During the communist and post-communist times, the town like many others looked bare, skinned, dull and sad. As in Żeromski’s novels, where the reader can smell the mud, feel the cold with dampness and experience relentless poverty. There were two cinemas in Września; Pionier and Tonsil, sponsored by local production factories. After the re-privatization period, they turned out to be unprofitable and then therefor liquidated. So it went with everything across the whole country of Poland.
What can communism and the new ideology, or rather the lack of it, do with the town and its citizens? It strips the place and the people of their ambitions and motivations. But even without them, it is possible to live with. Hidden deeply, there was hope for change. Change is always better, they say. Change is more attractive than stagnation.
Comparing the present with that period of time in the past, it turns out that it also had its advantages. We had very good food although our dishes were simple and traditional. Nobody had a career. People had jobs and that’s what they called them. There were no frustrations related to the lack of fulfilment in professional life. The women gave birth to children, worked and ran a house. They wrote no books about it. It did not occur to them that they were more oppressed or more liberated because of it. Children and teenagers got to know each other and the world in the open-air while learning how to be independent. Time seemed to flow slower in silence …
We dreamed of a better life, and it turned out to be neither better nor worse.
I am born in and raised in Września but I have spent half of my life abroad. Returning to Poland after twenty years allowed me to look at my town from the perspective of … a visitor. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. It is hard to appreciate what around us. Before I have left Poland I did not think much of the town I come from. Therefore, it is good and healthy to take a break from time to time to gain a different attitude.
Września has revived. Walking through the streets of the town in the evening, I am under an impression I have travelled back in time. The architecture of tenement houses in the old part of the town and the attention put into details creates a very special atmosphere. Bicycle parking and street lamps are kept in the Art Nouveau style, the period of the town greatest prosperity. Looking at the windows when the lights on, I can easily imagine the people living in them also come from the beginning of the century. The smallest details have been skillfully taken care of while refreshing the face of the town.
Września is located in Greater Poland, 50 km from Poznań, at an important road and rail point connecting Poznań with Warsaw. The location of the town has always been beneficial to the development of trade and crafts.
During the Second Partition of Poland, the town found itself in the East Prussia, therefore there is a strong influence of the Prussian presence in the town’s architecture. Those are very solid buildings with strong construction.
Every day at noon, the patriotic song Rota written by Maria Konopnicka is played through the town’s loudspeakers, in memory of the strike of the Września children in 1901. The children were the first to oppose speak in German during religion classes. The teacher punished them with a flog. Students of other schools in the Prussian partition followed in the footsteps of brave children from Września.
Three nations lived here at the beginning of the century; Germans, Jews and Poles who were the majority. It housed Roman Catholic churches, an Evangelical church, and a synagogue that was blown up by the Germans.
After the war, during the communist era, Września continued to develop, both economically and culturally. The loudspeaker factory was established here, in the 1980s every Polish music lover wanted to have one of them. Today, the main economic driver is the factory of Volkswagen AG, which employs 3,000 people. And once again Września is strongly influenced by its western neighbours.
The history of Września is much deeper, but in this series, I want to tell how much it has changed and transformed over time. From the pre-war period to the present day. The face of the town changes the same way as the face of a person depending on the conditions and the time it lives in …
WRZEŚNIA ON AN OLD PHOTOGRAPHY
The source of photography are the following books: Ziemia i Powiat Wrzesiński na starej pocztówce, Jolanta Śliwczyńska, Waldemar Śliwczyński, Wydawnictwo Kropka, Września 2003
Przedwojenna Września Fotografie Franciszka Włosika, Wydawnictwo Kropka, Września 2005
At the begging of the new era, there was more optimism in the country. A date was set to join the European Union. Some western countries opened their job markets to the new EU members. The economy in Poland was not great at the time, it was far from good. The exodus of young, educated, skilled workforce started after the 01 of May 2004. Few millions of people have left and settled across Western Europe. Money earned in euro by the young Poles was sent to Poland and invested in properties, land, new businesses or paying back the loans. Some did not want to integrate within the cultures they arrived to. Their main purpose in leaving the motherland was to earn cash and invest back home.
At the time I already have left Poland. I went to learn English in Ireland with a plan of staying there for 6 months instead I ended up staying in Dublin for the next 20 years. At the time I had no idea Ireland was going through an economic boom. My idea of the country before I arrived was very different from what I saw, I had a very romantic vision of the place.
Dublin resembled a mini version of London the megacity I visited a few years before. Everyone rushing with a head down to the ground. Fast driving cars through the O’Connel street as if it was a highway. Hectic lifestyle in a town with a smell of the sea and barley in the air and noisy seagulls sitting at the top of the buildings.
The Irish countryside appeared the way I imagined it. If you ever visit Ireland the coastline will not disappoint you. Travelling through, one gets the feeling the country exists off the ocean mercy, that decided to leave the piece of land above the water, creating a unique culture of jolly good fellows.
Back then it was my holiday destination. In early summer the fields were covered with green crops or yellow patches with flowering rape. Ocean of food waiting to harvest. One of the greatest threats at the time to the common European market was the inflood of the cheap Polish food that was meant to take over European shelves in the supermarkets. The Western farmers would lose their livelihood, that was the propaganda at the time, but it has never happened. Today, the food in Polish supermarkets is as expensive as it is in the west despite much lower wages. One of the highest monthly expenses.
2005 is the year when the Polish Pope died. Something in the country has changed forever, we lost the moral backbone and until now the nation has no one to lean on. Today our stomachs are full, we live in nice houses, go on holidays, drive good cars. We are proper consumers the way we always wanted to be. Spend, spend, spend like if there was no tomorrow, indulging ourselves with short-lasting pleasures keeping up with Joneses.
There is a new generation rising, filled with the young integral Poles that are searching for authorities and values their grandparents fought for. Not realising, they become authorities themselves during their lifetime. The circle of life brings hope.
The Round Table Agreement happened on the 5th of April in 1989. Today it is considered to be the last day of Communism in Poland, just in theory though as we found out many, many years later. Bunch of guys met at a round table, made some agreements, few deals and they called it the end of the evil era. Four hundred and fifty-two politicians were sitting around that table. The shape of it represented the wholeness, eternity and timelessness.
What goes around, goes around, goes around Comes all the way back around …
POST COMMUNIST ERA
Like after any other revolution, people here also naively believed in change for the better of course. Lech Wałęsa was selling the slogan of Poland becoming second Japan (at the time the fastest-growing economy). As you rightly guessed, that has not happened, yet. Despite the hope and ambition for wealth and prosperity, it was the very opposite for the common Polish citizens. The situation very much resembled the story in a great novel written by George Orwell ‘Animal farm’. Unemployment was growing, factories were closing down, Polish companies were sold to foreign investors. A month would not pass without street protests all over the country. People were looking back with nostalgia at the Communism times, saying; life was much better back than … at least it seemed like that for the most. Everyday life was slowly becoming more and more miserable.
Not a single living ray could break through the flood of clouds chased by winds. ‘Ravens and crows will peck us’ by Stefan Żeromski
By 1991 the Soviet troops left Poland for good. At the same time, petty traders from the east came to Polish towns and filled the street markets with goods straight from the cold east. They were selling everything from; gold to kitchen tools, watches, furs, toys, even live bears … the diversity of the merchandising stock was endless. The eastern goods were transported in huge personal suitcases rather than international cargo containers.
Colour TV was becoming very popular at the time. Since there was no access to the firm electronic brands, most of the Polish homes had a Russian brand called Rubin – those TV’s tended to go on fire when heated up! Their popularity quickly was replaced with something of better quality.
People would believe in anything at the time. One of the most successful and quirky programs was a live session with a Russian healer Anatolij Kaszpirowski. The man had the power to heal people through the TV screen. Apparently. His slow, wearisome, tedious voice put most of the people asleep, especially the elderly once. He had the power to do that for sure! One, two, three and the viewer is snoring …
Italian cheap car brand Fiat quickly appeared on the market. The great exodus of the young Polish entrepreneurs hungry for the better, bigger engines took off to the West of Europe.
One thing that brings back positive recollections is the Jarocin summer music festival. The most uncommercial musical event of the times. The town is not far from where I come from. Back then no one was selling today’s popular festival gadgets: ‘Been there, done that’ got the t-shirt.
The 90’s in Poland was the beginning of let’s call it capitalism but in a pretty wild version of it.
Probably the greatest advertisement and pride of Poland in the 1980s was Zbigniew Boniek, the legend of Polish football, fast, red hair, humble man, striker of goals. At that time the concept of celebrity did not exist. Boniek on several occasions would admit that he did not feel comfortable in the inflated world of luxury.
A world-class player is going to play a year or two and is set for the rest of his life. These exorbitant earnings are stupid. If all footballers earned 50 per cent less, they would play football the same way. Neither worse nor better.
An advertisement is said to be a leverage of trade, but back then there were no commercials neither was there anything to trade with. The packaging and the branding of products did not make them very appealing. It made one think that not much of an effort was put into the promotion of the products. Nevertheless, a very small amount of plastic used for packaging allowed for quicker disposal of garbage back then. Unlike today when recycling takes up quite a bit of a conscious effort.
Polish sweets were delicious, there were no preservatives that can be traced in sweets today. In 1995, the Prince Polo package was changed, the bar was no longer wrapped in paper, but in plastic.
The origins of the Wedel sweets factory dates back to 1851. In the tasteful interiors of the confectionery at Miodowa Street in Warsaw, Karol Wedel served his customers with drinking chocolate.
ŻYWIEC POLISH BEER
In between 1981-1990, there were 80 breweries in Poland, today there are over 300 breweries. The Polish brewing market is one of the fastest-growing branches of the economy. The technology of beer production is one of the highest in the world. Żywiec is a town in the south of Poland where Żywiec Brewery Museum can be found which tells the story of one of the most popular beers in Poland.
The new can is the only one in Europe equipped with a thermo-active indicator reacting to temperature change. When the symbol of the Habsburg crown visible on the packaging turns blue it is a sign that Żywiec is perfectly chilled. The same indicator appears on the bottle.
The Polish currency also underwent rebranding after the overthrow of communism. Polish banknotes and passports have been designed by Andrzej Heidrich for the last 50 years. In the years 1970-1988 the fifty-zloty banknote captured an image of Karol Świerczewski a communist, serving the Red Army, who was falsely named a hero.
After denomination in 1995, Polish banknotes were replaced with banknotes of Polish Kings. Today the fifty-zloty note features Kazimierz The Great, the last ruler of the Piast dynasty on the Polish throne. A thoughtful and ambitious ruler who introduced many reforms in the country. There is a saying that Kazimierz The Great; found Poland built out of wood but left it behind built off stones. The inspiration for the image is an engraving of Jan Matejko.
What’s the most significant thing that happened in my life in Poland in the 1970s? … My brother was born. I remember well walking towards the house through the meadow with my father to welcome my newly arrived brother. This is the very first image I have in my collection of memories. People say I shouldn’t remember it as I was too little.
Why shouldn’t I?
WHAT WAS POLAND LIKE IN THOSE DAYS?
It was the early days of the Solidarity movements, with protests and shootings in Gdańsk and Katowice in the north, and much the same in the south of Poland. My parents could only get reports and information from Radio Free Europe broadcasting from America, no mainstream news would ever talk about it. Full control from The Soviet Union was on. And then the Pope of the time visited and gave the Polish people courage and support, then the revolution started and the attempted assassination of the Pope came a couple of years later.
Only recently I found out how terrified the whole Eastern Block was of this new Polish Pope. Apparently, Poland was full of spies. Jack Strong is a popular America movie that depicts those times very well and it has some great car chases.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR ME IN POLAND THEN?
From the perspective of a little kid, it was my territory, where I could play and feel safe, well, in my grandparent’s yard in the countryside that is. Those images in my head are like postcards, photographs, short videos; an ocean of memories. Severe winters, ice painted patterns on the windows, my grandmother’s jewellery and a witch coming out of a wardrobe.
Are your memories like mine?
Well, it just feels natural now to illustrate this post with examples of toys, from around the same time. Sure, like every kid, or most of them, I also had a teddy bear, a rocking horse, and a doll that was bald from excessive brushing. Oh, here in Poland we had I believe the best cartoons that were ever produced and New Year’s Eve was the day when hours and hours of Walt Disney cartoons were played. That was all such a feast!
Having so little visual communication though, did it mean we were under-privileged? Not at all!
Reksio was on TV at 7 pm and lasted 10 minutes, we were glued to the screen
Bolek and Lolek, two brothers and their adventures
FAMOUS POLISH TEDDY BEARS
Originally the Colargol Bear is French but was well adopted here in Poland.
HOME SWEET HOME
Miniature furniture from the 1970s which very much resemble IKEA’s style. I had them too. If I only knew today it is a collector’s item.