Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Warsaw's pre-war autostrada, a royal visit and menthol cigarettes

For my father

Last week my father mentioned an interesting memory that I remember him once talking about in the past. He recalled the visit to Warsaw of King Carol II of Romania, and his son, Prince Michael, in 1937. Crowds of Varsovians lined the road between Pole Mokotowskie and Okęcie. A bit of googling, and I found some Pathé newsreel footage of the visit.

My father, who would have been 14 at the time, turned up with a group of his friends, and someone had some menthol cigarettes, which they tried, and agreed were modern and sophisticated. He said they walked from Pole Mokotowskie (by then no longer Warsaw's main airport but still a military base) down towards Okęcie, which since 1934 had been serving passenger traffic. My father mentioned 'autostrada' - a name that clicked with me, as I had been intrigued by this on a 1935 railway timetable (below).

A whole heap of interesting history here. Warsaw had but one main railway station, Warszawa Główna (since replaced by W-wa Centralna for inter-city trains and W-wa Śródmieście for suburban trains). W-wa Główna was flanked then as now by W-wa Wschodnia and W-wa Zachodnia, but note the '(p.o.)' after Warszawa Zach. The initials, 'przystanek osobowy', the equivalent of a halt rather than a station. It was not until the 1970s, when the bus station was built next to the railway station, did W-wa Zachodnia take on greater importance. Now, the fascinating bit is what comes next - Lotnisko (p.o.), Autostrada (p.o) and Okęcie. Also of note: in 1935 the steam hauled 'all stations' service from W-wa Zachodnia to Radom journey took 2hrs 2mins (dep. 08:00, arr. 10:09). If you were to do the same journey today, it would take 2hrs 28mins (dep. 07:59, arr. 10:27). Eighty-four years later and the same journey takes an extra 26 minutes!

Anyway, I digress. After the war, the line between Zachodnia and Okęcie was relaid and straightened out. Okęcie station was built originally where it is today. However, no trace remains of either Lotnisko or Autostrada halts, lying as they did to the south of the present line, parallel to the stretch between W-wa Rakowiec and W-wa Żwirki i Wigury. Parts of the original line ran alongside what would become ul. 17 Stycznia, even the trained eye cannot spot any vestiges. In any case, Autostrada was renamed Wyczółki in June 1936, so a year before King Carol II's visit. And the first proper plans of a Polish motorway/expressway network were not discussed until the 1st Congress of Polish Engineers in Lwów in September 1937, so the 'autostrada' name was someone jumping the gun.

May I recommend the highly fascinating Baza Kolejowa website, the most authoritative resource on Polish railways today and in history. Here's the link to the interactive map showing where the stops between W-wa Zachodnia and W-wa Okęcie used to be before the war. Check the box 'mapa interaktywna' to show the location of old railway lines around the airport.

As to Autostrada - this was meant to have been the extension of ul. Żwirki i Wigury (named after Poland's flying aces who died in a plane crash in 1934), but the extension of the runways at Okęcie airport put an end to that plan, after which the railway halt lost its rather exotic (for the time) name.

Here's how that part of Warsaw looked back then - a 1939 map of the area around Okęcie (below).

Finally, Poland's National Digital Archives (NAC) have some excellent photos from the visit of King Carol II, which can be viewed here. A total of 53 high-quality black-and-white photos in all, of which I've selected one (below), the Romanian king and Polish premier Ignacy Mościcki inspecting Polish troops on Pole Mokotowskie.

Ah! Another good photo has popped up - this from Wikimedia Commons... King Carol II decorates the standard of the Polish 57th Infantry Regiment (could well be a reverse-angle shot from the one above).

Some more on prewar railway times from Warsaw to Radom here, and a link from that post to a useful prewar map resource here.

This time last year:
Transport news

This time two days ago:
Uneasy Sunny Day - smog

This time three years ago:
Public media? State media? Party media?
[yet another year of not watching a single second of TVP1]

This time four years ago:
Beer, consumer choice and the Meaning of Life

This time five years ago:
What's Cameron got against us Poles?

The time seven years ago:
Anyone still remember the Przybyl case?

This time eight years ago:
Wetlands midwinter meltdown

This time nine years ago:
Jeziorki rail scenes, winter

This time ten years ago:
Winter drivetime, Jeziorki

This time 11 years ago:
Kraków, a bit of winter sunshine

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