed it could outpace the west in terms of scientific progress. Never mind that much of that technology was licenced (Fiat 125, Fiat 126, Berliet bus) or shamelessly cribbed (Klimov RD 45 turbojet, Tupolev Tu-144 Concordski) from the capitalist world.

Below: Comrades, behold the future! By 1959, every state enterprise will be equiped with at least one AKAT-1 workstation. Capable of performing 64 operations per hour in its capacious memory banks, the AKAT-1 will revolutionise the socialist workplace, raising output and productivity to levels undreamt of in the west!

Below: The entertainment room. Here we find musical boxes, pianolas, orchestrions, stereopticons, as well as more modern devices such as gramophones. For a zloty, the custodian will wind up an orchestrion and set it off. Unfortunately, it's incapable of playing a decent tune. Unless it's attempting to play something by Karl-Heinz Stockhausen.

But enough frivolity. The race to overtake the western economies will be won in the field of iron and steel production! An entire room is given over to this subject, with beautifully crafted models of Bessemer converters, rolling mills and iron foundries placing correct socialist emphasis on this area of technology.

Between the Iron and Steel room and the rest of the exhibits lies a roped-off area; it's been roped off for at least a year, if not two. This is where the coal mining rooms are (or were). Are they being air-brushed out of history in a no-nonsense Stalinist way?

In the foreground, we have bicycles from the 18th and 19th centuries. Behind them, somehow struggling to find a common theme, a Soviet 1950s jet fighter simulator. I'm taking this picture stood in front of a cinema projection booth, demonstrating cinematic technology from the earliest days of the moving image to the 1970s. There's more order in my parents' attic. This may be to do with the fact that the current director of the museum has been in his job since 1972. Forty-six years. He's outlasted Gierek, Jaruzelski, Wałęsa and Kwaśniewski.

Having said all this, I do like this place for its steadfast refusal to move with the times. A real slice of history. Definitely recommended for anyone visiting Warsaw - if you're seeing the Palace of Culture, don't just see the 30th Floor - pop by the Museum Museum (as long as your children respond to 'nie dotykać'). Tickets 8 zlotys (just under two quid) for adults, 5 zlotys (just over a quid) for children. Well worth it.

This time last year:

On the Polish-Czech border, Beskidy mountains

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this museum, as you say - a living piece of history in it's own right. Glad to hear it still hasn't changed.

I remember the last time I visited I didn't see any staff at all, until we got to the 'history of television' room. There they all were, a dozen ladies of a certain age gathered around a modern big screen TV in a glass box watching their mid-day soaps! Priceless.