Thirty one years old, the Warsaw branch of the Hash House Harriers is a bona fide ex-pat institution. We learn more about their heritage and tradition…
People I never expected to meet in Warsaw, part one: a witch doctor. And not just any witch doctor but The Witch Doctor. Waiting for him in Cześć, I’m half expecting the doc to jangle in with a scary mask and vials of snake sperm. In actuality, he enters wearing a t-shirt and shorts. His name is Martin. The Witch Doctor, he explains, is his Hash name. Lost already? Read on.
Formed in Kuala Lumpur in 1938, disbanded, then reformed in 1962, the Hash House Harriers have since become a global phenomenon. Dubbing themselves as ‘the drinking club with a running problem’, it’s estimated half a million people ‘hash’ across the globe each weekend. A small percentage are to be found in Warsaw. “We’ve had up to 30 people at times,” says the doc, “but our numbers, like ex-pat figures, are declining.”
This wasn’t always the case. Formed in 1983 by the Iceman, the Warsaw chapter of the Hash was a runaway success. “There really wasn’t much else to do at the weekends during communism,” smiles Martin. Even so, the early days were fraught with problems, and the Hash was even banned at one stage until a sneaky bribe was accepted by the local cops – who, apparently, wanted in on the ‘on-after’, i.e., the traditional post-run drinks.
And yes, drinks are a very important aspect of the Hash. “We’re a social group,” says Witch Doctor, “that happens to have some good runners in it – but most aren’t.” Events take place every two weeks and adhere to Hash tradition. “We appoint a ‘hare’,” says the doc, “and it’s his duty to set a trail – usually using flour – that the rest will follow. A good trail will include numerous diversions which serve to hold the group together.” Not that holding the group together is a problem. “This isn’t a race,” stresses Martin, “it’s about fun.”
The route is usually about eight kilometers, and has taken the Hash to all corners of Warsaw. The Old Town, though, is a sore point. “Blimey,” says Martin, “I was late one time, and by the time I turned up to the designated meeting point I saw the group surrounded by police.” The situation got worse. “Sniffer dogs arrived, fire engines, blokes in hazmat suits,” grins the Witch Doctor, “some old woman saw our ‘hare’ laying a trail and reported suspicious activity. When the police arrived they assumed there was an Anthrax attack on Warsaw!”
The culprit that time was Wet Pussy, so named because he once accidentally urinated on his cat. The names, much like the socializing, are a big element of the Hash and are awarded over time once the group has assessed the individual and identified their weak points. “Once we finish the run we have a few tinnies outside in what we call ‘the circle’,” says Martin, “awards are handed out to people who’ve misbehaved, and it’s a good time to decide on new names.” And after? “We go the Hash Kennel, which nowadays is Legends pub.” See you there.
For more info on the Warsaw Hash, contact The Witch Doctor at: firstname.lastname@example.org