New bi-lingual book hailed as ‘love letter’ to one of Warsaw’s quirkiest streets
Laying bare the secrets and the stories behind one of Warsaw’s quirkiest streets, a new book is set to achieve cult status for its charming exploration of the city’s hidden side.
The work of Paweł Kłudkiewicz, the dual language ‘Hoża – my street’ defies classification. Not to be mistaken for a guidebook, it is above all else a love letter to Hoża, a celebration of a south-central street that single-handedly captures the essence of Warsaw.
Speaking to TFN, Kłudkiewicz confesses that he himself has struggled to pigeon hole his work: “It is a bit off the beaten track in its style,” he says. “There’s lots of facts and information, but also a lot of personal threads. I’d probably best describe it simply as a tender portrait of the place where I live.”
Moving to Hoża over ten-years ago, Kłudkiewicz was inspired to pick up the pen during the lockdown. “It seems like a paradox, but if it were not for the pandemic I would probably still be delaying this project. In the restricting circumstances of the lockdown, however, I had a lot of time to act on it.”
Starting out as little more than a vague idea, the project sprouted from blurred beginnings. “I thought that Hoża could be a good concept for a collection of drawings: me and my place on Earth.”
As it transpired, the street proved itself ripe for dissection. “It’s the perfect fit for this kind of story: not too long, not too short,” says Kłudkiewicz. “I love how it’s still fundamentally old-fashioned – you don’t need a car to live here. You have all the shops you need, and soon enough people know you by sight. Basically, it’s a small town in the middle of a big city.”
Measuring in at 1,300 metres, the street adopted its name around 1770 and took its title from the word ‘hoże’. Translating to mean ‘healthy’ or ‘pretty’, it was a direct reference to the gardens that once flourished here, though these soon found themselves making way for tenements as Warsaw expanded.
The 19th century brought with it a particularly sharp spurt of growth, and by the outbreak of WWII the street was lined with approximately 80 townhouses. Only twenty of these survived the city’s destruction, yet even so this number has served to endow Hoża with a rich sense of heritage.
Beyond the scattering of elegant townhouses, this rings particularly true when nosing into the former factories that sprinkle the street – for instance, Serwar, a cheese factory that operated right until 2010. Nowadays filled with art studios, furniture workshops and rehearsal rooms, we learn that it was here that the Lightning radio station broadcast bulletins to London during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Snuck close by, we are also introduced to a Franciscan convent, a place that has barely changed since opening in 1874 – playing a hero role during WWII, Jewish children were kept hidden here by Sister Matylda Getter at the height of the Nazi roundups.
But it is the visual clashes that are most striking. Describing the area as reminiscent of “an unfinished game of checkers”, Kłudkiewicz’s book plunges us past diverse landmarks such as the bizarre ‘sky walk’ linking two buildings together at the end of the road. Next door, we are told, Leopold Infeld – who co-wrote the Evolution of Physics with Albert Einstein – once lectured.
“In my mind, I can imagine a letter written by Einstein being delivered to Hoża 69,” says Kłudkiewicz.
Infeld is not the only famous face we meet, either. The maverick avant garde artist Witkacy was born on this street, as too was US Secretary of State, Zbigniew Brzeziński.
Certainly, one can learn much from this book, but aside from the waves of trivia and historical nuggets, it is the street’s character that shines through most. For that, credit rests squarely on the author’s shoulders.
Championing the everyday happenings that lend the area its vibrant personality, Kłudkiewicz’s deep dive of Hoża walks readers past the fruit sellers that set up shop on the pavements each summer and even the down and outs.
We meet, for example, Mr Screamer, a tramp whose “goat-like laughter used to be an inseparable part of Hoża,” and another vagrant in military attire adorned with pins, medals and badges.
Offering a snapshot into Kłudkiewicz’s life, the book veers down personal pathways, inviting readers to step inside his apartment or into favoured local haunts such as the legendary Drink Bar (deliciously described as looking like “a raided opera house store”).
Far from a promotional text, Kłudkiewicz’s observations extend to the plastic bags that flap for years caught up in tree branches, the incessant clang of bin lorries and the irritating sound of loud balcony conversations. It’s a Warsaw that everyone can relate to.
Twinned with cheerful illustrations sketched by Kłudkiewicz, these scenes come spectacularly to life. “You could also call this an art book, but for an adult audience,” he says. Witty, amusing, and understandable, yet also capable of conveying complex content, these retro-style graphics (“when I was a child in the 1980s,” he says, “newspapers looked just like that with their use of red and black ink), are a final welcome twist.
A heartfelt tribute to this fascinating area, the book has already quickly garnered attention for the alternative and personal perspective that it presents. Proudly non-standard, the maverick approach pairs perfectly to mirror this street’s own eccentricities.