Poland is a unique place. Within the past month I visited it twice. First, Szczecin and second Warsaw. Through these travels I learned that I am naïve in my appreciation for freedom to live, work, and play as I please. The Poland of today knows that freedom. But the Poland of the past was furthest from this freedom.
When visiting european cities I look forward to exploring their Old Town where the buildings and streets out date my home country. But Warsaw’s does not. During Hitler’s exit, he disposed of Warsaw thoroughly and systematically. The entire city was leveled, from Old Town to the Jewish Ghetto. Warsaw did not exist after he was done with it. Upon this rubble the familiar flag of Communism was planted, once again. Through communist rule Poland’s capital was slowly rebuilt. One place, in which I visited, the Palace of Culture and Science was a gift from Stalin himself to establish a healthy motivation in both fields. A non subtle reminder of who was in control of the Polish people. Today, the Palace is home to several theaters, office space, an observation floor, and even a university.
Warsaw has had 28 years to wash away the red of Communism but some still remains. That red has now faded to gray. This color fills the walls, streets, and even the faces of the elderly. During my time there I visited two coffee shoppes. Each shoppe represents a different side of Polish culture today.
Relaks is a shoppe situated within a neighborhood of caged windows. Stepping inside you are greeted by a smack of indie. Mis-match furniture is scattered about with modern-art renditions of theatrical posters climb to the ceiling as a bike pump stands guard by the door. The coffee bar is slammed into a corner of black chalkboard paint with the menu yelling in white chalk. A tall barista, probably named Viktor, greeted me with a Polish hello. Ordering a cappuccino I found a place to set up camp, upon the plywood banquet that fills the window. As I gazed around: tattoos, computers, and the out of place business man became my neighbors. Relaks was the young 28-year-old free Poland still going through his rebellious stage. Harsh tone, harsh music, harsh words, harsh colors, and harsh perspective on the future consumed me as I sipped. But with Poland’s past I cannot blame Relaks for being this way. A product of its harsh upbringing.
The Ministry Of Coffee was the other shoppe that I visited. Situated among the gray of downtown Poland, this place brings color back once you step inside. Within the glass door, sun pours in from all sides of this corner lot. White tile greets you from eye level down while a mixture of wood grain, white, and black matching furniture is for your choosing. Architect lamps of various varieties are the only decorations upon the denim blue walls. The bar demands center stage with all of its offerings out to speak for themselves. A short barista, probably also named Viktor, greeted me with a Polish hello. I started with an espresso as I gauged the place from a wood grain two top. The shoppe soon filled with chatting friends, two 35mm photographers, and the not so out-of-place business man. The coffee, the food selection, the atmosphere, the simplicity: all admitted warmth. The Ministry Of Coffee is the 28-year-old free Poland finally hitting his stride with confidence. The Poles where enjoying themselves as the Parisians would, understanding the past but not letting it hold them back from enjoying the simple things in life. This is the coffee shoppe that I never would expect to see in Poland yet am delightfully surprised to find it here.
Poland has been through a lot. Some of it will let the past of red and gray define them while some will let the red and gray be a chapter in its many volumes. I look forward to the coming colorful chapters.