Warsaw Diary

A Polish Metamorphosis

Twenty years ago, Praga, the district on the right bank of the Vistula River was the stuff of bleak legend and folklore. Like Poland with its EU accession, this part of Warsaw, too, has changed dramatically.

Dorota Masłowska is a Polish writer, playwright, columnist, and singer.
Dorota Masłowska is a Polish writer, playwright, columnist, and singer. Michaela Metesová

In the spring of 2004, the first time I had money with any real purchasing power, I decide to buy my first apartment. Poland would soon join the European Union. Real estate prices are already going up like crazy, and I’m 21, my account filled with what was then the (today hardly impressive) earnings of a newly minted “star.” (Not long before I had managed to write a bestseller.) I’m deliberately writing “star” in quotation marks. My social condition, funded by my early and controversial debut, is very new, always pretty shaky and fragile. It sparks considerable opposition among critics and public alike, and I am consuming the prestige and privilege that go along with it in a chaotic and contrary way. I am contemplating them a little, but in large part I am still contesting them, now coquettishly, now in an honest, youthful fever. And you can see that grappling with forces of opposing vectors in my life activities from that time: modicums of good sense (directing my accumulated means toward accommodation and not, say, clothes made of gold) with something that could step in for its absence.Seeking my place on Earth, I turn pretty much right away toward the bad-repute-enshrouded and anti-prestigious Praga North.

„On one side stands a building in at least as deplorable a state. On the other — nothing. A hole, a rift.“

Dorota Masłowska

In a newspaper somewhere—it’s been so long ago that you look for an apartment with a sheet of newspaper—I find a place on the right bank of the Vistula, where, I later learn, a great many inhabitants of the “real,” left-bank Warsaw have never set foot in their lives. You don’t go there unless you’re looking to get your ass kicked. This place has its own dark PR, its own bleak legend and folklore. When the tram stops at Bank Square, and a wave of people gets off at one of the last downtown stops and those who are heading to the other side of the Vistula get on, you can see an almost complete change in cast, costumes, and props. The faces become more severe, gruff, non-radiant. The shopping bags emptier. The skirts grey, less fashionable. The tram crosses the river, and it’s as if someone has turned the dial on time and colour: the neon, the signs, the illuminated displays, the flowers and children all disappear. It becomes somber, grey, like twenty years earlier, though the lights and fireworks of the “real” Warsaw glow faintly in the distance.

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