Between old and new

I’m embarrassed to admit but before August this year I’ve never been to Polish capital – Warsaw. I guess I was never “in the neighborhood” and besides Warsaw, like every capital, is not a very popular city amongst the rest of countrymen. But because it is  Polish capital, I always wanted to visit it. It’s a city full of symbols – we say that some place is busy as Marszalkowska Street, Muniek from T.Love was singing about Krakowskie Przedmiescie (literally Krakow suburb). Seeing the Palace of Culture and Science put a smile on my face as if I just saw the Statue of Liberty 🙂 And believe me, it is an ugly building, but I’ve seen it in so many movies that it’s just simply a part of Warsaw to me. We can’t forget how much the city suffered during the last war and you can see it straight away after entering the city. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a building older than 65 years. And we’re talking about a spot where a settlement has existed for more than ten centuries. I also had a personal reason to visit – my very good friend and his wife live there.

Walking around Warsaw makes you think. About history of the city, people who used to live there. I was whispering at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier even though it’s almost in the middle of Pilsudski Square. The Royal Castle looks beautiful in the evening and it’s hard to believe it was re-built after the war.

Guard of honour at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Royal Castle in the evening

The original Zygmunt’s Column

Apart from spending some quality time with my mate (pub crawling :)) I really wanted to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Don’t worry, I’m not going to discuss here if the Uprising was a good idea or not but the Museum is worth seeing. It’s very modern and everyone will find there something interesting to see. Life under occupation was hard but people dealt with it with wit. A few times during the visit I read things that forced me to move along as the cruelty of Nazis was unbearable to read about. But I think the most emotional moment for me was watching a short film “City of Ruins”. It was made from a German plane flying over Warsaw in 1945 and you can see almost a whole city flattened… 1.3 mil people living in Warsaw in September 1939 and after the Uprising less than 1000 people (they were called “robinsons”) hiding in ruins (including a famous pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman). Those two numbers show what Warsaw went through during the war.

Posters calling to fight

The Home Army’s soldiers’ oath

Kubus – homemade armored car

I would love to go back to Warsaw as there’s still so many places and things to see. On top of my list is Stare Powazki cemetery, place of resting for many famous Poles.

Wawel Castle

A few days later I went to Krakow. I must say I was a bit depressed after visiting Warsaw – such a beautiful city ruined in 5 years time. But I quickly felt alive again. Krakow is so… Polish, so full of great history. It wasn’t destroyed during the war, so there are a lot of gems waiting for tourists on almost every corner. Walking around I realized I was standing in front of Jagiellonian University, the oldest university in Poland, founded in 1364 by king Casimir the Great (at that time the University was called Studium Generale). In Warsaw I was thinking that Nazis did quite a good job in getting rid of everything that was Polish. After war we ended up as Soviet Union’s satellite country for 45 years (thank you dear Allies). Does it always have to be so hard for us, Poles? But then I heard the Heynal, saw the Wawel Castle, tombs of kings Casimir the Great, Wladyslaw Jagiello and John III Sobieski, the St. Maurice’s spear, which was given to Boleslaw I the Brave by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III in 1000AD, tombs of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Jozef Pilsudski and Gen Sikorski and I had an epiphany. This is our birthplace, the source of our strength. Thanks to Piast and Jagiellonian dynasties Poland was one of the most powerful countries in Europe. Yes, there were partitions, but we lived through it, without losing our identity. We gained our independence in 1918 only to lose it 20 years later, but there was the September Campaign of 1939 and Home Army (the Polish resistance) that gave us hope. After communism there was time of Solidarity and Lech Walesa… I understood that “Poland has not yet perished, So long as we still live”. Of course we quarrel and argue all the time, but if there is a need we always unite to fight the enemy – something none of the occupants could ever understand. I come from the generation that had nothing to fight for. Old enough to remember queuing for toilet paper but too young to fight the system. But I remember 1997 and the Great Flood. The way we helped each other was amazing. It didn’t matter if someone was old or young, from left or right wing, we all built the walls to protect our cities and homes and when the water receded we all started helping the ones who suffered most. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life before. Fortune is fickle, after bad times good ones come. So when I turn on the TV in Poland and see politicians arguing with each other, I say to myself – it’s all good 🙂

St. Maurice’s Spear

Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s tomb

Jozef Pilsudski’s crypt

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