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.
My reflection of the Polish fashion and design in the 1960s is based on the black and white movies I have seen such as Knife in the water by Roman Polański or Night train by Jerzy Kawalerowicz. The generation born during the war would be in their early twenties by then. It was natural to aim for change as the wounds of war were healing.
With the new Polish Communist leader Władysław Gomułka and his vision of socialistic Poland, there was an expansion of block apartments built out of cheap material. Every year thousands of them were released to the public. Those apartments were tiny therefor rooms were multifunctional. Dining rooms during the day would be used as bedrooms at the night time. Multifunctional furniture such as the famous wall unit was present in every apartment. There was no uniqueness, the same style, the same furniture perhaps the colour would change, most of the apartments looked the same.
FIVE YEARS PLAN
Economical and industrial growth was planned five years ahead and it would consider infrastructure and mass production. It meant that the consumer would have to wait five years to purchase the goods.
Ladies Confection was the phrase used instead of fashion and it was run by the Ministry of Light Industry controlled by the Fashion Planning Committee. The officials did not care about the design of the clothes often they would fall asleep during the presentations of them. Fashion brands the way we know them today did not exist. The Department of Clothing Industry would only supply 10% of the market need. In reality, it meant there was nothing in the stores for ages, occasionally goods were sent to the stores which would create massive demand and aggressive queues. The shop assistants were terrified confronting greedy customers.
People on Polish streets looked like they were wearing working uniforms. The dullness of the design brought the need for individuality. Polish women were making new garments out of the existing one. Skirts were made out of old trousers, summer shoes out of the runners, tops were made out of a baby cotton diapers. Despite the obstacles, they say Polish women were very well dressed those days, they made the streets more vibrant. Limitation made it more desired and innovative.
Jeans symbolised freedom and western lifestyle, but only the very fortunate had a chance to own a pair. Wearing jeans was a manifestation of a disagreement with the current system. Authorities would shave heads of young guys with long hair, it was seen as immoral western influence.
Barbara Hoff is a Polish fashion journalist and a costume designer. During the Communism, she became the most popular fashion designer and the only one who managed to create her own line outside the central planning.
I had such a feeling that I change something in Poland. I thought that fashion would open people’s heads a little because, under the influence of socialist doctrine, people began to shut their minds. It seemed to me that if society would know about fashion, it would change mentally in some way. Fashion was my idea to change Poland. I always had the feeling that an intelligent man has a duty to do something for his country. This is his responsibility. I based my fight against socialism on fashion. I could have come up with something else, it just happened. As it is now said, it seems unreal, funny, even pompous, but it was! – Barbara Hoff (source)
Have you ever heard of ‘the potato beetle propaganda’ in the 1950’s?
So, here in Poland people were led to believe the nasty Americans dropped their potatoes beetles from their planes over East Germany and this invasion of the beetles, later on, spread to Poland too. These invaders had to be exterminated with Azotox, a very toxic detergent, which is more dangerous to the human body than the beetle itself (just an extra bit of protein on potatoes). Sounds a bit like the Irish Potatoes Famine, doesn’t it? Fortunately, here in Poland, it did not kill half of the population. The purpose of it was to distract the nation from the evil temptations of Western culture, the moral crisis and the wicked influence that it could have on the peaceful, idyllic Eastern Bloc. But, underneath the carpet, much more horrifying things were happening here, but secretly.
My mother at the time was a little girl and still remembers the aggressive insect attack, the smell of Azotox she had to spread on the American Colorado beetles that were creeping on the potatoes leaves. Apparently, older people have never seen those nasty insects before and without the extermination, there would be nothing left of the potatoes crop that year. I am left not knowing what to think. There is a bit of truth in every gossip, they say. Fake news and false flag operation is not a recent invention!
The 1950s in Eastern Europe was the period when Communism took a heavy toll on all. While listening to older people who lived through those difficult years I built certain images in my head. I am under the impression most of the time it was dark and very cold, people were frightened and very poor. After Stalin’s death in the 1953 very tight control of the information from the West loosened up. The New Style Look reached Poland in the mid-1950s followed by the desire for self-expression. Under the tragedy & comedy mask of Communism, interesting ideas started to appear in Polish design.
Beauty every day for everyone.Good patterns of mass production are economic value.Good patterns are also cultural value ~ Wanda Telakowska
At first, it was the engineers and constructors coming up with the new innovative design ideas. Later on, the industries started to employ young graduates from art schools. I have to admit, only recently through a Polish patriotic fashion brand ‘Red is Bad‘ I found how cool some of those objects were. I believe I am one of many who is only now getting an education on creative Polish minds behind those designs. The new trend of Proud Poland has reached this land in recent years.
Cezary Nawrot – Polish industrial designer, a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and the creator of FSO Syrena Sport. Fans of motoring in Europe were delighted with this model. The body of the car was made of plastic, which was based on a self-supporting floor plate. Under the very low mask of the Syrena Sport, there was a prototype two-cylinder, four-stroke boxer engine developing the power of about 35 HP. The drive was moved to the front axle using a four-speed gearbox. The novelty was the hydraulic clutch drive and shift lever in the floor. Weighing about 700 kg, the coupe accelerated to a maximum speed of 110 km/h.
Although it was known from the very beginning that Syrena Sport is only a test platform of new solutions and technologies and that it will not enter the general production, it was not without pressure from the press and motoring enthusiasts to start even a short production series. The management of FSO was forced to end the work on Syrena Sport and to hide the only prototype.
The car, unfortunately, did not agree with the socialistic reality as an apparently it aroused the desire for the Western lifestyle. A dozen years later it was destroyed along with other projects to free the garage space. To this day, Syrena Sport is considered the most beautiful project of the Polish automotive industry. In 1962, the English showed the world the Triumph Spitfire model, which is reminiscent of Siren Sport. (source: bit.ly/2FNpKL9)
Instead of driving Syrena Sport, Polish roads were led by its ugly sister. Today, it is treated by cars lovers as a vintage automobile and often is used as a wedding car. Who would think! Whole fifty years later it got a new life! Through an appreciation of the present generation, it receives love, respect and dignity.
POLISH DESIGN 1950’s
‘Furniture does not have to be attractive, formally expansive. Our life is rich enough not to complicate it with the forms of residential interiors’ ~ said Maria Chomentowska, an exceptional Polish furniture designer, creator of furniture icons for Polish design, the employee of the Institute of Industrial Design in the years 1951-1977. Chomentowska created about 200 design projects.
‘When I find twisted branches in a forest, I always have an impression that they talk about the battle with nature and life’s strength. My job is to add the rest of the story in the visual language‘ ~Lubomir Tomaszewski, founder of Emotionalist Movement and remarkable Polish designer of the post-war period.
Designers such as Tomaszewski did not know the current work of foreign designers simply because they did not have access to it.They were aware of their ignorance of porcelain manufacturing technology and poor technical facilities in Polish factories.Knowing about these limitations, sculptors decided to experiment.Thanks to this, unique and original works could have been created.Everything was an experiment. Adventure with design began with small figures, individual forms were easier to enter into production than entire sets.In addition, the short series gave the opportunity to test the market and check the reaction to the product. Figures were to ensure financial liquidity, high sales were aimed at. (source: bit.ly/2CLo0kH)
‘PICASSY’ MIECZYSŁAW NARUSZEWICZ
Polish glass and ceramic designer, creator of original figurines that were remarkably expressive in their form and charming to their audience particularly his animal figurines, which offered an element of surrealism and surprise. Since 1958, Mieczyswław Naruszewicz together with Lubomir Tomaszewski were employed by Institute of Industrial Design. They worked on Ćmielów Figures – sculptural ceramics created in Poland in between 1950-1960.
Hello, to all of you who follow my blog. At first, I would like to apologise for not posting for such a long time. My Mac has decided to say goodbye … or it’s hard-drive made the decision. I have tried to replace it with an SSD card but it behaved like a patient who did not recognise the heart transplant. The images I had prepared for my future posts are not available now, consequently, I had to change the flow of topic, from the interior design and architectural festival in Dublin to Polish design and its history. Hope you find it enjoyable!
GRANDPARENTS HOUSE OF THE 1930s STYLE
I am very sentimental when it comes to the interior design of my grandparent’s house, especially the living room. Their house was built and decorated in the late 1930s before the war in a style I deeply admire and respect. The elegant cut in fashion, refined strong lines in furniture design and in the architecture. My grandparent’s cottage in Greater Poland was built firm and compact, therefore, generation after generation will live in it comfortably. Every room had a ceramic oven that would warm up the place till the early morning, this technology must have been brought here by the Germans who were always very present in the West of Poland. In the living room, there was a wooden round table forever decorated with a hand made linen table cloth that was embroidered by my grandmother. Special plates and glasses were kept in a solid dark timber cabinet. Loud tick-tock coming from the clock on the wall, was a great reminder of the time passing by. Every so often the clock had to be manually set by the alfa male of the house, my grandfather. It was an important and responsible job, setting up the time machine. Time had a slightly different value back then. The reproduction of ‘The last supper’ by Leonarda da Vinci covered the wall were all family gatherings took place every Sunday.
Every item had its place, there was no room for unnecessary poor quality pieces. Well, back then most of the pieces of furniture were made by hand and once made they did not have to be replaced until the next generation grew up and took the lead. Funny how I find it enchanting when my mother calls it an oldjunk! Apparently, sixty years have to pass by before something becomes a collector’s piece. At first, it has to go through the journey of being kitsch then junk and so on until well-aged grandchildren will discover it again and call it classic. Those are my memories, unfortunately, I do not have any images to share … well, the war was not the time to take photographs.
POLISH DESIGN 1930s
I went through the few websites and found some well-constructed design pieces from the 1930s. Poland back then when was still a free country.