New book dubbed ‘a love letter to green Warsaw’ reveals some of the capital's greatest environmental treasures
Exploring Warsaw’s greenest glories a new book has lifted the lid on some of the capital’s greatest environmental treasures.
Titled Zielona Warszawa, and authored by Warsaw enthusiast Agnieszka Kowalska, the book has been marketed as an ‘alternative guide’ to the city, and in this respect succeeds by spotlighting a string of lesser-known sights otherwise hidden from the public eye.
Published in dual-language by Dom Spotkań z Historią, and making for the perfect coffee table companion, Kowalska tells TFN that the book was a natural progression that followed on from her previous work.
“I’ve spent the whole of my adult life writing guidebooks, but it is Warsaw that is closest to my heart,” she says. “This a side of Warsaw I particularly like myself, and spend a lot of time showing my friends, so it made sense to write that all up in the form of a book.”
Bursting forth in an ecstasy of green, the book’s images make an instant visual impact.
Striking to say the least, these alone present a convincing reason to pick up this tome.
Often shot so as to demonstrate Warsaw’s schizophrenic nature, these offer up a range of delicious contrasts: in one, the iconic Palace of Culture looms over a picturesque flowerbed; in another, Powązki Cemetery is viewed from a bird’s eye perspective as a lavish green idyll wedged within the city’s urban fabric.
Delicious on the eye, these general shots are paired against almost keyhole-style peeps into more secretive worlds: extravagantly decorated balconies and ornate allotment cabins are all awarded space. To maintain balance, neither is there a shortage of historical photographs.
For instance, we see pre-war Jewish youth at work on a Kibbutz in the Grochów district – founded in 1919, the Kibbutz aimed to train young Zionists before they headed abroad to ‘build their own country’. It closed only in 1942 when the last pioneers were marched to the Ghetto.
Often straying into the realms of the bizarre, it is not short of quirky pictorial interludes that halt readers in their tracks – for example, we are treated to images of Teresa Murak, a pioneering ‘land artist’ that would walk around the city in the 1970s dressed in a cape made from flowers.
Without a doubt, photographs such as this enrich the book in the most captivating way, yet it is Kowalska’s own words that lend it its final sense of sparkle. “Yes, you could call it my love letter to green Warsaw,” she says, “but it’s a letter that everyone can read – it wasn’t written confidentially.”
In other hands, this book could easily have risked becoming a lifeless list of parks; instead, Kowalska imparts it with a distinct personality that is woven throughout. This shines particularly towards the end when the book gives way to a series of recommended walks through suburbs such as Żoliborz, Saska Kępa, Mokotów and Bielany.
Despite her voice ringing through, never does it distract from Zielona Warszawa’s firm underlay of stats and facts. In this regard, we are given a strong background as to how and why Warsaw’s green credentials were redeveloped following the Nazi fury that concluded the occupation.
“During the war, architects didn’t waste any time – instead, they focused on planning for the new Warsaw agglomeration,” writes Kowalska. “They even provided for a network of ‘green arteries’ which were to connect all of the park with green seams.”
Continuing, she adds: “No-one could have predicted the extent of the damage… It was a complete shock, but also an opportunity to implement even bolder plans, namely to re-densify built-up areas in favour of greenery.”
As a consequence, by the end of 1945 we are told that 11,000 trees had already been planted.
Of the earlier post-war projects, she hails the Central Cultural Park below Ujazowski Castle.
“Once a district of palaces and shanties, it is now the summer salon of the capital,” wrote one magazine article at the time of its completion. Kowalska herself agrees with this assessment, calling it “one of the most visionary projects of post-war Warsaw.”
Warsaw’s most visible green landmarks are of course, included – regal jewels such as Wilanów and Łazienki – but it is the under-the-radar gems that shine the brightest: places like Jazdów.
Where once Queen Bona had a vegetable garden, this part of Warsaw was reinvented following the war after architects and engineers were settled here inside charming wooden cabins that had been seized from Finland by the USSR as part of war reparations.
Today, and despite lascivious glances from real estate firms, it remains an almost fairy tale garden of chalets and woodland.
Neither have people been forgotten, and throughout we are introduced to the architects, artists, farmers, beekeepers and various characters that have left their mark on the city. Included in this number are the ‘green guerrillas’ dedicated to ‘flower bombing’ Warsaw.
That so much has been packaged inside this book is in itself something special. “The biggest challenge writing this was probably fitting it inside 240 pages,” says Kowalska. “I could easily have filled a thousand.”
Met with rave reviews, this could yet become the author’s most acclaimed work to date. “I think people need something like this right now,” she says. “They’re looking for peaceful, green enclaves themselves. Moreover, you can see that in their passion for gardening and the effort they extend to their balconies or many of housing estate courtyards.
“The city has done a lot but still not enough. However, it’s great to see that residents are now actively demanding trees and greenery whenever a street or a square comes under renovation. The sense of environmental awareness has changed a lot.”
This book, though, stands to transform it even more. Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, its unique insights compel all who read it to admire the Polish capital through an entirely new lens.