It’s museum week this week. The internet tells me this is a real thing and not just something Twitter has made up so I thought I’d write a post on one of my favourite museums – the Neon Museum in Warsaw.
The arty Soho Factory complex in Praga is home to a warehouse full of neon street lights. The number of artefacts is small compared to most museums and there is limited information in English. But I love it all the same.
I love it for its simplicity, for the darkness, for the sheer Warsawness of it. The exhibits are street signs from the 1950s onwards. They adverse bookshops, florists and restaurants. The care, skill and creativity that has gone into these simple lights is amazing.
But the neons are not just pretty; they also tell an important social history. During the Cold War, there was no private enterprise in Poland so the neons were state-owned. Although the lights advertise perfume or sports gear, during the Cold War the shops were empty. So, as Neon Museum founder Ilona Karwinska, explained to the BBC, the adverts were more important than the products.
When Warsaw jointly hosted Euro 2012 the city got tarted up and lots of the signs got pulled down. Some were saved and found their way into the Neon Museum alongside others that had been rescued over the years.
It’s a quiet, surreal experience wandering around these huge signs in the dark like a dazed Borrower. It also makes me a little sad because I remember some of the signs from when I lived in Warsaw in 2006. And now they are museum pieces.
Fortunately there are still some neon signs on the streets. If you’re ever in Warsaw, look up and you might just spot one.