by Thymn Chase
Warsaw in Your Pocket Editor (2014-2017, issues 79-99)
When I first came to Warsaw in June 2003 I was fresh out of college with a shiny new Political Science degree in Central and Eastern European studies. I’d already spent a six month stint studying in Russia in 2002, however Warsaw was still unchartered territory for me. Stepping off the night train from Prague into the belly of the grimy, gritty Warszawa Centralna, I immediately found something familiar, albeit slightly unsettling. There was a similarly schizophrenic atmosphere in Warsaw that I had also encountered in Moscow and the Russian provinces, which was equal parts post-communist glum and hyper-capitalist glitter.
I made my way to the surface of the battleship Centralna and stepped out to greet the hazy and sluggish Mazovian morn and almost immediately fell over myself as I stared up stunned at the Stalinist behemoth that is the Palace of Culture. It looked like the long lost little brother of Moscow’s seven sisters, each of which I’d made a point of visiting a year before. I figured this was as good a place to start my two-day express exploration of Wawa-town. After a quick breakfast of a cabbage pastry and sludge coffee from a dodgy kiosk on pl. Defilad, I headed to the top of ye ole Culture Palace to immediately get a bird’s-eye view of this bustling metropolis.
What I saw up in the clouds looking down both confused and inspired me. The stunning mish-mash of brutalist communist architecture next brushing up to new glass-and-steel monstrosities was somehow drowned out by the giant tacky billboards slapped on any and every available visible space. As I looked further on the horizon an army of cranes dotted the skyline where future towers of tenements and cathedrals of commerce would rise in Śródmieście, Mokotów, Muranów and Powiśle. I dismounted via the vintage elevators and continued my whirlwind tour of the capital by wandering as much of the city as my feet would let me in the ensuing 48 hours. I met a lot of locals along the way in bars and cafes and was caught off guard by their enthusiasm and positivity.
I realized in my brief trip was what set Warsaw apart from other Central or Eastern European capitals was the people itself that were drawn to its energy from near and far. The Coca-Cola-fueled optimism of Poland’s lightning speed integration with the West provided the perfect playground for the movers and shakers of business and commerce. It wasn’t until a decade later when I had the privilege of becoming the editor of In Your Pocket did I see a lot of that potential actually starting to come to fruition. I can’t wait to see what the next decade has in store for this resiliently brilliant, eclectic and energetic city.