Think of Saska Kępa and one is most likely to envisage the modernist architecture that lends it so much of its inter-war spirit. But this prestigious suburb is no one-trick pony, and it’s not uncommon to find its leafy, pretty streets enriched by wacky oddities from the Communist period…
Designed by Marek Leykam, Waszyngtona 2B is often considered one of the great architectural achievements of 60s Poland. This was the first post-war ‘tower’ to be built on the river’s right side, and its glass façade became the talk of the press – residents, though, soon began moaning about baking hot summers and frigid winters; in 1973, the city was left with no choice but to remove this transparent frontage and replace it with the more practical solution you see today.
And what of that wheel that’s just about visible perched on the top? Some claim it was the architect’s nod to the fairground that once stood here at the beginning of the 20th century, while others have posited it was meant for a helipad. According to more, a revolving rooftop café was to be positioned on this wheel, a plan only thwarted when finances ran out.
Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, Fregata (Międzynarodowa 65) is not just a legend of the Kępa, but of Warsaw as a whole. Established in 1962, this bar is nothing if not a curiosity, filled as it is with maritime flags, pictures of seafaring vessels (the Titanic, gulp), model galleons, bits of rope, lanterns and life rings. Its nostalgic charms attract all manner of Saska locals both rich and poor, young and old – on board the Fregata, all are equal.
Spirit Of The Past
Rebranding as Mezalians in February, the management haven’t fooled anyone – a cursory renovation aside, this is still the Bar Alpejski that we’ve long known and loved. Found on Międzynarodowa 68, this curious L-shaped space is best recognized for its bar in the front, a strange space decorated with metallic Zodiac-themed wall tiles.
The gloomy eatery in the back, adorned with spindly plants and funky mosaics (shaped in the silhouette of the Alps), transforms every now and again when bands and DJs enter to play blues and golden oldies. On the right night, this place is brilliant.
Set In Stone
Running down the area’s furthest eastern flank, the Osiedle Młodych housing estate was originally planned to contain all manner of leisure and retail options. These never saw life, but one part of this project did – that being, the in-fill of green areas with sculptures to help humanize the area.
Freshly cleaned after years amassing grime, the trail includes works by some of Poland’s most eminent sculptors of the post-war years: for example, Wiosna by Teresa Brzóskiewicz; Pelikan by Tadeusz Markiewicz; and the rather crappy looking Javelin by Władysław Frycz. Best of the lot, looks for Mieczysław Welter’s ‘conversation’, which features two women on a pole gazing beyond each other, and Ryszard Wojciechowski’s ‘Majestat wszechżycia’.
Standing around 2.5 meters in height, it depicts a naked woman apparently sitting on the sun. Dating from the mid-70s to early 80s, the meaning of all of these works is unknown, but without doubt they cast their own bizarre spell on those who pass by.
Welcome To The Space Age
Formerly called the Copernicus Estate, the past lives on at Osiedle Ateńska by way of a colorful planetary inspired mosaic attached to the neon-topped block that is the Pawilon Osiedle Ateńska on Egipska 4. Unveiled around about 1975 (accounts vary), the idea was coined during the celebrations held to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of the astronomer Copernicus.
Taking into account this was an era in which everything to do with space enthralled the world, the cosmos is further celebrated by way of an ugly metal monument close by designed Maciej Szańkowski in 1974. Allegedly, it represents an armillary sphere.
At The Pavilions
Throughout the PRL period, Poland saw a flush of pavilions built to serve retail uses: quick and cheap to erect, many of these low-slung structures remain today, sitting like eyesores reminding Poles of an uncomfortable past. Some, though, have been cunningly revived, not least the one found at Zwycięzców 49.
Housing Klubokawiarnia Towarzysko, an arty neighborhood bar that was at the forefront of Warsaw’s ‘hipster revolution’ a decade or so back, it was lovingly reinvented by local architect Jan Strumiłło who chose to retain original details such as the sinks and concrete floors as well as the white tiles that once decorated the butchery that traded here. Also touting a 60s style neon on the roof, it’s a place that balances history with the present. A cheeky beer break is a must!
Anyone that enjoys a kebab at Efes (hell, who doesn’t?) will have noticed the intriguing black-and-white photos of Celina Osiecka that are plastered close by. They’re there to advertise the services of this legendary photographer, a snapper whose studio lies at Zwycięzców 25. A time capsule in its own right, its functioned since 1975. Eschewing modern photographic techniques, her analogue pictures – each of them hand-processed – have made her one of the legendary old school artisans working in modern Warsaw.
A Socialist Harvest
Unveiled in 1947, the Plon (Yield) relief on the corner of Katowicka and Zwycięzców was designed by Jerzy Jarnuszkiewcz, one of the most influential Polish sculptors of the 20th century. Initially, it was added as part of a wider plan to transform the character of Saska by filling it with sculptures and public art.
Allowed to decay in the decades that followed, today it positively sparkles anew after being restored in 2011. Featuring a boy holding two fish while a lamb scuttles around his feet, the relief was complemented three years later after the nearby concrete benches were also rescued.
The Castle In The Air
The PRL era was not without its crazy, unhinged architectural excesses, and these come into sharp focus on Bajońska 6. Though much of this property was built in the inter-war years, it was in 1970 that a military collector by the name of Bohdan Węgler decided to add a fairy tale tower to the building to house his collection of militaria. Complete with slit windows and a pointy roof, it’s an abstract and unexpected treasure.
The Great Escape
During the PRL era, kids from across town would reputedly visit to scavenge in embassy and consular bins, hoping to retrieve Coke cans and Western food wrappers that they could then proudly display in their bedrooms. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, many of those diplomatic missions shifted elsewhere, among these the former German Embassy on Dąbrowiecka 30.
Now marked by a commemorative plaque, the sign honors the help extended by German diplomats to Poles in 1989. An estimated 6,000 people flooded here in the space of a few months seeking asylum and papers to allow them to flee westwards. Going beyond the call of duty, the German staff kept the refugees fed and watered with tea and sandwiches whilst they waited on news regarding their applications.