With City Hall seemingly turning its back, the end looms for Warsaw’s miniature park…
By STUART DOWELL / Photos by ED WIGHT
I have a schizophrenic approach to Warsaw – I love both of them. I love modern Warsaw with its confident business towers, trendy eateries and cosmopolitan vibe. But I especially love the older Warsaw that we have lost; the Warsaw of elegant townhouses, green squares, horse and carriage transport, Jewish life and cafés filled with Chopin and jazz. It is the Warsaw described so evocatively by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Bolesław Prus; the Warsaw that is pictured nostalgically in the many photo albums available in bookshops.
Therefore, news of the imminent closure of Warsaw’s Miniature Park, which gathers intricate and beautiful scale models of some of the city’s greatest but now lost buildings, has come as a bitter and unpleasant surprise. The park, currently seeing out its days until the end of October in the impressive Art Deco Bank Landau building at Senatorska 38, offers visitors a chance to travel back in time and feel the atmosphere of the city as it was in 18th and 19th centuries.
In total, there are ten 1:25 scale models that show even the smallest details of architecture, clothing and vehicles from those times. Highlights include the Lubomirski Palace, Kronenberg Palace and Saski Palace, as well as the Żelazna Gate and the wooden Summer Theater that stood in Saski Gardens up to the outbreak of WWII.
The park was established as the Masovian Voivodeship Miniature Park Foundation in 2014 by a group of Warsaw history enthusiasts as a way of restoring the legacy of pre-WWII Warsaw and promoting knowledge about Warsaw. Since then, the park has been on an odyssey of its own, moving from Sowiński Park to the basement of the Jabłkowski Brothers building at Bracka 25, and then finally to Senatorska.
Notice has been given on the lease agreement for the current premises. As the park’s director Rafał Kumach says: “We have to be out by the end of October this year. We don’t know what will happen next. We don’t have any ideas.” While City Hall have previously been supportive of the park and shared the goals of the foundation, at the moment it looks like this support is limited to lip service rather than offering concrete help. “We met with City Hall,” says Kunach, “but it didn’t produce anything. The city doesn’t have anything to offer us.”
City Hall’s official reason for giving notice on the premises is unpaid heating bills. Agnieszka Kabała from the park comments: “The Landau Bank building is really expensive to run. In the first year, the heating cost zl. 15,000 a month, twice as much as we assumed. We couldn’t even turn the heating off at night.” The park claims that the amount they owed was to be offset by funding from the State Treasury (the owner of the building) for replacing some of the windows. “We finished doing the windows, but they haven’t sent us any money so far,” says Kunach.
City Hall also claims that the fact the park operates as a business is a problem. “Of course we operate as a business, but we use the money we earn to pay for the foundation’s costs and to build new models,” Kunach responded. He mentions another bone of contention: “We don’t receive any financing; we’ve had nothing since the very beginning, even though all museums in Warsaw are subsidized.”
It is hard to deny that the park plays an important social role and does not simply operate as a business earning profits for its owners. Groups of school children are regular visitors and they are led around the displays on tours conducted by eminent Warsaw historians such as Jarosław Zieliński. The educational value of these tours is hard to calculate.
The park has great value for older people too. On one visit, I was approached by an elegant, well-dressed woman in a very advanced age. “I see you are admiring the wooden Summer Theatre. Did you know, I used to attend performances in it before the war,” she offered. I asked about her impressions: “I didn’t like it much. It creaked terribly and I was always worried it would go up in flames”. I let a group of historians in the room at the time know who I had just met, upon which they sprung out of their chairs and peppered the old lady with questions trying to wring every last detail from her still lucid mind.
So go and visit the park while you still can. But keep an eye on their Facebook page, as there are sure to be more twists and turns to this story. Maybe a generous donor will save the day, or room will be found in some regenerating post-industrial space. Even if this doesn’t happen, the models can be brought out of storage at some time in the future: after all, the wonderful model of the Old Town in the newly renovated Museum of Warsaw was made in the 1950s but still delights in its detail.