For decades the Finnish Houses have been Warsaw’s best little secret. Today, their very survival hangs in the balance. This week, do your bit to save what remains of these little treasures by joining a gathering taking place at 11 a.m. this Thursday at Jazdów 5. In spite of the dodgy time (anybody else working then?) it’s a noble cause that merits your attention. For more details on that, plus a few events taking place before then, have a glance at their FB page: www.facebook.com/jazdow
Warsaw, 1945: having dusted themselves down after six years of Nazi occupation, what remained of the local populace emerged from their hiding holes to find the Germans had done a proficient job of leveling the city. Fortunately, in a rare show of benevolence, Stalin took time to gift Poland some 400 pre-fabricated huts that had earlier been bullied from Finland as part of post-war reparations. Some of these cabins went north, others down south. Two hundred, however, ended up in Warsaw. And so arose Osiedle Fińskich, a collection of wooden chalets designated to serve as the personal quarters for architects recruited to rebuild the capital.
Originally seen as a temporary solution, the homes remain to this day. Their number has dwindled significantly: twenty were demolished to make way for ze German Embassy, and more fell to the wrecking ball earlier in the year. In itself, the story isn’t remarkable: just another sad case of Warsaw pimping her soul. What makes it all so special is the location of Os. Fińśkich – bang in the spotlight of central Warsaw. And while the rest of the center chokes with concrete to a symphony of sirens, the Finnish Houses offer an extraordinary repsite from the heavy urban gloom.
Tucked behind Ujazdowskie Park, that this fairytale community exists is one of Warsaw’s biggest surprises. Characterized by its black pitch roofs and blossoming yards, it’s a secret garden that enthralls all who visit. Not that living here is the fairytale it looks: “There’s electricity, cold water and sewerage,” says local Elżbieta Funkiewicz, “and that’s about it.” For most residents, heating comes from wood and hot water from the boiler.
Offsetting the hardships is the keen sense of community. Many living here have artistic links, and stories of raucous all-nighters in the 70s and 80s are fondly retold. Of all the dates though, it’s December 8th, 1981 that lives longest in the memory. On the first anniversary of John Lennon’s death, Beatles fans marched through this part of Warsaw singing Give Peace a Chance, before placing an ad-libbed sign declaring this hitherto nameless street as ul. Lennona. “Oh yes,” laughs Funkiewicz, “they came here playing their guitars and smoking pot – we didn’t even know what marijuana was at the time, it was a huge shock!” Ten years later, the city officially sanctioned the use of the address ul. Lennona.
But relations between city hall and the local residents are strained – more now than they’ve ever been before. Realizing the real estate occupied by Os. Fińskich could be traded for a chest full of banknotes, the future of this magical neighborhood is looking increasingly shaky. Over to you to stop it.
(Words & Photos: Alex Webber)