Scenic, snooty and sophisticated, Saska Kępa is all these and more. With the sun in full swing, take time to investigate its secrets and stories.
1. Resembling a red / white wicker basket, the 58,000 capacity National Stadium occupies the former site of the communist era Stadion Dziesięciolecia: a relic of days yore can be found in the shape of the Socialist Realist ‘Relay’ statue out front. Priced at a half a billion euros, the new stadium was opened last year, right in the nick of time for Euro 2012. Tours are conducted daily (details on: stadionnarodowy.org.pl), though for the best view board the hot air balloon stationed right by (stacjabalon.pl).
2. Explore the scrubland between Wał Miedzeszyński and the Wisła and you might come across several things: couples panting in the bushes and homeless hobos hunched over bottles. You might, also, discover the traces of a series of communist era outdoor swimming pools. While the pools have recently been filled in, their outline remains visible, as does a weed-eaten water slide.
3. Perhaps the best example of Saska’s modernist architecture can be viewed at Obrońcow 10. Realized in 1930, its signature feature is a round skylight positioned over a top floor terrace.
4. Saska’s interwar architecture borders the magnificent. Katowicka 7A was designed by Bohdan Lachert for his father. Lachert, who would later achieve cult status for creating the Muranów estate, lived next door in a building clearly inspired by the style of Le Corbusier.
5. The intricate patchwork nature of SK is evidenced by the Prus high school on Zwycięczów 7/9. Neighbored by functionalist villas from the inter bellum, this early 50s building is riddled with intricate brickwork. A bust of the school’s patron, author Bolesław Prus, keeps a watchful eye outside.
6. Unveiled in 1947, the Plon (Yield) sculpture was designed by Jerzy Jarnuszkiewcz, one of the most influential Polish sculptors of the 20th century. Left to rack and ruin in the decades that followed, 2011 saw this Socialist Realist masterpiece restored to its original glory.
7. Built pre-war, then expanded in the 80s, the neo-Gothic tower at Bajońska 6 is one of Saska’s true anomalies. Weirder still is the fact this urban fortress isn’t the home of a nutty scientist or a wicked dominatrix, but actually a garage.
8. The author of 2,000 songs and an equally prolific playwright and poet, Agnieszka Osiecka is something a local heroine. A plaque on Dąbrowiecka 25 signposts her former home, while a life size statue of this Saska saint sits at Francuska 11. In the 60s she was briefly married to Wojciech Frykowski, a playboy actor who was later murdered by Charles Manson’s cronies in the Helter Skelter killings.
9. Peer through the mesh fence at Obronców 28/30 to spot the sculptures of acclaimed local artist Mateusz Sikora. But that’s not the sole artistic association the property has. A plaque, unveiled by the Spanish royal family in 1989, commemorates Picasso’s fleeting residence here in 1949 – back when this was HQ of the Warsaw Artists Association.
10. Assuming a shimmery golden glow come sunset, the Church of St. Andrew of Bobola impresses with blingy interiors inspired by the showy sacral art of the medieval years. Construction of the church began in 1938 and finished only slightly behind schedule in 1956.
11. While the heroics of the Home Army were brushed under the carpet during the PRL years, the actions of the communist backed People’s Guard were celebrated widely. A tablet on Saska 91 recalls the 1942 assassination of three Gestapo agents by the People’s Guard, and is framed by groovy Soviet-style stars.
12. Find one of the great oddities of SK on Saska 99: a tree clad in multicolored knitwear! The story behind it is ambiguous; but one thing is for certain, it’s the hottest tree in Warsaw.
13. Saska under communism was a heady mix of intellectual dissenters and top brass apparatchiks. Władysław Gomułka, Poland’s hardline leader through the sixties, lived on the top floor of the anonymous looking building on Saska 109.
14. Designed by Marek Leykam, one of the eminent architects of the time, the tower at Waszyngtona 2B is often considered one of the great architectural achievements of 60s Poland. Originally fully clad in glass, the wheel balanced on top of the building is a nod to the fairground that once stood in fin-de-siecle Saska.
15. A great example of the bombastic Socialist Realist style, the Monument of Gratitude to the Soviet Army may have had its hammer and sickles chipped away, but it’s still yet to be properly accepted by the local populace: in 2010 one admirer peppered it with gunfire.
16. Founded in 1905, Skaryszewski is one of the great parks of Poland, and sprinkled with points of interest: for instance, a cosmic-looking shrine modeled on a space rocket, and a boulder commemorating an RAF plane shot down here during WWII. At the entrance, note the memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. The black granite work name checks the six Poles known to have died.
17. Found on Walecznych 37, this wooden chalet is believed to be the oldest house in the district. Thought to date from 1880, it’s a fleeting glimpse of what Saska must have looked like in the 19th century.