American Proposal

The Promised City, Foto: Martin Wälde

Pre-war Warsaw was fascinated by the energy and vigour of American cities. Even in the Stalinist period there was an America-enchanted subculture of the “bikini boys”, reminiscent of the teddy boys. It was only after 1989, however, that the “indecent proposal” ¹⁰ of American culture could be accepted without scruple. In the city landscape, the main marks of this enchantment are skyscrapers (often featured in romantic comedies and soap operas) and other fetishes which are global yet identified with the “American lifestyle”: car, coffee in a paper cup, the shopping mall. Today, Arkadia ( “the land of happiness”), Złote Tarasy or Klif shopping malls are a must-see during excursions to Warsaw.

To some, skyscrapers are a hallmark of provincial aspirations, to others, a symbol of progress and civilisational advancement. One way or another, therapeutic qualities are readily ascribed to them. According to Daniel Libeskind, designer of the high-rise apartment block Złota 44 which is over 200 miles tall, “between the destruction by the Nazis and oppression under the Soviets, this building represents a new direction for Poland, east and west… The building embraces the complex history of the site and the aspirations of Warsaw. It is a unique building shaped by Warsaw’s soul and light”. ¹¹ Thus, a forward-and-upwards escape from the difficult past? An escape from the problems of Europe into the American dream? Being American as a version of being Polish? According to opinion polls, in Poland the most popular nation is that of the Americans. During periods of economic uncertainty – that is nearly the entire twentieth century – the US dollar was the only trustworthy currency for the Poles. The region around Warsaw has a tradition of economic emigration to the USA which goes back some generations. It was from there that the image of comfortable living arrived together with letters and parcels. Yet whether America still has a future in Warsaw is now increasingly doubtful – year to year, its popularity in the polls is diminishing, and the sociologist Paweł Śpiewak reflects that “the distance between Poland and America is growing proportionally to the growth of our European awareness”.