Latest update October 2018
Within the past decade Warsaw has transformed beyond recognition. From being a slightly grey Central European capital, a vibrant centre has emerged with a flourishing cultural life at all levels, and the citizens put great effort into transforming each quarter and backyard into a living space for the locals.
Being the capital of one of the largest European countries you may find practically anything in this agglomeration, which consist of around 2 million people. The Vistula River runs through Warsaw in a length of around 30 kilometres and the river bank has been heavily developed for the past few years. It is a perfect place for long rides on the bike, sunbathing on the cosy sand beaches, or just to hang around on the many bars, restaurants and recreational areas along the river bank.
You cannot help but being impressed, when you find yourself in the city centre looking at the huge amount of sky scrapers, that have been erected since 1989. Each of them is a architectonical masterpiece, and if you take the lift to the top of Warsaw's tallest building – the Palace of Culture and Science - and take a look at the sky line, you find out, that there is an idea behind the way the town has been put together.
A huge part of central Warsaw has been reconstructed after world war II. Right after the war the style in the strict centre was based on a renaissance city, where the fronts have been re-erected to resemble the former buildings. Specially the city hall square (Rynek) and surroundings is fascinating in its consequence, and the area has also been awarded a place on UNESCO's world heritage list. At the same time the area surrounding the old town has been rebuilt in Josef Stalin's favourite building style – real socialism, which may be seen as a continuation of modernism Real socialism was meant to show, that the manual worker and the people had taken the place of the kings. The most exquisite example of this building style is the stretch from the Palace of Culture and Science - Marszalkowska Street – Constitution Square (in Polish: Pałac Kultury, ul Marszałkowska, Plac Konstytucji), which gives a great impression with its powerful edifices flanked by statues of the working people and representatives of science and technique.
In the side streets leading from Marszalkowska Street one finds loads of pre-war buildings, of which some have been renovated within the last few years, and these buildings give a clear impression of why Warsaw before WWII was considered to be Paris of the East.
The architecture and the numerous monuments and statues is though also a strong indicator of the political winds that have affected Warsaw and Poland throughout time. You may still find evidence of the Russian period, which ended in 1917, whereas the monuments from the Soviet dominance in the period 1945-1989 are clear and visible, while the sky scrapers in the city centre are built after 1989 and point at the fight to become a part of the capitalist system.
In the middle of all this one may indeed also follow the battle about what view to apply on history. The nationalist fraction in Poland has for a number of years been working persistently to change the town, and important elements in this is the account of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and the martyrdom tale of the plain crash in Smolensk i 2010, where 96 of the most important public leaders died in an airport disaster in Russia.
Both these incidents are part of underlining the Polish telling about a suffering and heroic people, that is repeatedly becoming the victim of suffering and injustice. It is very like the narrative about the sufferings of the Jewish people, which is actually not that strange, as Poland until 1939 had a Jewish share of around 10% of the total population, mainly concentrated in the eastern part of the country, where the share in some regions reached more than 50%, and in Warsaw itself the share was around 30%.
The national narrative has though been strengthened within the past few years and a round tour in Warsaw may easily become a pilgrimage from one church and memorial site to the other. In this connection it is important to realize, that even though the Polish church belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, it is also considered to be a national Polish church. The narrative about the suffering Pole is obliterating the Poles own historical consciousness as being an aggressive, oppressing and expanding power – as we have been told that the Poles are the victims. The tale of sufferings is seen everywhere, but please be aware, that there exist several interpretations of history.
Fortunately Warsaw is must more than a tale of sufferings.
No doubt Warsaw's Old Town is worth a visit, but when that's over and done with, then continue into the actual real town. Explore the small streets around Marszalkowska Street, where you will find loads of bars and restaurants, or the Praga area, where they cater for the locals at very reasonable prices, but tourists are of course welcome.
Take a trip to Praga at the right side of the river, also to look at the architecture. The area was by and large not affected by the military operations 70 years ago and You will find the old buildings in elegant despair as a witness to the past. But actually more and more is being renovated and from being the slum of Warsaw art galleries, gourmet restaurants and underground cafes appear in large numbers, situated in old buildings, that are being renovated with respect for their history and individuality.
Wherever You find yourself in Warsaw there will be a large park just around the corner, and at the outskirts you will find loads of forests with wild stand.
The atmosphere is hectic, the working people and the students obviously have money and they enjoy to spend it, meet up and have a good time with one another at jazz concerts and Facebook arrangements. You may speak English practically everywhere, which is quite an achievement in a city where no one mastered English language 20 years ago.
In this guide I want to share my impressions from Warsaw with You, impressions from the moderns and hectic Warsaw as well as the historical part. And during our tour I also give a few comments to the current political situation.
the flag of Warsaw