Warsaw: A wander down Ulica Marszałkowska

It seem like most travel guides focus on Warsaw's old town. Consult most Varsovians (is it just me who thinks that word sounds like something out of Dr Who?) and you'll most likely get pointed in that direction by them too. So what, then, am I doing heading away from the old town, down Ulica Marszałkowska (Marshal Street)?

As I already touched on a tiny bit in the Palace of Culture and Science article, Varsovians have good reason to not be happy about the continued existence of the city's communist-era buildings.

They are, however, inevitably entwined with the city's post World War II history and it seems to me that with so many relics of the era still surviving and in use, this particular chapter is one which hasn't yet been finished.

Around 85% of Warsaw was destroyed during World War II, particularly during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and the subsequent systematic destruction of the city by German forces afterwards. While the old town was meticulously reconstructed, the areas further from there were redeveloped according to the planning ideas of the newly installed communist government. Some of this, as with the Palace of Culture and Science, was a matter of ideology, while some more a matter of economics and the need to build quickly and cheaply.

And so I find myself on this snowy winter's morning, looking around at the variety of communist-era buildings that line the street. I don't have the time to walk its whole 3.6km length, so instead just pick the section I can cover most easily in the time, from near its northern end at Plac Bankowy (Bank Square) down to Plac Konstytucji (Constitution Square) around 2/3 of the way down.

I'm struck how, just with the way Berlin's Fernsehturm is visible along most of the length of Karl Marx Allee, the Palace of Culture and Science is rarely out of view along Ulica Marszałkowska. Just as you start to forget it's there, you look up again, or turn around, and there it is, peering over the other buildings.

Just opposite the 'palace', where Ulica Marszałkowska meets Aleje Jerozolimskie is the PKO (Powszechna Kasa Oszczędności - general savings bank) Rotunda, designed by Zbigniew Karpiński and first completed in 1966. It was badly damaged in a gas explosion in 1979, but repaired and re-opened. As well as being a bank, the building's a popular meeting point, being both close to the station and an easily recognisable landmark.

There are some wonderful old neon signs above the shopfronts on the western side of the street, in the section leading up to Plac Konstytucji. This one's for a chinese restaurant, which still seems to be operating under the same name. I don't think the sign is still working, though!

Then there's Plac Konstytucji itself, named in honour of the Polish communist constitution passed in 1952. If you're into socialist realist architecture then, just as with the Palace of Culture and Science, this is an impressive example of it, designed by architects Stanisław Jankowski, Jan Knothe, Józef Sigalin and Zygmunt Stępiński.

Like with Karl Marx Allee, even the streetlights are given the socialist treatment.

The arcades on the eastern and western sides have decorative ceilings, with mosaics at both ends. These are quite a typical feature of socialist realist buildings - there are some on Berlin's Karl Marx Allee too.

There are some old neon signs on the buildings on the western side. This one says 'Lingerie Gallery'!

A fascinating piece of Warsaw's history, which has a very 'real' and lived in feel - certainly not somewhere that's been carefully manicured for the tourists. A shame I don't have more time to explore it right now...but then that's a good excuse to come back, isn't it?

Plac Konstytucji Warsaw

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