April 17, 2012

From the Ashes

“We wanted to be free and owe this freedom to nobody. “ The quote welcomes you as you step into the Warsaw Uprising Museum and this one quote pretty much sums up the character of a Nation. But I get ahead of my story.

Poland happened in my life completely by chance. A casual conversation, a schengen visa celebrating the joys of a world without boundaries and a very interesting flight schedule finally landed me in Warsaw. Tired, jet lagged and due for an important meeting, I poured over my laptop on the way to the hotel and it was not until the next morning, as the sun flooded my hotel room, that I realized this was going to be an interesting city.

My room looked out to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and while most nations remember their fallen heroes, none is perhaps more potent than the context in Poland. “A nation betrayed” is how old timers remember The Great War, the young are much more at peace with the progress their country is making. But however you might look at it; this is one nation with perhaps the most chequered history in Europe.

Interestingly, Warsaw might be the capital but the natural beauty of Poland lies beyond the city. This was a city that was razed to the ground at the end of World War II and slowly clawed its way back to become a modern bustling city. A 6 minute documentary called the City of Ruins reconstructs Warsaw at the end of WW II and all you see left behind is destruction. I do not know if you lingered on after your AOE sessions to look at what you have left behind after your victory. Warsaw looked worse. Only 1000 people remained amongst the ashes.

After the war the Big Three sat down to divide the spoils of war amongst them and Stalin, apparently a much stronger negotiator than both Churchill and Roosevelt got the prize that he wanted and Poland became a Satellite country of the Soviet Union marking the beginning of an era of what will be known henceforth as Cold War.

As a result, I decided to start my journey from the largest remnant of the Soviet Era – The Palace of Culture, a gift from the nations of the Soviet Union to the Polish Society. Large, imposing and not exactly beautiful, this grand monument served for long as the official theatre for art and culture for the Polish Society. And if you are a history buff and remember the centrally planned ideas of most communist states, you will realize this was an attempt of Stalinist Russia to influence the Polish culture. Today it is a modern bustling building spread over a large area whose interiors could not have been more different from its exteriors. Touring exhibitions find their place here and if you are up for it, take the elevator up to the 30th Floor to have a panoramic view of the city.

From there, it was ideal to go to what I wanted to see all along – the Museum of Uprising. Rarely have I seen a museum which has been able to tell its story with such effect. AT the very centre of the museum you have a huge granite wall and if you put your ears to it, you will still be able to hear the voices of Poland from the days of World War II. The museum is a tribute to the heroes of the uprising; disowned by their own country till the Berlin Wall fell.

It is here you will see The Great Game of Houses (If you remember the series Wheel of Time) being played out with the rules of realpolitik even before the war had ended.

The museum is sure to leave you emotionally drained and so it might be a good idea to head to the Royal Lazienki Park. Sprawling greens and brilliant waffles welcome you and it’s a good place to visit to see how spring appears in Europe. The air is chilly, the sun is up, everyone is out to enjoy the sun and his warmth and everyone around you is smiling. If you are lucky, a photographer might ask you to help her out as she shoots her model. True Story. Speaking of Waffles, Poland seems to have an excellent sweet tooth. The Polish cookies or the Krowki are the best I have tasted in a long time. They melt in your mouth and the aftertaste reminds you of the phrase “land of milk and honey”

The final phase of the journey was in Nowy Świat, slowly walking up and down to see what the Old Town of Warsaw was like. Completely destroyed in the War, this is one of the biggest triumphs of human spirit. The entire Old Town has been rebuilt from nothingness. Thousands of people worked together to ensure that the town was rebuilt exactly to its former avatar, with fantastic attention to details. As you walk down, you’ll meet Copernicus, smiling down on you and then you would like to wind down with a view of the Vistula River at sitting down for another waffle and a coffee at one of the quaint roadside cafes, so common in Europe.
A little dip into the Polish History will tell you that because of its strategic location, Poland has been occupied and split up multiple times in their history. WW II was the last of them. But the Poles never gave up. Warsaw as I said; rose from the ashes; and what a phoenix it has been.


Anonymous said...

banjo..this is very well written... seems that the place had a very strong impact on you.... as it does on me everyday that I am here.. enjoyed it !!!

Anonymous said...

a nice read!

Madhurjya Banerjee said...

Thanks Guys :)