In the mid-1950s, a poem by Adam Ważyk acquired a certain currency in Warsaw. It was called Lud wejdzie do Śródmieścia (‘The people are returning to the central district’). Ważyk writes about how people are returning to “the chasms of the central district; empty, blown apart and torn apart” after the destruction during the Second World War. And the people did indeed return to Śródmieście.
The Polish capital has never been quite at one with its own geography. Varsovians’ perceptions of their home city are at odds with the way that outsiders regard Warsaw. Tourists visiting the Polish capital invariably head for the Stare Miasto (or Old Town) with its cobbled square surrounded by all-to-pretty houses replete with faux-mediaeval turrets. Owen Hatherley in his magnificent book Landscapes of Communism (2015) takes a well justified sideswipe at the Stare Miasto. Referring to the cobbled square he writes: “For the neophyte, it is easy to mistake it for the Polish capital’s agora, its heart, and to extend this to the Old Town itself… It is no such thing.”
Varsovians hardly visit the Stare Miasto, where the pulse of life, the menus and the prices are geared entirely to visitors to the city.