Out of Gas Out of Gas

Empty for nearly forty years, the city’s former gas tanks on ul. Kasprzaka are a spooky flashback to the industrial age…
By Alex Webber | Photographs by Kevin Demaria

Rules are there to be broken. Write ‘Do Not Enter’ in big, red letters and, invariably, people will. However, in the case of Warsaw’s old gasworks, such an infraction goes way beyond the vicarious thrill of flouting authority. Composed of two derelict rotundas, and widely known as ‘Wola’s Colosseum’, these twin giant gas tanks would surely merit a feature in any rundown of Warsaw’s Seven Wonders.

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Completed in 1888, three years after the city’s first gaslights were installed, their purpose was simple: to keep the town supplied with gas. Employing over 1,200 people, they continued to do so right up until September 8th, 1939, when a German artillery shell hit a tank holding 23,000 cubic meters of gas. Wisely, the gas supply was shut off before anything went boom. The tanks resumed production in June 1945, and remained in service until 1978. Since then, these remarkable urban phantoms have been allowed to slide into decay.

At one stage, plans were mooted to house the Uprising Museum inside these towering hulks, whilst other proposals have included transforming them into luxury flats (thereby mimicking a similar development in Vienna). None of these ideas have come to fruit, and activists are growing increasingly concerned that by the time a resolution is found the structures will be beyond the point of rescue.

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The Insider neither encourages nor endorses their exploration: not only is the site patrolled by unsympathetic security goons, one urban legend goes so far as to claim that a WWII booby trap survived the extensive post-war efforts to ‘demine’ the area – you enter at your own risk. For all that, gaining entrance is a cinch, which explains why you shouldn’t be surprised to run into adventurous photographers, rutting couples and weirdos in the bushes. Avoiding them – and treading very carefully – it’s possible to peer right inside these eerie wrecks. With shafts of light streaming through the windows, the effect isn’t unlike entering some ruined gothic masterpiece: serene, surreal and strangely unsettling…

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