I moved to Warsaw in 2006 and lived in a furnished flat in the Wola district. Like most of Warsaw the buildings were modern but the neighbourhood had reputation for being the place where old people lived. It was quiet and suburban despite being close to centre. The small communal outdoor spaces were full of old ladies in mohair berets letting their sausage dogs shit by scrubby bushes.
The owner of the flat, Pan Maciek, was an eccentric chap who used to try and fix everything himself despite his lack of DIY skills. When the seal on the fridge was broken he gave us a giant piece of elastic to tie round the door. He tried to mend a leaking toilet cistern with some dental floss and a butter knife – it didn’t work. And once, when he admitted defeat and had to call in a plumber, he made us hide in the lounge and promptly fell asleep in my housemate’s bed.
The furniture was old fashioned, sturdy, heavy wood and, unlike the rest of the flat, indestructible. Moving anything round took 2 people and a lot of effort. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, the flat had a nice feel (and the rent was cheap) so was stayed for a year.
Fast forward a decade and I’m back in Warsaw for a holiday. It’s November so it’s chilly and I’ve just hauled myself across the city to visit the Neon Museum, which to my annoyance is closed. There isn’t much else to do in this part of town so I am about to give up and go back into the centre when I spot a small sign for the Museum of Life Under Communism.
I haven’t heard of it before but it’s open, warm and only a couple of zloty, so I go in. The museum is a loose collection of stuff – chod my boyfriend would say – set up as different rooms as life was like under communism. There’s a cafe, an office, some sporty bits and bobs.
The signs encourage families to talk about objects they remember and share their stories. It’s great that everyday life is being celebrated; after all history isn’t just about wars or politics.
I’ve got the whole place to myself and I’m enjoying poring over the curios and gradually warming up but then I enter the house area. It’s my Warsaw flat. It’s all there – the chunky sideboard, the brown ceramics, the bed-come-sofa.
My first reaction is to laugh: I’m 32, I’m not old enough to see stuff from my past in a museum.
Then I realise that the room also looks like a vintage shop and some of the things I remember from 2006 are ironically trendy now. I almost want to pick them up to check for price tags.
This makes me smile but then I wonder if other foreigners see it this way too. I worry that the reality of life under communism is in danger of being ignored in favour of cooing at hipster knick knacks.
This is a bigger conversation for another day so I step outside into the dull autumn afternoon and hop on a tram back into the city.