Monday, 15 August 2011

How old must a place be to be cherished?

Polish cities have their medieval Old Towns, Łódź has its 19th C. industrial district, with the lovingly-restored Manufaktura at its heart; numerous skansens recreate earlier times. All enjoy popularity and are protected by the konserwator zabytków ('keeper of monuments'). But one form of historical building, unique to this part of the world, which does not - as yet - enjoy the undivided support of the local population - is that which arose under communism.

As that period recedes into memory, there are still islands of it about, even in prosperous Warsaw; places that give visitors a taste of what it once must have been live to have lived in a system hallmarked by absurdity and man's inhumanity to man*.

One such place - I've mentioned it before - is Warszawa Zachodnia station - indeed both the railway station (Dworzec Zachodni) and the PKS bus terminal. If you can ignore the crowded car park full of new(ish) Audis, BMWs and Volkswagens, the modern-day dress of most people passing through and their use of mobile phones, the entire area can give you an excellent feel of the early period of transition from communism to the free market. (Indeed, the railway station offers hardly any sops to modernity.)

Join me then, for a tour of Zachodnia...

Above: at eye level - modern cars, ads featuring website addresses, contemporary fashion. But look up a bit - or down - and the scene's much as it would have been in the late1960s.

This is the 1960s office block overlooking W-wa Zachodnia PKS bus station. The aerials on the roof belong to mobile phone operators, but on top of this tower, but they could be imagined as secret spy antennae eavesdropping on citizens below.

The passage between the bus station and the railway station (above); full of klimat in its own right. I've mentioned Bar na luzie before; a not-to-be-missed drinking spot if you have a while between connections and a sense of humour and you don't mind Królewskie beer.

Above: local flavour - an old tyre, a discarded boot, empty vodka and beer bottles. Evidence of Pan Heniek and Pan Ziutek at work.

Above: the railway station. A real, live, working railway museum. It gives that interactive passenger experience of what it was like to travel by train in communist days. "Bing-bong! The Koleje Mazowieckie train to Radom via Piaseczno and Warka is about to leave Track 1 on Platform 6" (waits for every passenger to make their way there). And then just as the train is pulling into the station... "Bing-bong! The Koleje Mazowieckie train to Radom via Piaseczno and Warka is about to leave Track 21 on Platform 3." Panic as everyone surges across down the stairs into the tunnel and across to Platform 3. Only the strong and the fleet of foot make it before the Radom train pulls out. Śmierc frajerom.

Around this time last year, I delved deep into the underground passages of W-wa Centralna station. Zachodnia has its dark corners, closed off from unwarranted attention by a 'Brak przejścia' sign. At least there are no kebab factories down here!

* Old joke: "The capitalist system shows man's inhumanity to man. Under communism, comrades, it's the opposite!"

This time last year:
90 years ago today - Bolsheviks stopped at the gates of Warsaw

This time two years ago:

This time four years ago:
Armed forces day parade in Warsaw


student SGH said...

W-wa Zachodnia will probably always bring back to me memories of scrap traders (złomiarze). WHy my parents dropped me off there in August 2005 for a bus to Germany my father fell into a hole on the nearby car park, which was where a hatch should have been. This was probably a miracle that it did not end up with amputation of the whole leg...

Despite this, I somehow like the place, it has its own weird spirit, I wouldn't like to see it refurbrished, though it'll be a shame when football fans in June 2011 see those dilapidated platforms and run-down buildings...

White Horse Pilgrim said...

There are a couple of reasons to keep such buildings: to show people in the future what the past was like, and to preserve those examples that possess genuine architectural merit.

The mediocre majority may as well be pulled down provided that something aestetically better and more useful can be put up in replacement.