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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Maciej Wierzyński’s column. A song about my Warsaw

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The extremely interesting book by Grzegorz Piątek – “The Best City in the World” – tells about the first five years of the reconstruction of Warsaw. The district of my childhood, youth and old age, Żoliborz, which is fashionable today, appears in Piątek’s book primarily as the birthplace of ideas that influenced the shape of post-war Warsaw, but did not deserve a separate chapter. Such as WZ Route, Party House, Prague or Finnish houses. And rightly so.

The adventures of Żoliborz, especially its mythology, are worth a separate book. In my opinion, it would be best if this was a lampoon for developers who make a deal of selling people promises that, to a large extent, they are unable or unwilling to pursue.

Meanwhile, before such a book is written and read it, I will not pretend to you that I was among the pioneers who came to Warsaw, forcing the frozen Vistula over the ice in January 1945. I came – for those times – elegant, because by train from Lublin, in the fall of 1945. My mother charmed the locomotive staff and I was placed in a coal-wagon, that is the part of the locomotive in which coal was going. As far as I remember, the journey lasted nearly two days, but we got to Warsaw early enough that I started the 1945/1946 school year at a school in Powiśle, on the corner of Dobra and Drewniana.

A Prussian-style building more suited to – for example – Poznań than the heavily Russified Congress Poland, still stands today, almost opposite the buildings of the former power plant turned into a stylish shopping center. In line with the fashion for industrial austerity, Powiśle, described in “Lalka” as a habitat of poverty and dirt, has become an elegant address.

An example of the promotion of Powiśle is a residential house, not a block of flats, but an apartment building: Dobra 32. The developer selling flats praises that the building has not only a reception, but also a concierge, and the common areas are made of the highest quality materials, such as natural stone, wood, concrete and brass elements and dark gold sheets “.

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I’ve never lived in something like this, so I’m impressed. For other reasons, I am impressed by the work by Grzegorz Piątek mentioned at the beginning, especially the first chapter entitled “Introduction or Shame”. Piątek widely quotes the book from 1915 – “The aesthetic needs of Warsaw”. The author Alfred Lauterbach, conservator and art historian, studied in Leipzig, Bonn and Bern.

“The condition of his hometown is one great shame for Lauterbach,” writes Piątek. And the booklet is, according to Piątek, “/ … / one great lament, a litany of problems that have swelled since Warsaw became a really big city and stopped dealing with itself”.

In defense of Warsaw, it can be said that no great city in the world can cope with its problems. Let’s take a look at what is happening in Mexico City, New York, Delhi or Moscow. However, Warsaw is not a big city in the world scale, and it has problems as it was. For example, it has traffic jams, as if it were a big city, it has districts that are difficult to reach. It also has buildings (it has more and more), in which you do not want to live. And this development is due to construction entrepreneurs who earn money from the Warsaw construction chaos. And not only in Warsaw, because the phenomenon is nationwide. I have the impression that the construction chaos, which is so easy to complain about, is due to the corruption potential of construction entrepreneurs. An apartment, as an investment, has become a circulating currency in all Polish cities, large and small. Regardless of who ruled our country. Left or right, post-communists or Solidarity.

Lauterbach blamed this eternal mess on the dictate of commercialism and tastelessness. “You cannot rely on the good taste of construction entrepreneurs” – quotes Friday, the author’s words from a hundred years ago. “The whole construction movement has focused on rental and speculative houses, giving the city a market-oriented character / … / Lauterbach is annoyed that this state of affairs is considered normal:” Applauding every multi-story tenement house with an arrogant facade. “His discouragement can be understood, but must also be understood, why today in the hearts of Varsovians enthusiasm and pride are awakened by the skyscrapers and the name of Libeskind It is a joy that at last this city grows up to the myths and dreams that arise around it, mainly out of love.

And love for the city is a complicated matter. Warsaw, criticized by Lauterbach, was mourned by Albert Harris in “Song about my Warsaw”. Harris, a Polish Jew, recorded it in 1944 in Moscow. I myself saw how with tears in their eyes the Varsovians, expelled from the city right after the war, sang it, and yet only a small part of them left palaces in Aleje Ujazdowskie, most of them were inhabited by tenement houses, Warsaw with dark yards – wells, cobblestones and smelly sewage.

Piątek’s book is a hymn to the people who made the effort to rebuild Warsaw after the war. By its very nature, this effort was guided by the communists, and it was not, after all, the power Poles chose for themselves. They were joined by progressive cooperatives from Żoliborz, but also young people from good pre-war homes, or even pets of the Sanacja. In Piątek’s book, there is a quote from Lepold Tyrmand. In 1948, the author of “The Bad” raves about: “I consider the dynamic reconstruction of Warsaw over the last three years to be the greatest phenomenon in the post-war world.”

Maciej Wierzyński – TV journalist, publicist. After the introduction of martial law, he was released from TVP. In 1984 he emigrated to the USA. He was a scholarship holder at Stanford University and Penn State University. He founded the first multi-hour Polish-language Polvision channel on the “Group W” cable television in the USA. In 1992-2000 he was the head of the Polish Voice of America Section in Washington. Since 2000, editor-in-chief of the New York “Nowy Dziennik”. He has been associated with TVN24 since 2005.

Main photo source: TVN24

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