The Promise of the East

Promise of the East

The Promised City, photo: Martin Wälde

The Vistula has often been represented as the symbolic boundary line between Asia and Europe – a line on which many a time stood the Russian and the Soviet (read: Asian) army. Tadeusz Konwicki wrote of the district of Targówek, which is on the eastern bank of the river:

“And suddenly it seemed to me that I was going through a small, unfamiliar town in Russia of the late years of the previous century and that in a moment I shall see, approaching at a trot amidst the clatter of hooves, a mounted patrol of Kuban Cossacks.”

Even today, with its street vendors, domes of the Orthodox cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene and the monument to Russian soldiers at the main crossing, the district centre of Praga appears very Russian in character. Close by, the now almost closed gigantic open-air market in the Decade Stadium used to be a similar reminder of the East. An art project by Joanna Warsza involving walking the residents of Warsaw through the Vietnamese sector of the market armed with pointers recorded on an MP3 player, was tellingly entitled “Take a Walk on the Asian Side” . Warsaw: Western or Eastern? Neither, perhaps. Witold Gombrowicz asserted that in this place the cultures of the West and East do not meet, but rather disappear, both of them.