Notes on the Geography of Poland: Cities
Glimpses from the 1990s of Warsaw, Torun, Cracow, and laggard Lublin.
Warsaw's Old Town, or Stare Miasto, meticulously rebuilt after 1945 but so picturesque that it makes you feel like you're in a museum.
Perhaps that's not so bad when the alternative is this Glorious Socialist city. Before you condemn this gift of the planners, however, notice that it isn't very different than height-controlled Washington, D.C., on a day without traffic.
Power station? Nope? Monumental subway entrance? Nope. What is it? A Glorious Socialist food palace, abandoned in the post-socialist economy.
Inside: a security tower, a reminder that not everyone could be relied upon to take only according to their needs.
What killed those Food Palaces? Here's part of the answer: a spanking-new wholesale food market on the west side of Warsaw.
Inside. The shoppers are mostly shopowners themselves, buying in quantity.
But not all are shopowners: faith has its privileges.
Ikea shelves, next door to the Warsaw railway station.
The Vistula River at Torun, with St. John's Church standing tall. It contains Copernicus' baptismal font.
A splendid example of brick-filled timber framing. It's in Bydgoszcz and unlikely to go away soon.
On the west side of Torun, Western investment. Bet it didn't last.
The Florian Gate, the only surviving medieval gate of old Kracow. It opens into Florianska Street and terminates in the distance at St. Mary's Church. Notice the establishment on the left?
Yes, it's McDonald's, but very discretely done, as this rear courtyard suggests. Someday, somebody should write about how the company sometimes does things well.
The Jewish Cemetery on the south side of Kracow. It's densely packed, with stones encroaching on walkways and piled on earlier stones until the ground is left in a state of seeming upheaval. If you're here alone on a quiet day, you can imagine hands reaching up.
On the west side of Cracow.
Another neighbor: Oswiecim, or Auschwitz. Here, outside the part of the camp that's preserved as a museum, and with its sinister lettering almost obscured in shade, the old office of the camp commandant survives as an apartment house for Polish military families.
Central Lublin makes a dismal contrast with Cracow's Market Square and Warsaw's Old Town.
A mile east of Lublin, the near-deserted grounds of the Nazi concentration camp Majdanek. A mountain of human ash is preserved, along with the heavy steel doors of gas chambers and thousands of pairs of shoes, carefully sorted by size.
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