Sprawling out under the shadow of The Palace of Science and Culture, Warsaw is a city that has had more than its fair share of tragedies and in true Polish fashion it has always managed to bounce back just when it seems all is lost. Situated in the centre of Warsaw, The Palace of Science and Culture is 757ft tall and can be seen from practically any point in the city. A gift to Poland from Josef Stalin in 1952 (completed in 1955), this colossal building was once the tallest building in Europe and acted as a constant reminder of the Soviet power, control and authority that was held over Poland during much of the 20th century.
Most popularly known for its occupation (and decimation) by the Nazis in WWII. The Polish only finally gained complete and unaltered political independence after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced he would no longer interfere in Poland’s political structure. Finally as the Soviet Union fell in 1989 it seemed as if Poland could finally become a fully independent country.An eclectic and diverse city coloured by its eventful (understatement of the year) past, Warsaw has risen from the ashes into the cosmopolitan city it is today. A perfect example of this is Warsaw’s old town, reduced to little more than rubble and dust by the Nazi’s who occupied Poland throughout WWII. Once the war was over the remaining population of Warsaw, despite being ravaged by war and Nazi occupation set about rebuilding the traditional old town over a five year period.
As I wondered around Warsaw naively eager to find historical aspects of the city’s history such as the last remaining piece of the ghetto wall and the famous Warsaw Uprising Monument, I found that the reality of Warsaw’s history finally began to sink in. After a few days in Warsaw I visited Pawiak Prison, a POW camp where over 100,000 other inmates where held and often executed. Pawiak left a lasting and profound impression on me that I still feel to this day. Whilst the museum is small, the attention to detail is incredible and some of the artifacts on show and the personal stories told of those who experienced Warsaw’s occupation first hand brings the whole tragic event to life in ways which could not be more realistic. From Nazi propaganda to POW and Nazi uniforms, walking around the museum is an enlightening and powerful experience.
After Pawiak I paid a visit to The Warsaw Uprising Museum that featured in many tourist flyers and was tipped to be the best museum in Poland. The museum lived up to its expectations and gave a detailed explanation of the Uprising whilst still respecting and honoring those who fought so bravely for Poland’s future. Complete with various different sections, the museum has interactive sections and hundreds of original objects all with their own personal story.
Whilst this fashionable and sophisticated city is now enjoying a well deserved economic boost and an ever growing thriving tourist industry, the memories of past events still bubble under the surface and all across Warsaw there are many different statues devoted to those who suffered throughout Poland’s bloody past. However now, in the 21st century Warsaw has been nurturing somewhat of a blossoming music and art culture that attracts music and art lovers from across the globe.
With more clubs and drinking holes than you can shake a stick at, there is truly something for everyone in Warsaw. One club, which was described beautifully by one traveller I met as a ‘hedonistic self indulgent hole that suits those who don Armani shirts and expensive watches.’ This traveller was depicting the scene at Klubo Kawiarnia, one of the most popular clubs packed every night with Warsaw’s most chic and stylish partygoers.
Warsaw is a city that has plenty to offer to every visitor. Even though I was only visiting for a few days, I discovered museums that depicted the city’s history brilliantly and often found myself eating in wonderful traditional restaurants and small café’s that could’ve easily propped up Poland’s gastronomic reputation. A warm and inviting city, visitors to Warsaw are guaranteed to find plenty of attractions that will not only move them to tears but also enlighten them to the power and manipulation of governments and the power and potential of a courageous population in an occupied city.