#selfiewithchopin, multimedia and national pride

Let’s start from the beginning – there is a photo competition in Warsaw organised by the Bureau of the city’s promotion. It is simple: take a selfie with Chopin, hashtag it: #selfiewithchopin #contest and wait for the results. It lasts until May 14th (2017), but there are Chopin themed multimedia that you can enjoy all the time. As you can see on my Facebook fun page, I do it quite often. But then, why do we like the Chopin’s music so much? And was he French or Polish? These are genuine questions some tourists asked me at the playing musical benches.

First of all, the multimedia. Downloading app Selfie with Chopin will give you access to some info on his bio and music. Then, there is another app called Chopin in Warsaw. It will provide you with some old views of Warsaw, so you could really see Frederic Chopin’s Warsaw. What is more, you can access not just some old photos, but there are a few Augmented Reality stops. For example, at the Czapski/Krasiński Palace on Krakowskie Przedmieście St. you will find a view of the composer’s drawing room. BTW, that was his last address in Warsaw before he left the city in 1830, and he created there both of his piano concertos.

The apps will guide you along Frederic Chopin itinerary marked by playing musical benches. They were installed in 2010 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the pianist’s birth. For instance, there is one in the Royal Łazienki Park and it plays a piece of the famous Polonaise in A Major (op. 40 no 1). Or you can listen to the part of the Sonata in B flat minor (op.35) renowned for so-called Funeral March at the entrance to the Holy Cross Church where Chopin’s heart is buried. The list and the locations of all playing musical benches is published on the city’s website called Chopin’s Warsaw. There is a printed version of it available in the tourist information points.

Planning a visit to Żelazowa Wola, the Chopin’s Birthplace Museum? There is a selfie stop there as well. You can take a photo of an AR Chopin just next to the bushes of Chopin’s Roses, the Polish variety created to honour the musician. Additionally, you can download an audioguide with some extra content, such as a short documentary on the Mazovia region and other places visited by the young composer in our region. It is available on the official site of the Museum.

Last, but not least, why do we have such an obsession with Frederic Chopin? After all, his father was French and he lived in France half of his life. Well, Chopin considered himself a Polish citizen and was very proud of it. Then, we consider him the most important and the most famous Polish composer. What is more, his music became one of the national symbols and was seen as such by the occupants of our country. To begin with, there was a ban on playing Chopin’s music in public in Warsaw in the XIX century. This regulation was applied on the territories that, like Warszawa, had belonged to our, Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, but were under the Russian occupation since 1795. That was a personal decision of the Russian Tsar taken after crushing the Polish Insurrection in 1830 and 1831. The similar, anti-Chopin law was introduced by the Nazis after seizing Poland in 1939. The Polish people were not allowed to play it in public or listen to it’s recordings and the monument from the Royal Łazienki Park was destroyed. This is why, playing Chopin in public has become a political statement after WWII and the open air concerts started.

The best way to understand our feelings and emotions about Chopin is by watching Roman Polanski film on Władysław Szpilman called the Pianist or joining one of the open air summer concerts in Warsaw or Żelazowa Wola. All in all, it is a very nice way to get to know our capital city.

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.

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.