Poland’s charge towards the modern has come at a cost. From a cultural point of view, it’s meant numerous museums and galleries placing traditional values on the sacrificial altar and trading them for swank facilities festooned with gadgets, gimmicks and buttons you can press. The modern museum is no longer a place of learning, rather a house of entertainment aimed at Generation X Box – great for idiots, tedious for others.
So when the venerable Museum of the History of Warsaw closed its doors in 2012, the suspicion expressed by traditionalists was that it would follow the herd and return in some heinous dumbed down form. That fear has proved unfounded – reopened at the end of May, the museum (now rebranded as the Museum of Warsaw) has retained its dignity and integrity whilst at the same time improving and sharpening the visitor experience.
Still very much a work in progress (over 60% is marked as ‘coming soon’), the looping, rambling trail begins underground in a series of chambers dedicated to ‘Warsaw data’. If it sounds bland and nerdy, this opening section is given lift by a heavy overdose of kooky factoids (Warsaw’s first kebab shop: 1994; its first strip club: 1957), not to mention some fab 1:200 scale models of famous city landmarks.
Onwards, and visitors are then taken past approximately 8,000 objects that constitute ‘the Things of Warsaw’ exhibition. Equally eccentric, these include peculiar souvenirs, postcard collections and over 200 paintings depicting differing views of the city through the ages. Accompanied by informative info blurbs, it all feels cohesive and comprehensive yet never too overwhelming. This isn’t a full-frontal assault on the senses, more of a slow-burning immersion that allows people to absorb the information at a pace they can handle.
And, of course, there’s the building itself. Spanning a total of eleven tenements, it’s a joy just roaming the dark nooks and snaking corridors. Climaxing with vertiginous views from a top floor observation post, finding a superior view of the Rynek would involve skyjacking a hot air balloon. Staggering in scope and faultless in its execution, the Museum of Warsaw is a remarkable addition to Warsaw’s sightseeing agenda – and proof, if any was needed, that history is compelling enough without digital distractions and high-tech diversions.
Museum of Warsaw
Rynek Starego Miasta 28-42, muzeumwarszawy.pl
Admission: zł. 20/15 (free Thurs)