1990’s THE WILD WEST IN POLAND

Solidarity movement poster with John Wayne as a cowboy

WILD WEST IN THE WILD EAST

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.

politicians meeting at the round table
The Round Table Agreement 1989, Warsaw, Poland

What goes around, goes around, goes around
Comes all the way back around …
(Justin Timberlake)

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.

Farmers_strike_Poland_1990
Farmers strike, Poland, 1990s

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.

Soviet_peaked_hat

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 …

Anatolij_Kaszpirowski
Anatolij Kaszpirowski

AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY

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.

Italian_car_fiat_1990One 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.

Polish_transport_invention_1990

All images are linked to the sources.

Written by: Aleksandra Walkowska

BRANDING IN POLAND 1980’s

WHAT WAS THE BRANDING LIKE?

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.

Zbigniew-Boniek-football-1982
Zbigniew Boniek, 1982
Zbigniew Boniek
Zbigniew Boniek, recently

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

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.

Chocolate bar Prince Polo
Chocolate bar Prince Polo 1980’s
Rebranded Prince Polo packaging
Rebranded Prince Polo packaging

WEDEL

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.

Wedel chocolate packaging 1980s
Wedel chocolate packaging 1980s
Wedel bitter chocolate packaging
Wedel bitter chocolate packaging

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.

Żywiec beer 1945-1989
Żywiec bottled beer branding 1945-1989
Beer mat 1945-1989
Beer mat 1945-1989
Żywiec labelling before rebranding
Żywiec labelling before rebranding
Moderated Żywiec branding, 2010
Moderated Żywiec branding, 2010

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.

POLISH BANKNOTES

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.

50 złoty banknote from 1980's
50 złoty banknote from the 1980s

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.

50 złoty banknote from the 2019
50 złoty banknote from 2019

Written by: Aleksandra Walkowska

A. Walkowska

POLISH PLAYTHINGS IN 1970s

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE 1970s?

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?

Wooden clock from the 1970s

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.

Radio Iza, 1975

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?

Carpet beater, entertainment centre, Warsaw 1970s
Games at carptet beater, somewehre in Poland 1970s
Games at carpet beater, somewhere in Poland 1970s

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.

Colargol by Tadeusz Wilkosz, 1974
Teddy Drop Ear by Janusz Galewicz, 1975
Teddy Drop Ear by Janusz Galewicz, 1975
Popular bears in the 1970s

CARS TOYS

Toy inspiration – Polonez. It was a Polish car produced by FSO from 1978-2002

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.

Written by: Aleksandra Walkowska

A. Walkowska

POLISH FASHION IN 1960s

WHAT WAS POLAND LIKE IN THE 1960s?

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.

Knife in the water by Romand Polański, 1962
‘Knife in the water’ by Romand Polański, 1962
Night train by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1959
‘Night Train’ by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1959

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.

Wall unit, Poland, Communism era
Wall unit, Poland, Communism era

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.

Drop of goods, Communism in Poland
Queues during Communism in Poland

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.

Barbar Hoff, Przekrój, 1960
Barbara Hoff, Przekrój, 1960

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.

Woman in a pair of jeans, somewhere in Communistic Poland

BARBARA HOFF

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.

Projekt Barbary Hoff
Designed by Barbara Hoff
Projekt Barbary Hoff
Designed by Barbara Hoff

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)

All images are linked to the original sources.

Written by: Aleksandra Walkowska

A. Walkowska