I occasionally travel to other countries for work. Sadly, that often involves little more than seeing an airport, hotel, office and the highways that connect them. However, on my first trip to Poland this week I was able to explore Warsaw a bit, including the imposing Palace of Culture and Science.
My trip started with a 4am alarm on Wednesday and concluded just before midnight on Thursday. In between the usual intense work schedule, however, our colleagues took us for dinner and a short walking tour of Warsaw’s historic city centre. Much of it was razed to the ground by the Nazis and subsequently rebuilt in replica.
It’s compact and pretty, with a relaxed vibe typical of many smaller European cities. And yet Warsaw is a bustling metropolis of skyscrapers and neon, with a population approaching two million.
My hotel room at the Marriott was on the 35th floor – still some way below its highest level. Even if I had been able to climb up its rooftop antenna, I would still have had to look up at the Palace of Culture and Science just across the road. At 237 metres, it’s the tallest building in Poland and apparently the eighth-highest in the EU.
At night it’s brightly lit and, I think, even more imposing than it is by day.
Built in the 1950s under Communist rule, it’s a reminder of an era that many Poles would prefer to distance themselves from. Indeed, some would like to see it demolished to wipe clean that chapter in the country’s history.
I can see where they’re coming from but I think that would be a shame. I’m not a fan of whitewashing the past simply because it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. Keeping history at the front of our minds is a reminder of where we have come from and a warning against repeating past mistakes.
Cultural ramifications aside, it’s a striking and interesting landmark even if it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing structure. We got back to our hotel after our walking tour shortly before midnight but I couldn’t resist a stroll to examine the building up close. I was glad I did.
As a country, Poland is looking resolutely forward to its future. But there is still value in appreciating its past, even if it is a reminder of darker times. Just as it’s important to savour our children’s past and present, while looking forward to their futures.