Stunningly beautiful miniature park takes visitors back in time to when Warsaw was 'Paris of the East'
There’s a 1944 song by the interwar crooner Adam Aston in which Warsaw – his Warsaw, with its willowy buildings oozing sophistication and luxury – is described as the ‘echo of a song that I sing always in my heart’.
Aston may not have lived long enough to see it, but the sentiment that his Warsaw still exists, despite its once grandiose buildings and streets shattered by war, is quite possibly the exact same concept that the team behind Warsaw’s Miniature Park had in mind when they established the museum back in 2014.
The Miniature Park has become a bastion of the old, pre-WWII Warsaw, exhibiting ten miniature models of some of the most iconic buildings of 20th Century Warsaw, all of which were obliterated by the war.
Tucked away just behind St Anne’s Church and the Central Agricultural Library, on the very cusp of Warsaw’s Old Town, the Park is a veritable treasure trove of pre-war architectural styles and fashions, with buildings completed by miniscule figurines and period cars. Imagine an elegant LegoLand.
For its founder, Rafał Kunach, the Park plays an unparalleled role in historical memory – as well as being a personal ambition.
He told TFN: “It had been my dream for 20 years. When I came back to Poland 10 years ago, I decided to build something permanent. Together with a group of enthusiasts – Varsavians – we decided that we will show the Warsaw which no longer exists. That we will make sure it will not descend into oblivion when we pass the historical truth on to younger generations.”
Warsaw was once known as the ‘Paris of the East’, for its Baroque beauty, but its charm was devastated when war broke out in 1939, destroying more than 85% of the once-glorious thoroughfares in its historic centre alone.
In the height of summer, sprawling crowds still trickle through the remaining balustrades of the Saxon Palace, one of the most distinctive buildings of pre-war Warsaw; its graceful columns decapitated by bombs in 1944.
One of the highlights of Kunach’s Park is a scale model of this Palace – including the Monument to Prince Józef Poniatowski, which was originally situated in front the Palace but now resides, in reconstructed form, before the Presidential Palace on Krakowskie Przedmieście.
Though plans to rebuild the Saxon Palace received the backing of Polish President Andrzej Duda to celebrate the centenary of independence, Kunach stresses that his Park prides itself on showcasing – in painstaking detail – the Warsaw that was eradicated:
“We are the only Miniature Park in the world that shows buildings that are no longer existing,” he says.
“So the process of their creation is much longer and more expensive. First, we choose the building and the period in which we want to show it.
“Then we look for plans and photos. In most cases, plans have been burned or disappeared, or they are scattered in various museums around the world. With every miniature, we browse a lot of pictures to create perfect plans.
“We make them exactly as we would build a house today.”
For the Miniature Park’s team, however, things have not always been smooth-sailing: in 2017, notice was given on the lease agreement for their premises at Senatorska 38, leaving the directors floundering for a new home. At the last minute, a temporary solution was found to relocate to Krakowskie Przedmieście 66.
The Park has been there ever since, hiding away its riches behind the inauspicious arches of the Central Agricultural Library.
To advertise, the team play a mixture of facts and pre-war hits on a loudspeaker just outside.
And the museum now boasts a photography exhibition, including the use of 3D images, as well as maps of the old Warsaw– though in Kunach’s view, it is the Miniatures which are most valuable:
“Photographs will never give us what the miniatures can. Reactions are always the same: shock and disbelief that Warsaw lost so much.
“We also have archival maps so we can make tourists realise how the city was topographically arranged.”
Undoubtedly, then, this is Aston’s vision of Warsaw made reality, once again.