This last week I have spent in Warsaw, Poland. It’s an interesting city, quite beautiful, particularly the old town, with lots of parks all over and many great museums for those who are interested in such activities.
Warsaw is a strange mix of modern, fast developing, urban life and old communistic stagnation. You’ll see it all over the city, the juxtapositions between old and new times. Like the new Hard Rock Café next to the Palace of Culture & Science which is a typical building of the Stalin-era – pompous and massive. It was actually a «present» from Stalin to the Polish people, but it was hated by the regular man and woman. It soon gathered a whole string of nicknames from Stalin’s Palace to Russian Wedding Cake. The one that stuck in most minds was the Elephant in Lacy Underwear – a reference both to the building’s size and to the fussy sculptures that frills the parapets.
Today the whole area is changing. Around the old elephant the new City with glass, steel and concrete skyscrapers are shooting up. It’s how Warsaw is. Again and again you are confronted with this juxtaposition. Like how people behave. You still find the old attitude mixed with a more western oriented attitude. When entering some of the restaurants or shops or offices you sometimes feel like you have entered into hostile territory. Those who are suppose to service you, act like you are bothering them with you mere presence. But then again in other places you are met by the friendliest staff in the world. It’s a leftover from when East-European countries were the Eastern Block, when they were part of the Warsaw Pact. In those days people would mind their own business and look away, otherwise they would risk getting arrested or even worse. I have witnessed it myself from travels before the fall of communism in Europe. People would treat you like an enemy in public, but as soon as you got to know them privately, they were the most passionate and friendliest people you could think of. What you encounter in Warsaw today is a reminiscence of that era. And it seems to be a generation divider. The elder people seem to still hold on to the old attitude, while the younger generation who didn’t experience the suppression of communism, are more outspoken and interacting.
For me Warsaw is a magnificent city, with a great history that is still unfolding. And for any photographer it’s an inspiring place. So much to shoot anywhere you turn you head.