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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Warsaw. Cab drivers in the Old Town. The oldest have retired. Why?

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They worked in the profession for four decades, they considered the 1980s to be the best period for them, and finally, at the end of the year, they said “pas”, or rather “prrr”. The two oldest Warsaw cabbies have retired. Both gentlemen were thanked by the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, who called them “custodians of the capital’s traditions”.

There have been seven horse-drawn carriages in Warsaw’s Old Town for many years. In recent years, this number has been decreasing and today there are two horse-drawn carriages left, and two more will probably return in the spring.

It is difficult to reach the Old Town by horse-drawn carriage from the outskirts

In 2022, two cab drivers with over 40 years of experience ceased their activity: Krzysztof Szczepański and Zbigniew Wiśniewski. Unfortunately, there are no successors. The Śródmieście Public Lands Authority explains that it is becoming more and more difficult to get from the stables on the outskirts of the city to the Old Town every day. He adds that in recent years he has received many comments from people concerned about the work of horses in urban conditions.

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“I would like to thank Mr. Krzysztof and Mr. Zbigniew for many years of work not only as cab drivers, but also as custodians of the capital’s traditions. A carriage ride has always provided tourists visiting Warsaw with unforgettable experiences, thanks to which our city and the color of the Old Town remained in the memory” – he wrote in thanks for many years works by the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski.

Mr. Zbigniew’s father was also a cab driver before the war. After that, he worked with a horse in clearing Warsaw of rubble, and then returned to cab driving. After him, his son took over the business and in 1982 he registered the activity of “horse-drawn carriage”.

Krzysztof also took over the profession from his father. In 1978, when his father fell ill, he got into a cab, and when he saw his earnings after a few courses, he quit his job in the factory.

Without holidays and weekends, because then they earned the best

They both remember the 80s as a golden period. Horse-drawn carriages were waiting for customers in the Old Town Square. In the evening, they lined up in front of Bazyliszek, which was open until 11 pm, and then they moved to the neighboring frontage at Krokodyla, where they danced until 3 am. They drove stars – Mr. Zbigniew remembers Maryla Rodowicz, Krzysztof Krawczyk, engineers from Yugoslavia who built modern office buildings or gardeners who made money at the end of communism.

– The guests told us to take them to hotels, to other premises in the city or… to a taxi, because cars do not have access to the Old Town and taxi drivers had to wait at Zamkowy Square. During the day, tourists were transported, especially foreign ones. That is why there were no holidays in this profession – because in the summer there are most tourists. There were also no Saturdays and Sundays, then the whole of Warsaw was pounding on the Old Town – cabbies recalled in the communiqué of the town hall.

In recent years, both have seen trouble piling up. Mr. Krzysztof kept his horse in a stable at Tatarska (near Powązki), it was increasingly difficult to get to the Old Town through the congested city. Mr. Zbigniew “garaged” a cab and a horse in his backyard in Żoliborz. When there were more blocks and cars around, it became more and more difficult for him to drive the carriage through the narrow streets of the housing estate.

Those real blacksmiths are gone (in Warsaw)

– A horse is not a car, it’s a duty. Even on your day off, you have to go to him three times a day, feed him, groom him. And it has to be shod every six weeks – says Mr. Zbigniew. There used to be blacksmiths in Warsaw, but the last one left Sienna 20 years ago. Mr. Zbigniew says that he had to get in a car every six weeks, drive 40 kilometers outside of Warsaw and bring a blacksmith to shoe a horse. Cost – PLN 500 for four horseshoes plus petrol.

A cab driver charges an average of PLN 100 for a ride around the Old Town. But when you take into account the costs of maintaining a horse and the entrepreneur’s contributions, the earnings turn out to be not so great. Now people can’t play. We worked until at least 1 a.m., and now the horse-drawn carriages leave at 6 p.m. The nightlife is over, regrets Mr. Krzysztof. – We were like the last of the Mohicans – concludes Mr. Zbigniew, who has already sold his horse. Krzysztof also knows that he will have to do it, but for now he goes to him, feeds and cleans. He can’t part with it.

In gratitude for many years of work, the mayor of the capital, Rafał Trzaskowski, sent both the oldest Warsaw cabbies a letter, commemorative diplomas and small gifts.

Main photo source: Mateusz Szmelter, tvnwarszawa.pl

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