Take Center Stage
Said to be Warsaw’s first post-war theater, Powszechny (powszechny.com) started performing on Al. Zieleniecka on February 10th, 1945, just weeks after the last Germans had pulled out of the city. Occupying a brutal building constructed in the 70s, it’s seen some of the greatest names in Polish arts pass through the doors: among them, director Andrzej Wajda and actress Krystyna Janda. Never afraid to court controversy, the boundary-pushing repertoire of this acclaimed theater has confronted issues such as pedophilia in the church, the refugee crisis and the resurgence of fascism.
What can half a billion euros buy? In Poland’s case, a National Stadium to be proud of. Completed in the nick of time for Euro 2012, and constructed using enough steel for 64 jumbo jets, the red-and-white basked-shaped arena was built to hold 58,000 – and yes, sellouts have been frequent. Football aside, crowds have enjoyed performances by Madonna, McCartney and The Rolling Stones, not to mention a jubilantly received Top Gear Live show. Not all evenings have been quite so glorious, however, and England fans will shudder at the memory of the complete farce that saw their meeting with Poland cancelled after a torrential downpour – yep, some bozo forgot to close the state-of-art retractable roof. Blips aside, it’s proved a triumph of engineering and its full versatility demonstrated by its hosting of ice skating, speedway and even windsurfing events.
Don’t Forget Me!
It’s hard to believe the stadium stands on the site of Stadion Dziesięciolecia, a communist era bowl-shaped arena built on top of a vast volume of war rubble. It was here Ryszard Siwiec set himself ablaze to protest the Soviet invasion of the Czechoslovakia in 1968, and it was also to here that 100,000 people converged to listen to a 1983 mass conducted by Pope John Paul II. When communism fell, it served as the home of the Jarmark Europa, a notorious open-air market that became a center of piracy and vice. Guns, counterfeit goods, dodgy fashion, and electrical appliances that went BOOM – the place had it all! Swept away to make way for the new stadium, the only reminder of the old days comes via the Socialist Realist statue outside depicting three relay racers.
Out Of Print
Once home to an automotive plant rolling out Sokoł motorcycles, Polish Fiats and military vehicles, the carbuncle at Mińska 65 was rebuilt after the war and, in the decades that followed, functioned as a printing house whose clients included numerous Western nations. In the spirit of the Cold War, features allegedly numbered an atomic shelter. Though the printing presses haven’t seen action since 2012, the building maintains an important cultural function thanks to the presence of venues such as Drukarnia and Fugazi. The basement, meanwhile, houses one of Warsaw’s best-loved vintage furniture stores.
There’s no shortage of murals on this side of the water, but Bird & Snake stands out as something special. Found on Bliska 23, it took one day for the Chinese artist DALeast to paint this oddly unsettling work. Composed of several thousand tangled strands, these brittle-looking wires meld together to form the image of a bird balanced on a poised cobra. Such is the dark intensity of the mural that many motorists have blamed it for causing them to brake sharply.
Trove Of Treasure
There’s a few zillion places in Warsaw specializing in all things vintage, but some out-punch the others. For the undisputed heavyweight champion, make haste to Antykwariat Grochowski (agrochowski.pl), a maze-like space with over 130,000 books stuffed on the shelves. Among the haul, find Polish comics such as Kapitan Kloss and Kajko i Kokosz, vinyl records, graphic art and old currency. Browsing here is an addictive pursuit that plunges visitors into a trancelike state as they finger and thumb the gems on display.
The Polish equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? That’s E. Wedel on Zamoyskiego 27. Though only open to the public for one-off events, the factory is one of the calling cards of Kamionek and is worth loitering around just to enjoy the chocolatey aroma that wafts around it. Having moved chocolate production here in 1930, it’s said to have been the first Warsaw factory to resume production after the interruption posed by the Warsaw Uprising. In fact, as early as November 1944, an 80-kilo consignment of caramels were dispatched from the heavily damaged plant as a covert gift to the National Liberation Committee based in Lublin.