Paris of the North

Northern side of Teatralny Square

It might seem that Warsaw, as tabula rasa, ought to be free of nostalgia. However, after 1945, the myth of the old city was growing stronger concurrently with the promise of the new one. There was a strong feeling that if everything went back to what it was before 1939, things would be better. Additionally, a strong - if false - conviction was that the post-war urban planners had destroyed more than they rebuilt. Altogether, this was fertile ground for the belief that if more monuments of the past were reconstructed, all would return to its pre-war state and Warsaw would again become the “Paris of the North” it used to be. This form of cultural pessimism, together with the perennial, profoundly human longing for the earlier Golden Age, motivated the reconstruction – six decades after the war – of the old Town House (Jabłonowski Palace) and the church of St. Andrew at Teatralny Square. The church is a few metres shorter than before the war because in the 1960s a new block of flats was built where its choir used to be, but no one seems to mind. Interestingly, even thoroughly modern architecture and contemporary urban design are haunted by phantoms of unreconstructed edifices; for instance, The Metropolitan, an office block designed by Norman Foster, was planned with the potential reconstruction of the neighbouring Saski and Brühl Palaces in mind – a reconstruction which is currently postponed until 2012 at the earliest.

Another architectural tendency, if sometimes dampened by the persuasive power of money, is to maintain the “traditional height” of buildings: seven floors, just above twenty metre, which is apparently the height tenement blocks reached on the eve of the First World War. Even the Museum of Modern Art, as well as other buildings that are supposed to grow at the foot of the Palace of Culture, are meant to have that sacred “Warsaw height“. There have even been proposals to demolish post-war buildings - for example the “Centrum” shopping malls at Marszałkowska Street.

- in order to reconstruct a semblance of the pre-war city, or to build tiny Disneyland-like estates channelling yesteryear Warsaw. One of these was a curious project to create a set of assorted replicas of tenement blocks, none of which had been rebuilt after the war, from various parts of the city; they were supposed to be constructed along Aleje Jerozolimskie, close to the Palace of Culture. Fortunately, such designs as “Miasteczko Wilanów”, a freshly built, suburban housing estate with low-rise buildings recalling the style of the 1930s and with replicas of old streetlamps, are so far the only fruit of this misguided nostalgia.