Every so often you meet or listen to someone who seems to inspire you with everything they say. I was lucky enough to listen to one of these people two nights ago but the reason they I enjoyed his speech so much requires a bit of background.
As I mentioned in my last post (which was a while ago!) during orientation week we had a full day learning about the history of Poland and in particular Warsaw. This consisted of one of the most engaging lectures I have been to on the history of Poland as a country and political system. Despite politics being a sore subject we were treated to an insight into the current situation here, which will add flavour to life here during my stay here.
This lecture set the scene for a a 4 hour city wide bus/walking tour starting at Lazienki Park (where I ran), around town past key monuments and churches and ending up walking through Old town. While the actual places,which I took photos of, were awesome, it was really the amount of historically important landmarks that astounded me.
Driving through town we were told to look left at this such monument then immediately to the right to see this important church and then back to the left to see the next icon. It was non stop and every place had significant through the course of Polish history (and mostly recent history). In NZ we could drive for hours to see an icon that played a key part in our development (eg Hobbiton 🙂 ), but here you only have to turn around to see the next culturally significant location. This bombardment had to have left a mark, and certainly did on me. The depth of history that makes up this part of the world is hardly spoken of yet some of the most significant in recent times.
For instance just driving past an non-descript building and learning that this was the Gestapo headquarters in Warsaw in WW2 or that the street we were walking down formed the heart of the Warsaw uprising. But the biggest learning I found was one that is close to the dorm. Every morning, running and going to uni I pass a prison just down the road (50m from the dorm). It is not a big one and doesn’t stand out much but it is there none the less. It is called Mokotow prison and sits on the ‘longest street in Warsaw’ named because once you entered it would be years before you leave, if ever. (The international office of the Uni actually lies on this street). This prison was built but the Russians but in WW2 was used as a place of torture and execution of many Polish political and underground fighters. Many of the names of local ‘heros’ that we were told about during the tour actually ended up there with many still un-accounted for; murdered and hidden.
It has shown me that NZ is so detached, and so peaceful, that it is hard to comprehend what really goes on elsewhere and what countries go through. I managed to get some photos during the visit this time.
I seem to look at everything through different eyes now and see the little things around the place, like the ever constant memorials built into walls, adorned with flowers remembering yet more innocent people oppressed and killed during Poland’s tumultuous past. These little things make it constantly real what went on a generation ago and show that the bad things in the world are no longer just a foreign newspaper article.
Coming to Poland I was planning on using it as a stepping stone to travel to near countries but thanks to this new found perspective, I am now keen to explore the rest of the rich history it has. I think partly due to the fact that I knew very little about Poland apart from a few books I read before coming here (Warsaw 1920: Lenins Failed Conquest of Europe by Adam Zamoyski is a brilliant wake up call), and the fact that the past is so prominent and almost tangible is driving this.
It is still possible to feel what Old Poland is like, courtesy of their Milkbar’s. Polish Milk bars are a sort of basic cafeteria with cheap yet yum food. Tracing their roots back to the late 19th Century they are a link to the past. Having eaten at one last night it was stunning how subdued and transactional it was. Everyone was quit and kept to themselves, something a far cry from the open and sometimes extravagant establishments back home. I feel that this is what being in an economic depression would be like and sums up my view of what Poland would have been like under the oppressive rule of it’s neighbours in the past.
Continuing on, these constant historical landmarks and ever present museums makes me feel like Poland is living in the past. I don’t mean this in an offensive way at all, it seems that because of the appalling events that have happened here over the last few centuries people are still coming to grips with what went on. The distance they show is part of their culture and I feel has been bought on by these events.
There is so much potential here (Poland was the only European Union country to keep growing in the GFC) yet the future seems to be ignored. Not helped by the current political situation, there is no view to the future Poland, something that has huge possibility. It is this reason that I found the talk the other night so fascinating.
The talk was by Mr. Mark Krawczynski, the son of Zbigniew Krawczyński an architect and co-author of Warsaw’s Old Town reconstruction after its destruction during World War 2. It featured a film about the destruction and rebuilding of Warsaw called Out of the Ashes but it was the lecture after that was the most interesting. Mr Krawczynski moved to Australia when he was a teen and lived there for many years, only returning to his place of birth to return some of his fathers drawings to Warsaw. He talked about the film, but also about the future of Poland. He talked about the past perspective and the lack of a symbol for Poland. Being an architect he sees a physical structure as an icon forming the basis of marketing efforts to bring tourists and life to the country. He spoke his opinion, regardless of whether it was considered PC or not, and just the fact that he was so passionate about the future of Poland and making a large scale difference spoke to me. He is keen to do whatever he can to improve the country of his birth and as such is an optimist. His mindset was to look at big picture and believe in the power of change he has. It was not fake but he was truely passionate, something I think can make a huge difference in the world.
I have found a talk he did at TEDx Warsaw for anyone interested, and it talks a bit about the architectural icon link to national identidy side of things. This is a different to the speech I heard but the same themes reading between the lines are apparent.
As part of looking round Warsaw I visited the royal castle in old town and this is absolutely stunning. Admittedly it was rebuilt after WW2 as it was gutted by fire and partially destroyed but having painstakingly redone is a sight to behold. I will let the pictures do the talking. (The photos are not the best quality, partly the poor phone camera quality but mostly my poor photography skills). I don’t think I captured the quality of it very well, so have a browse of the wiki page on the Royal Castle Warsaw for a better view.
Another big thing that happened this week was we started classes :/ Even being pessimistic, I had overestimated the ease and effectiveness of the course selection process here at SGH and as a result I spent the whole week pouring through 3 or 4 different timetable excel spreadsheets finding courses that would fit my degree in NZ, would be interesting and would fit the timetable. As a result it is chaos. I went to far more classes than I am taking to make sure that if I was required to take them (after seeing if Otago would accept them or not) I was not behind. As a result I wasn’t very cultural at all. Thankfully now, I am sorted (fingers crossed) and have some interesting classes to go ahead with.
What I have gleaned from this first week however is how different the education system is to NZ. Here, presentations are a constant part of life as are class discussions. Marks are awarded based on these and so participation is vital. I partly knew this before coming and helped cement Warsaw as I think it is a much better way to learn and improve not just academic skills but social and professional skills as well. In NZ I can keep my head down and learn by myself and get marks in a final exam. The style here, with majority of marks coming from discussion (quality not quantity) will hopefully open me up to far more perspectives and give me practice articulating ideas. For instance I have a 40 minute presentation due in a month on a topic I know nothing more about that then title (health economics), in particular extrapolating future expenditure. Preparing this will provide a challenge but also a new experience and some new skills.
Most of the lectures are 100 minutes and so when you have 3 classes a day average the time starts to add up pretty fast. I suppose this works with the participation style of marks though as less emphasis is one doing reports, essays etc in your own time. Fridays have been kept free of class so travel time can be extended giving 3 days where ever I go.
Having spent the week focused entirely on ensuring I was signed up to classes by the required deadline I planned no travel for this weekend and so decided the spend the weekend discovering Warsaw. Why not start exploring in your backyard?
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon and so can’t tell you fully what I got upto but today I managed to get round two of the numerous museums; The Warsaw Uprising museum and the Chopin Museum. Both impressive in their own right they provided fascinating insights into two of Poland’s recognisable moments. Unfortunately due to the snow overnight and this morning it seemed like half of Warsaw had the same idea as me and so the Rising museum was packed. Luckily I turned up reasonably early as the line to get tickets was about 50m long when I left.
This is a poor photo of Chopins last piano.
I had intended to also go to the Copernicus Science museum but when I got there in mid afternoon they were no longer selling tickets due to the number of people inside. that goes onto tomorrows to visit list. Instead I wandered the city, something I really enjoy doing for some reason, just walking in no particular direction down small and big roads just exploring. It is the same reason as why I like to run in new places, you get off the beaten track and discover the less touristy, but just as amazing places. it also helps someone from a town of a few thousand understand how to get around a big city. Here are a few snaps of some of the things I found.
I ended up in Old town eventually.
I came across a lookout situated behind the town looking east over the Vistula river towards the Stadium and Prague district of Warsaw. On the fence, like the ill fated bridge in Paris, was padlocks but oddly was also computer cables. There were multiple old computer cables tied and locked up to the fence, the meaning of which escapes me Maybe it represents love in the world of Tinder and on-line dating. Whatever it meant, there was still a good view and so I took the first photo in Poland with my travelling companion.
I also have a few other photos from my travels which are a bit stand alone:
One of them is the only palm tree in Warsaw, a plastic model that sits on the translated Jerusalem Avenue. This is slightly humerus as there are no palm trees in Jerusalem yet here it sits.
I also mentioned in my last post that humour is an international language but I believe running is the same. Like NZ I wave and say hello (Dzien Dobry) to every runner I pass and they say the same. It shows the running traits I see in NZ are universal. I am hoping to be fit enough for the marathon here in Warsaw and then will hopefully take that fitness to another one in Europe.
I was meaning to have this photo up last time but here is the roomie and I after class one evening. He continues to teach me basic Korean and he is picking up more kiwi slang (Far out, Sweet as)
I will end this one here, it is time for some kai. Next weekend is a trip to Krakow so I will update with the adventures that go on there.