To the Heroes of the Ghetto

 

When you are at the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial just look around you. You will find many interesting memorials as the world famous memorial created by Nathan Rapaport and Leon Suzin is just one way we pay our respect to the heroes of the Ghetto. For example, every year, around 19th of April you are going to see a lot of daffodils in the area of the former ghetto. We decorate the city with the yellow flowers to show that we remember about the Jewish fighters from WWII.

Let’s begin with the name of the famous memorial. It is called To the Heroes of the Ghetto or the Rapaport Memorial – as Nathan Rapaport (or Rappaport) was the author of the sculptures. It was created in 1948 and since then has witnessed many important events: this is the very spot where Willy Brandt (Chancellor of Federeral Republic of Germany) knelt down in 1970 in a gesture of penance and humility. BTW, there is a memorial to that event and it is located at the other end of the square.

What’s interesting, there is another memorial built next to the famous one. In fact, the decision to build a monument to the Ghetto fighters was taken in 1944. As a consequence, the first small memorial, designed by Leon Suzin, was unveiled in April 1946. You can see it today, it is located a few meters from the Rapaport Memorial, but it is much less impressive. Look for a simple piece of red limestone in the shape of a circle, with a palm leaf, the Hebrew letter bet and an inscription written in Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish.

 

There are some interesting photos from the unveiling ceremonies at the core exhibition of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The museum itself was opened in 2014 and since then has been considered one of the best of its kind. For example, in 2016 it was rewarded with European Museum Academy Award, but it’s best if you see it for yourself. The building was designed by Rainer Mahlamäki, an architect from Finland.

In spring, in the vicinity of the memorials, you can find flowers with a special meaning. For example the Irena Sendler red tulips named after a nurse and a social worker who saved 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Then, there are a lot of yellow daffodils: some planted and some just laid in the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters and their last commander – Marek Edelman. He used to leave a bunch of the spring flowers on the Rappaport Memorial every April, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1943 Ghetto Rising. This is why daffodils have become symbolic flowers for the Jewish fighters from WWII; just look at the temporary mural by Andrzej Wieteszka created in spring 2017 in the city centre.

In between flowers and stones and in front of the entrance to the Polin Museum, you can find medium-sized, dark blocks of stone. They are part of the Memorial Route of Jewish Martyrdom and Struggle in Warsaw 1940 – 1943. The stones, placed there in 1988, will lead you towards the Umschlagplatz Memorial. It’s not easy to read what was written on them, but if you focus, you will be able to discover names and events important for the history of Jews in Warsaw.

Our service:

We provide guiding services in the Polin Museum. Tickets for individual visitors can be bought both on line and in the Museum. Group visits must be booked via the Polin Museum official website (no more than 25 pax in a group). On request, we can assist you with the booking.

The highlights of Warsaw and a selfie with Frederic Chopin

The absolute must see in the historic area of Warsaw: the Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage site), glimpses on Wisła (our river), the elegant Krakowskie Przedmieście, the modern University of Warsaw Library, the Chopin’s heart and… a personal selfie photo session with the composer. What should you expect?

First of all – don’t worry about the Chopin’s heart. Actually, you can’t see it as it is hidden in a niche and covered with a proper stone plaque. Then, be prepared for the story of the afterwar reconstruction. Historically speaking, the Old Town heritage covers almost 7 centuries of architecture, but most of it was recreated after WWII.

Next, visiting the St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Roman Catholic) or the Market Sq. provides you with a unique opportunity to feel the inner strength of the Polish nation. The people’s will brought about the reconstruction of the entire district on a unique scale in the history of the world. It’s not an exaggeration: the reconstruction was the reason why the Old Town in Warsaw was listed as the part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

Then, the Warsaw University Campus with its duality: the grand and noble buildings of the old section in Krakowskie Przedmieście and quite unique modern architecture in the Powiśle area, such as one of the Warsaw icons: the New University Library Building with its remarkable roof garden and a panoramic view on the Wisła river and the city centre.

In November 2016 we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the University as it was established in 1816. The Krakowskie Przedmieście Campus is worth visiting also as a place closely associated with biographies of its alumni, such as Frederic Chopin. This is where you will find one of the playing musical benches. And you can take a selfie with the composer right at the entrance to his home – all you have to do is download the free app called selfie with Chopin from the official tourist site of the city or ask your guide!

For more city walks in winter and in summer click our Warsaw section.

Our service:

This is our most popular 3 -4-hour walking tour. However, there is a possibility to use very convenient public transport or a private car – if needed. There are daily or longer period tickets for the city’s trams and buses available in kiosks or ticket machines located at the major stops.

This itinerary offers you a very convenient start for further exploration. In the Old Town area you will find the Royal Castle with its art collection. But if you are more interested in the reconstruction – then go to the Muzeum Warszawy (the Warsaw City Museum) and see the exhibition located on Brzozowa St. in the Old Town.

We provide guiding services. There are entrance fees to both museums. Tickets for individual visitors must be bought at the museums ticket office. Group visits must be booked via the official website or the booking offices (no more than 25 pax in a group). On request, we can assist you with the booking.

Jukebox, Jewkbox! Music in Polin Museum

Warsaw and all kinds of music: classic, pop, folk, dance, indie rock – all that in one exhibition and with a Jewish twist. Here are some photos from a special meeting for the Polin Museum guides…

“Only the empty sleeves” -Hanno Loewy, the curator of the exhibition, has informed us, just at the entrance. So, you can’t buy any records at the exhibition or take any as a souvenir but you can listen to them all. Moreover, there is a very illuminating exhibition catalogue published by the museum.

As for the exhibition, there are some topic areas: the row of old gramophones to give you some timeline, a huge collection of the EMPTY sleeves – to present different kinds of Jewish music in the 20th century, the comfy listeners area to offer you a place to sit and just enjoy the music. Of course, there is a special Polish Jewish music zone as well. Make sure you go up to the mezzanine – there is a stage waiting and a kind of a multimedia introduction to the contemporary Jewish music and musicians in Poland.

Have fun and enjoy as much as I did! The exhibition will be open until 29.05

Praga and its Jewish heritage

The original hideout where a Righteous Among the Nations family was hiding Jews during WWII, two prayer halls and a glimpse of a pre-war city. The stories and architecture of the eastern part of Warsaw inspired Hollywood directors and local street art artists.

For years Praga in Warsaw (the district on the eastern bank of the Wisła river and not the capital city of the Czech Republic) has been considered an area off the beaten track and a place known only to the locals. And yet, there is a lot to discover. What should you expect?

First of all, if you know the Warsaw city centre – be prepared for a total change in urbanscape. Even a short walk in the Praga district will give you an opportunity to enjoy Warsaw from the pre-war times. This part of the city wasn’t as destroyed as the western bank of the river. Some areas are truly neglected, some has been given a total makeover, but it is a district almost without the communist imprint.

Secondly, the Jewish heritage sites are mostly linked with every day life of the pre-war Jewish Community in Warsaw. There are two small Jewish prayer halls you can visit (today a part of the Praga Museum) and the oldest market place in Warsaw called Bazar Różyckiego. We will show you the Auxilium Academicum Judaicum student house where Menachem Begin, and other Jewish students, lived while studying at Warsaw University. There is a majestic complex of the Michał Bergson Jewish orphanage and dormitory. Both buildings were designed by Henryk Stifelman, an eminent Polish Jewish architect active in Warsaw in 1920s.

Last but not least, visiting the Warsaw Zoo can be an absolute highlight of your stay in Warsaw. You will find there the original, pre-war villa and home of Antonina and Jan Żabinski, the director of the Zoo. Their biographies have inspired writers and film-makers. During WWII, the whole family, the young son Ryś included, was involved in the resistance. They decided to use empty cages and enclosures for hiding people, arms and ammunition. This is how they helped many Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. In the villa you will see the original hideouts prepared by Mr and Mrs Żabiński and you will be able to learn more about this amazing gentile family of the Righteous Among the Nations. 

What happened in the Warsaw’s zoo is the actual true story behind The Zookeeper’s wife: a novel by Diane Ackerman and a movie by Niki Caro. By the way, the film’s location was Praha, the capital city of the Czech Republic, not Warsaw… But some streets of the central Praga were used as a location in other films. For example, Roman Polański shot there some scenes of The Pianist –  another real WWII story about Władysław Szpilman, an extremely talented Jewish musician, who stayed and survived in Warsaw during the German occupation.

Our service:

We prepared 3 hours walking itinerary in the central part of Praga. There is an entrance fee to the Praga Museum – a local historical museum of the district, and the prayer house entrance is included in the Praga Museum ticket.

There is an entrance fee to the Zoo and the Żabińskis villa. The visit may be arranged in the mornings and early afternoons. It takes approximately 1 hour.

While in Warsaw – go to Edo!

Early spring weather in Warsaw may be tricky. There is an old Polish saying: w marcu jak w garncu – it means that the weather in March is like a cooking pot: expect everything from snow and freezing wind to nice sun. What to do in the worst snow storm scenario? Our recommendation for spring 2017: go to Edo.

“Podróż do Edo” (Journey to Edo) is the title of a new temporary exhibition in the National Museum in Warsaw. Until May 7th you can enjoy Japanese ukiyo-e prints from a private collection of Jerzy Lestkowicz. There are more than 300 works from the 18th and 19th centuries and they will take you on a unique journey from Kyoto to Edo.

My favourite room is a workshop area adjoining the exhibition where you can see a truly fascinating short documentary on the process of the Japanese colour print making. The artists skills and precision are simply amazing!

Łazienki: Royal Baths of Warsaw

Łazienki – the Royal Baths of Warsaw – Park Łazienkowski: all these names are given to one place that is considered the most magical in Warsaw. This is a common belief shared by the local people and visitors. So, what is all the fuss about?

The Royal Baths of Warsaw is a complex of gardens and villas created originally in the second half of the 18th century for the Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowski. Today it is 76 hectares of greenery in the city centre and (at least) three different gardens, so even a short walk is like a live lecture on the history of landscape architecture.

The oldest part is called the Royal Garden and it was created in the 18th century, then there is the Romantic Garden (the 19th century). The 20th century Modernist Garden is the most famous and photographed part due to the Fryderyk (this is the Polish spelling!) Chopin Monument and summer piano recitals. There is also a Chinese garden – the newest addition to the Łazienki complex designed following the Prince Kung’s Mansion in Beijing.

Mind you, we are talking about the major attraction in Warsaw with a very busy cultural calendar full of concerts and events: the Chinese lanterns festival or Chopin recitals are just the most famous ones. The Polish Tourist Organisation recorded that in 2013 Łazienki were visited by a little over than 2 000 000 people and the survey showed the constant increase in number of visiters in 2011-2013. Sometimes, especially on spring or autumn weekends, finding a secluded spot can be really challenging.  Monday to Friday are much less busy. Alternatively,  you can decide to visit the royal villas as most visitors focus on the gardens.

All the greenery is just a part of Łazienki as there are several royal villas to visit. The main one is called the Palace on the Isle (in Polish: Pałac na Wyspie). Then, there is the White Pavilion and the Myślewicki Palace.What is more, the king was renowned for his vast cultural interests and this is why you can find two theatres in his park: the open-air Amphitheatre and the elegant, wooden hall that was arranged in the building of the Old Orangery. All in all, you can stay here all day or come for a short walk, but it is an absolute must see in our city.

Our service:

The guided sightseeing includes a walk in the gardens and visits to the king’s villas such as the Palace on the Isle or the Old Orangery with an original 18th. century theatre. We provide guides who are licensed for both gardens and villas.

The entrance to the park and summer Chopin recitals is free but there is an entrance fee to villas. The ticket price depends on the number of villas you decide to visit.

Beijing in Warsaw

There is a piece of Beijing in Warsaw. Perhaps, it is a bit controversial – some people simply adore it, but some just ask why we decided to have a Chinese garden in the middle of our capital city.

This is a Chinese garden designed following the Prince Kung’s Mansion in Beijing, and you can find it in the Łazienki park. It was created in Warsaw in 2014, but there was a Chinese Avenue in our park 200 years ago, at the times of king Stanisław August Poniatowski, who created the residence.

Every summer, the Chinese section of the park expands: the red lanterns and other lighting features are built along the main alley. It is a part of the Garden of Light festival that has been organised by different historic residences all over the world since 2012: the common denominator being the fact that all the gardens/members were created in the 18th or the 19th century.

To sum up, the Chinese Lantern Festival and the Chinese garden in Warsaw are an elaborate reference to the 18th century European fashion for all things Chinese or, at least, from Far East. The king who founded Łazienki was no different. He was educated and open minded enough to follow the European interests. And since 1764, when he was elected king, he had enough money to act on this cultural pursuit. There are old plans and views of his park with pagodas and water features in “Oriental style”. What is more, in 2012 the traces of the old Chinese Bridge were discovered during the excavations – actually, the old Chinese garden was located not very far from where you can see two new pagodas today.

For more of our park and city walks suggestions go to sections: Warsaw  and Łazienki: Royal Baths of Warsaw.

Country living in Mazovia

From a modest manor house in Żelazowa Wola to a proper Baroque palace in Nieborów; the historic estates and manor houses located in the vicinity of Warsaw give a unique yet nostalgic insight into traditional country living of Polish nobility.

The music and garden aficionados would enjoy a visit to Żelazowa Wola, the birthplace of Frederic Chopin. There is a museum with some memorabilia and an amazing park originally designed before WWII. You can walk between the yellow Frederic Chopin roses or cross a bridge called: Mazurka. The park is also full of music coming from speakers skilfully hidden in the greenery. Additionally, in summer, every Sunday there are open air concerts.

The Nieborów palace and Arkadia park will appeal to people interested in elegant country living and ambitious landscape creations of the aristocracy. The majestic stair case of the palace is worth seeing as it is fully decorated with blue and white tiles from Holland. It is said that every tile shows a different scene! While Arkadia, since its beginnings in the 18th century, has been considered one of finest sentimental and English-styled parks in Poland.

A short stay in Łowicz is an opportunity to explore the folklore traditions of Mazovia. For example colourful paper cutouts used for house decorating and distinctive patterns of the traditional costumes. The local museum and souvenir shops are the best opportunity to get a proper view on the subject!

A full day trip usually includes lunch. We can recommend Oberża pod Złotym Prosiakiem near Nieborów for people looking for a traditional inn. Every Chopin aficionado will appreciate the interiors of Przepis na kompot in Żelazowa Wola.

Our service:

We provide guiding services in all the above mentioned places. Tickets to the Lowicz Museum, Zelazowa Wola and Nieborow/Arkadia complex can be bought directly in the ticket offices of the museums or we can assist you with the booking.

The full tour itinerary can be organised in the spring-summer season due to the Nieborów and Arkadia museums opening period (from the 1st of April until the end of October). Shops in Łowicz are closed on Sunday. On request we can provide transport services and book lunch in a local inn.

 

Praga: eastern bazaar, bears at the tram stop and more…

The eastern bazaar is called in Polish Bazar Różyckiego and it is the oldest in Warsaw; bears are for real as they live in a zoological garden enclosure. What more can you find in Praga?

Praga in Warsaw, the eastern part of the city, is a district where you can explore multicultural traditions. Jews, Roman Catholics and  Orthodox Christians have lived together for many centuries and that is why churches and synagogues were built in a very close proximity. Secondly, it was almost not destroyed during WWII and you can still recognise some views from the 100 years old postcards and photos. Even a short walk offers a complete change of urbanscape for people who are familiar with the Warsaw’s city centre with its reconstructions and communist architecture.

Truth be told, some of the houses are in need of a complete makeover and some must be properly restored. Unsurprisingly, the most neglected streets were used as WWII film sets – the most famous case being the Pianist on Władysław Szpilman’s war experiences. The eastern district seemed to be a perfect film substitute for the Warsaw ghetto scenery.

A walk in Praga may be full of surprises. You can meet  – bronze musicians in the middle of the street. They used to be a local entertainment as they wandered around the city with their music. There is more: an original bunker from the times of WWII and “pyzy”: an emblematic street food from Bazar Różyckiego. The home made dumplings filled with meat and served with a lot of gravy were sold from glass jars. Today, you can have meat or vegetarian option in one of the bars around the bazaar.

Our service:

Our 3 hours walk will take you to the centre of the district in the vicinity of the Różycki Bazaar and the Zoo. There is a possibility to combine this itinerary with visiting the Praga Museum (a local historical museum of the district and the Jewish prayer house from the 1800’s) and the Żabińskis villa with the hideouts built to save Jews from the Ghetto; for more information go to the post on the Jewish heritage in Praga.

There is an entrance fee to Praga Museum – the Jewish prayer house entrance is included in the Praga Museum ticket.

There is an entrance fee to the Zoo and . The visit may be arranged in the mornings and early afternoons only and it will take approximately 1 hour.

Summer means Chopin

It feels like summer in Warsaw lasts as long as the open air concerts in the Royal Łazienki Park. Every year, from May to September the area next to the Fryderyk Chopin Monument (the Polish spelling!) turns into an open air concert hall. It has been a city tradition since 1959. Worth experiencing even if you are not an enthusiast of classical music. Concerts are held every Sunday: at noon and at 4 o’clock PM. The 2017 season starts on Sunday, the 14th of May.

Some of the concerts/garden trivia: the green surroundings you can see around the monument were designed especially as an open air concert hall. The rose garden is an actual theatre parterre for an audience and tall tress behind the monument are a natural, and very dramatic, backdrop.

During the summer Chopin concerts, both the performing artist and the piano are covered by a shade designed especially for Łazienki by Marek Krawczyński: architect, designer and pianist, who was born in Warsaw and then emigrated to Australia. The shade’s shape was inspired by the Sydney Opera House roof shell.

If you miss the concert on Sunday or come to Warsaw before or after the festival, you can perform some Chopin on your own. At the entrance to the park, there is one of the Chopin playing musical benches. The benches were created for the composer’s 200 birthday anniversary in 2010 as part of the tourist itinerary called “Chopin in Warsaw”. The one in the park plays the Polonaise in A major, op. 40 no. 1; just press “PLAY” and enjoy. If you downloaded the app “Selfie with Chopin“, then check Internet accessibility in the park, as it is one of the areas where you can get your personal photo session with the very elegant gentleman and composer.

For more info on the Łazienki park and our guiding tours click sections: Warsaw and Łazienki: Royal Baths of Warsaw. More about the concerts and monument in my post called #selfiewithchopin and national pride