September 14, 2012
Singer's Warsaw - Warsaw is becoming a new Berlin, a place to be – I was told recently. During the summer Singer's Warsaw Festival definitely. For a couple of days the city becomes a hub of Jewish culture and ideas.
The centre of Warsaw is a mosaic of places formed by the history and contrast. The soc-realist concrete structures with the Palace of Culture and Science as their leader neighbour rebuilt buildings destroyed during the war and absolutely invaluable modernist architecture, not appreciated by many but receiving more and more attention recently. In the middle of this dichotomous reality there is the old Umschlag Platz and adhering to it Próżna Street.
I am not going to talk about the history of the city, but those two venues were important for the Singer's Warsaw.
Art in a living room
Próżna means “empty” or “vain” in Polish and is a short street where you can get some nice treatment in Próżna Cafe and experience a bit of Austrian culture in the Austrian Cultural Centre, that during the Festival was used as one of the venues. The street starts close to the metro station and is a bit hidden behind large, after-war buildings. First you see concrete towers but as you walk it becomes a bit darker and the atmosphere changes – bricks, entrances to the houses and empty windows. That is the every day look. During the festival everything changes. The ground floor flats that normally are not occupied serve as galleries where art is exhibited. In one of them there was a photography exhibition displaying the history of Jews from Góra Kalwaria/Ger – their histories were preserved only by couple of pictures showing how active the community was. Entering the houses gives a strange impression. In an obvious way you can feel that you are a trespasser – the ad hoc exhibition barely cover the walls of a house where people used to live. Sometimes it's disturbing when you let you mind wonder about the residents' lives. Apart from photography, humid flats were venues to show off the modern Jewish art – glass, plstic, metal.
As you walk Próżna Street towards Plac Grzybowski (Grzybowski Sqaure) it becomes narrower and narrower. - Where the fuck did you but this shit?! - somebody is shouting. No, it is not a street performance. It is just a worker from the opposite site. The area is getting popular therefore also the developers smelled that selling flats in the area might be a chance to make money. The closer you are the more people you meet. Old manor houses has been redecorated for the Festival. The old Jewish names for shops and restaurants were put again on the facades. People walk the area astonished by its sudden “jewishness”. The Square has been completely redesigned. The city's authorities has invested a lot to transform it from a dull place into a buzzing place for both elder residents and hipsters or youngsters who come here with their skateboards. It is the heart of the Festival. Here the stage was constructed and due to closeness of the Jewish Theatre, which is one of the most important (if not the most important) Jewish places in Warsaw. That was the venue, where the most expected concerts took place: Kayah, Steczkowska, Joshua Nelson or the Klezmatics. The square was always filled with a multi-language crowd and unexpected meetings of people coming from literally everywhere.
On the other side of the river
For the second time, the Festival was not limited just to the centre. The organisers from Shalom Foundation made it infect the other part of the City – Praga. The area has been often in older guides as a district where you will be mugged and your wallet would disappear once you have crossed the bridge on Wisła (Vistula). Although during the night some parts are perhaps not the safest in Warsaw, Praga is flourishing and Shalom has appreciated it. The other part of the city was filled with events such as workshops where you could learn traditional Jewish dances. Led by a celebrity-dancer Michał Piróg attract a lot of attention. Apart from that Praga has been witnessing Jewish cooking by Jasiek Kuroń. This district of Warsaw is however best known from its clubs hidden somewhere between the houses. Clubs to which usually you are brought by somebody as you would not expect a party to take place behind a very very standard looking doors... Do SzaZaZe, Slavic Gonzo, Deborah Strauss and Jeff Warschauera ring you a bell? All of them were invited to the festival as well.
Warsaw's beach and Tel Aviv's atmosphere
One of the most jarring events of the Festival was “La Playa: Warszawa-Tel Aviv”. Often Israel is seen through the prism of Holocaust and wars, but is not really considered as a party place. Especially by those who visited only Jerusalem and Betlehem for example. Tel Aviv however is as good for a party as Barcelona, so why not to showcase it. The Warsaw's beach might not be the same as in Tel-Aviv, but the klezmer music played on marimba by Alex Jacobowitz was making everybody go crazily happy. Sisterhood between the cities?
All together during the Singer's Warsaw over 200 events ranging from concerts, exhibitions, lectures took place all over the city.