Webber’s World: well I never! Poland’s Most Extraordinary Museums
Starting out as a small-scale, niche affair, tomorrow’s Night of Museums has developed into one of Poland’s best-loved cultural events – yet whilst the biggest lines will form outside the country’s numerous A-Class museums and institutions, it is perhaps the more unique oddities that truly warrant your year-round attention.
Often enthusiastically run as highly personal passion projects, it is these curiosities that arguably best capture the eccentricity and magic of this intriguing nation. Often lacking in multimedia dazzle and modern-age gimmickery, it is in these peculiar havens that one can find the true heart of Poland.
Museum of Drunkenness & Unusual Bicycles
Established in the 1980s, Józef Konstanty Majewski’s collection of bikes and bottles is a staggering homage to hoarding. Located in a dusty town close to Puławy, visit to peer into a barn brimming with bikes that look like they once lived in the dreams of Jules Verne himself.
Egged on by starstruck kids, cheer as Majewski hurtles around on these circus-style bikes at reckless speed before then being ushered into a separate hut stocked with novelty booze bottles – some of which are phallic and determinedly “for adult eyes only”. Here, the saying “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure” takes on an entirely new meaning.
Center of Education and Regional Promotion in Szymbark
Some call the northern region of Kashubia “little Switzerland”, a reference to its rolling meadows, glimmering lakes and pristine forests. Personally, though, I call it the epicentre of madness.
Where sightseeing is concerned, the Museum of Accordions in Kościerzyna is a wacky diversion, but when it comes to sheer, walloping strangeness then it can’t compete with what’s found in Szymbark.
Although the internet is full of joyless reviews criticising the admission price, this self-styled ‘educational park’ is a wonder of curiosities. Inside, prepare to be awed by the longest plank in the world (36 metres and 83 centimetres), the world’s largest grand piano (1.8 tons) and a disorienting upside-down house that seeks to pass allegorical comment on society’s modern values.
Broaching more serious topics as well, explore recreations of a resistance bunker and a Siberian Gulag cabin that was brought from Irkustk and reassembled in Poland. If all that leaves you thirsty, they operate a regional-themed brewery as well.
Polonia Wax Museum
Some have called it the worst waxwork museum in Poland – and they’re probably being nice. Small and cramped, those looking for a serious experience will be left feeling cheated, but Kraków has plenty of alternatives for more studious minds.
Instead, visit to marvel at hilariously horrific mannequins that make Wills & Kate look more like a pair of meth-crazed characters in a soup kitchen. Along the way, find yourself asking who those four oddball geography teachers are? The Beatles, maybe. And the demented, creepy predator? Possibly Mr. Bean.
High on humour but catastrophically short on accuracy, it merits a position on any Polish bucket list.
Museum of Buttons
Found in a window, the Museum of Buttons claims to be the smallest museum in Europe. Whilst this fact is contested by about a jillion other institutions around the continent, that should not detract from this extraordinary labour of love.
Fitting inside a suitcase (really!), the exhibit displays around 400 buttons that once adorned the clothes of such figures as the controversial film producer Lew Rywin, Lech Kaczyński, Marek Edelman and, even, one of the buttons that decorated the jacket worn by General Jaruzelski when he declared Martial Law.
Museum of Soap & the History of Dirt
As ludicrous as it may sound, this museum isn’t just weird and fun but also blisteringly informative as well. Guided tours are mandatory (and a little inconvenient if, say, you’ve missed the day’s English-language tour), but the upside is a trail that takes you through mankind’s hygiene habits.
Involving replicas of medieval bathtubs all the way through to a recreation of a PRL period bathroom equipped with such keepsakes as an electric hair-drying cap (“people used to get electrocuted from these all the time,” I’m informed), other points of interest include a collection of American hotel soaps accrued over the course of 35-years, a 200-year-old shower, pre-war soap adverts, retro cosmetics and a collection of clunky clothes drying machines.
Museum of Dollhouses, Games & Toys
Although its appeal may sound limited to girls aged around seven, there is much here for all ages to appreciate. Home to approximately 150 dollhouses, the collection astounds through the scope and majesty of its content.
A paean to craftsmanship, the oldest exhibits date back 200-years, with all of the items united by their meticulous attention-to-detail. For example, one comes modelled on a writer’s apartment and includes miniature wine bottles scattered around, a typewriter, and papers left strewn on the floor.
Gathered from around the world, the surface beauty of the houses is paralleled by the knowledge they lend us of interior design trends through the ages, not to mention day-to-day living habits and arrangements.
Museum of Warning Signs
Złoty Stok, kopalniazlota.pl
A museum within a museum, this place operates as part of the Gold Mine Museum (itself a compelling with its underwater boat rides, strange legends, subterranean tunnels, medieval dioramas and random torture equipment), and presents around 150 signs from the PRL period.
True, you need an understanding of Polish to appreciate the nuances of the signboards, but they’re an absurdist throwback to the rule-heavy, pedantic times of Communism. One, for example, reminds workers to put on their pants after completing their shift. Another, helpfully, reminds people not to urinate in the sink.
The humble potato is awarded royal status in Poznań’s Potato Museum, an underground set of rooms that reveal how the Wielkopolska region became the potato powerhouse of this part of the world.
Whilst the city’s Croissant Museum transpires to be more of a workshop (albeit a highly entertaining one), the Potato Museum heaves with factoids and exhibits and of course does not forget the role played by King Sobieski in popularising the food.
Touting such extras as mannequins of soldiers lugging sacks of spuds, bizarre photo ops come courtesy of such baffling interludes as the sight of a giant, crown potato placed on a throne. Pleasingly, your visit ends with the presentation of your own baked potato.
Silesia is not left wanting when it comes to unexpected diversions, and these number a Bread Museum in Radzionków, a Guitar Museum in Katowice and the achingly photogenic Fire Museum in Żory.
For me, however, the biggest hit is Gliwice’s Kolejkowo. Housing countless models produced on a scale of 1:25, this crazy miniature world features twelve train sets chugging around 460-metres of track.
Presenting 235 buildings, many of them meticulously recreating local and regional landmarks, these themselves have been decorated with 3,200 figurines that are depicted doing everything imaginable – from staging bank heists to capturing escaped lions.