The Central Railway Station, Warsaw.
If you ever visit Poland and would like to get to know the soul of its people, a must-see will be the Warsaw Central station. The people of Warsaw call it “Centralna” (Central) and everyone in Warsaw knows what it means. It’s kind of the same type of station as King’s Cross for Londoners. Why do I call it the soul? It’s not because it’s a pretty place, not at all, but because when you get the feel of Centralna’s air you’ll understand Poland.
Every time my dad drops me off at the station he says: “I remember when it was built in the 70’s. Such a beautiful station; the government’s propaganda of what a great country they have built". When my dad talks about the communistic government, he always says ‘them’ and ‘they’ – never ‘ours’. This is because ‘them’ was the pro-soviet government, pretending to be the Poles’ government. So THEY built it… a symbolic station which to this day reminds Warsaw of what it used to be like.
Nowadays when I enter the station, it is newly renovated with fancy Western coffee shops, fancy trains and automatic ticket machines. But the history of the station is still in the walls and in the air. It is not a pleasurable place to be. You can feel in the air that it has not been an easy road. Yet, there is something romantic about this place. The story of the journey to a better future.
When I wave goodbye to my sister boarding a train to Krakow, on the opposite platform, I can see the old-school PKP (Polish National Rail) train, heavily rolling towards the platform. The speaker lady announces the arriving train. She who has worked for PKP since the station opening times, thirty years earlier and now does not give a shit that the travellers would like to actually hear her message. She gives the message as if she has to, and whether the message is heard or not, it is simply not her problem anymore. She can’t speak louder or clearer because PKP does not pay her well enough. Why would she bother? So she sounds like she has five doughnuts in her mouth. At the end of the day, she has only two years left till she retires. Even if she tried her best, maybe the young travellers don’t give a shit about her voice, as they can read the same message on their mobiles. But what if this is just my perception, and in fact, it’s a young face from Instagram speaking with a beautiful clear voice through the old speaker?
The Polish travellers are nervous when getting on the train, especially the 50 and 60 year-olds. They lived in a fight mode when they were young in the 70’s and the 80’s; this feeling still lives inside them and is drifting in the air, between the pacific-blue high pillars. The 50 and 60 year-olds lived during times of fighting for bread and the fear of tomorrow. They lived in fear that if they said something in a political tone, the neighbour may report this to the Communist Party (the governing political party). This was the reality they were born and raised in. The fear and fight mode of the 70’s-80’s stayed in the Centralna’s air. The air tries to push that old fear onto random tourists, yet, the fear will not be swollen by the youngsters who are more than complacent with their happy Instagram selfies. So the old-times’ fear will remain in Centralna as a smelly air, pushing itself onto the travellers, bringing some sort of sentiment about ‘how it used to be’.
Then you see the couple in love who are kissing one another as if they were seeing each other for maybe the last time as the old train is slowly rolling towards the platform. She boards the train and waves through the window; he drinks his last sip of Starbucks and boards the escalators to take him to the town level above where the busy Warsaw life will make him forget that love is gone. She boards the Berlin train and opens a book written in some foreign language. Then she explains to another traveller, in another foreign language, how long the train takes to Poznan. She’ll get lost in her Western world, but if she loves Warsaw enough, she’ll come back. Maybe, one day…
He let her go. He got off at the central station underground and here above the level is a new world. The shopping centre called “Golden Terraces” proves that the dark times for Warsaw are over. The EU invested its Euros, the capital of Poland has been rebuild and invested in, first time since the Second World War. He runs to his second job in the afternoon to pay off his car loan. The four busy streets around Centralna are possibly the busiest streets of Poland. Everyone rushes from one job to another, just to do it faster, grow stronger, and build the country from zero to hero, once again.
Ten years ago, you’d see some homeless people sleeping at the station, but this is no longer the case. Since the station was renovated, the homeless moved to the subway, streets and the car park nearby. At the car park, the homeless pretend to do some type of work, asking for 2 Polish zloty to keep an eye on your car. The drivers dropping off their friends don’t dare not to use such a service. And the story of Warsaw goes on…
Yet, to this day, the tall pacific-blue pillars on the platform still remember the homeless, the smell, and the screams of Marital law in 1981. The specific smell of the history has not been removed by the new times, by the renovation, nor by the entry to the EU in 2004.
A random foreign tourist says, ‘the blue pillars are pacific blue how beautiful is that in the middle of an old station’? Then a random Pole answers: ‘these pillars, have nothing to do with the ocean blue water. It’s a brand colour of PKP (Polish National Rail), no need to be looking for lofty meanings here. It’s just an average central station in a European Capital.’
You see what you want to see. You see what your mind allows you to see, where your mind is.