Warsaw was just as grey, and maybe 5 bazillion times more chilly, than Karakow. But we arrived just in time for one of the best ever things. FIREWORKS! And at a palace-cum-clock tower no less.
The next day, we found Warsaw to be a place both inspiring and horrifically depressing.
It’s a city that was completely destroyed during the Second World War, where almost all of its inhabitants were either exiled to labour camps, or killed within the city. It was the home of the largest Jewish ghetto and the centerpiece of Hitler’s plan to completely exterminate the Polish people. It’s the site of two bloody uprisings and a city where no stone was left standing, and barely any Warsaw natives remain.
But it’s also a place where tenacity triumphed in the face of defeat, where the invading armies were thwarted at every turn, and the people refused to give in, even as they drew their final breaths.
This unconquerable spirit is evidenced in the old part of Warsaw, where, instead of relocating, the people decided to rebuild their capital from scratch. Every piece of machinery in Poland had been taken or destroyed during the war. And so, piece by piece, the city was rebuilt using nothing but horse drawn carts and the ingenuity of builders and craftsmen from the surrounding area.
Apparently, during this reconstruction, they were able to bring in one crane. But it broke down within a week.
Because rebuilding a city exactly as it had been, without the use of modern technology, is such an unimaginable feat, Old Town Warsaw is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
This is the street where Madame Curie was born. Yes, she was Polish. Who knew!
This statue is not to commemorate children who fought during the war –there were no children conscripted into the Polish army — but in fact a memorial of the young people (aged 12-18) who would run through the city delivering letters. While Warsaw was under siege many people found themselves stranded away from home, unable to brave venturing out into the open. These “children” took up the incredibly risky job of carrying word to friends and family that their loved ones were still alive. Many were killed in the crossfire. And no, they weren’t armed.
Because Poland was under Russian rule during the reconstruction of Warsaw, religion was not something to be encouraged. Still, the Polish people insisted on having a place to practice their faith, thus they struck a compromise with the Soviets. The above building is indeed a church, though any outward appearance of religion is very much toned down.
On a lighter note, here’s a reconstruction of the royal palace, from back when Poland had a King. The original seat of the King was in the old capital of Krakow, but as Poland expanded it’s influence, the King moved to the more central city of Warsaw. Although, the fact that the alchemist King blew up half the castle in Krakow is probably just as good a reason as any to relocate.
Of course, as the day become dark and our feet grew numb with the cold, we ran off to find more Polish foods. We warmed ourselves up, and banished thoughts of genocide and destruction, with Polish sausage, pickled cabbage, and all the dumplings.