Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Life Under Communism Museum In Warsaw Poland

After touring the concentration camps and having been through several Holocaust museums in our travels, I started wondering what life was like living under communist times. I knew some of the details from our travels in Budapest and from long ago past history classes, but I wanted to know more. Looking at things to do in Warsaw, I just happened to see that were was indeed a museum called Czar PRL - Life Under Communism Museum, dedicated to just this topic!  Well, this was something we had to go see!

We had to do just a little walking to get to the actual museum, but it was an interesting one.  The museum is off the tourist path and things were a little more rundown and void of people.

Apartments near the Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Part of Town that houses the Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

There is not a lot of fanfare surrounding the museum.  We were not even sure we were in the right place until we saw the sign and that was the only sign we saw for the museum.  (Note the barbed wire...this was not your typical tourist museum!!)

Sign for Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

The museum is actually housed in a former optic lens factory from the 1950's.  I have to say, it really had a creepy feel to it.  We saw a sign pointing the way to the museum entrance so we went that way and ended up here.  Then we saw another sign pointing in the direction we had just been.  It was rather confusing.

Museum is in old factory-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

We turned around, walked back  towards the gate and saw one door leading into this one building were the signs were possibly pointing.  Nothing marked.  Not very inviting.

Entrance to Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

There was nothing written in English to help us poor monolingual Americans out.  We cracked open the door.  Dude, it was dark in there.  Where were we??

Door to Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Either we are adventurous or stupid, because we continued on our way into this unknown building, in a less than idea (from our prospective) neighborhood, in a country where we don't speak the language, and where we could have been killed at any moment with no one around to hear us scream.

Ok, that is a tad dramatic, but still!!

We walk in and this is what we saw.  Still no other sign mentioning the museum and no person in sight!  But hey, there was a bathroom if we needed it!

Hallway-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

A very strangely large for just one toilet bathroom....might I add.

Womens Restroom-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Continuing down the hallway we finally found the door, which was clearly marked with the museum name on it so we went it.  I am so glad we are apparently stupid because it turned out to be one of the most interesting museums I have ever been to.  It wasn't that large, but the layout with all the descriptions in both Polish and English was great and the staff  was extremely nice and informative as well.

Let me share this fabulous museum with you.

One part of the museum is set up like a typical apartment from the 1950's or so.  Since the government ran/manufactured everything, most people's apartments had the same stuff in it.  In fact, one of the staff members told us that one person came to visit the museum who had lived through that era. They stopped as soon as they walked in and just stood there.  The visitor went on to say that it looked exactly like her apartment growing up.

Since it is set up to resemble an apartment, the first thing we saw was an entryway coat rack. 

Coat Rack-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Continuing into the museum, we next saw a typical living room on one side with a typical bedroom on the other (or maybe it WAS an all-in-one..I am not sure).  The staff member told us that since everything was manufactured by the government there were not a lot of options.  If you needed a chair, you bought the chair that was offered that year and you usually had to save for quite a long time to even have the money to purchase that chair.  

Living Room-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Here are some of the details of the room closer up.

Clock-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Television-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Telephone-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Chair-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Fan-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Radio-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

This bed needs a little explaining.  Since apartments were not very big, they had minimalist furniture.  This bed actually folded up into the cabinet to give more floor space.  The staff member even demonstrated it for us.  (I tell you, they were awesome!!)

Folding bed-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

We then saw what a typical kitchen (maybe I should call it more of a kitchenette?)  looked like.  The staff member told us another story as she walked around with us.

(I don't think this normally happens, but we were the only ones there so she was able to do this.  She wasn't overbearing either, she stayed because we kept asking questions. Once we had our fill, she let us just roam about with no hovering.)

She said that an elderly woman came to the museum to donate a stool.  The woman said she had the stool for well over 50 years and that it was still a good stool.  She couldn't just throw it away. It was still useful.  It still had a purpose.  She had to save money to buy that stool so even after all this time she couldn't bear the thought of just throwing it away.

Kitchen-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Check out the close up of the oven!

Oven-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Before we move on, let me share a section on children.  I didn't really see much difference in the toys from the 1950's/60's/70's in Poland compared to America (Not that I lived during that time. I don't think 4 years in the 70's counts!).  

Toys-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

One thing you have to remember is that communism existed up until 1989.  So it wasn't too surprising to see an electronic handheld video game, especially one from Russia.

Electronic Game-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

This story that was on the wall, might give you some insight into the world of communism and how children grew-up thinking.

Childcare Story-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Feeling a little icky after that story?  Let's get clean.

The vacuum cleaner did evolve during the communist era....slightly.

Vacuum Cleaners-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

In a typical bathroom, this is what you might see.  

Bathroom-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

There wasn't a lot of room and there definitely wasn't a dryer.  So there were clothes constantly drying somewhere.  Nice silk stockings were hard to come by, so they were treated with great care.

Stockings Drying-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

That round contraption...that is a washing machine.  The staff member said it did a horrible job and it was difficult to use, but it was what they had so it was what they used.

Washing Machine-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

One last detail about the bathroom and apartment section.  The toilet paper.  Now, I complained about it in an earlier posts.  This was toilet paper from back in the day and honestly, it wasn't any different than what we encountered in every bathroom.  There was no "Don't Squeeze the Charmin" in Poland!!  I think I should start a campaign to get those poor people and their bums some softer t.p!

Toilet Paper-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

Other parts of the museum dealt with things outside the home like shops, sports, libraries, cinemas, etc.

It was all interesting, but I found these three the most interesting.  

Communist Manifesto-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

The telephone booth wasn't really that interesting, it was the story that went with it.  The government was apparently paranoid.  They were constantly listening in on phone conversations to keep a watch out for enemies against the state.   

Telephone Booth-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

While we were in Budapest, Hungary I watched an entire 40-minute film at Memento Park about how far the government would go to try to find enemies of the state.  Let me quote myself from that post:
Also in the barrack they played several short films that were used to train secret police agents on such topics as: ways to hide listening bugs, how to do home searches, how to recruit new members, and how to effectively network. I stayed and watched all 4 segments of 10 minutes each. I found it fascinating! No one else stayed. All I could think of was, if they had the technology we have now there might have been no stopping them!
Ha!  I just quoted myself!  That is really cracking me up right now!  You have no idea!

Last item of interest from the museum.  This public drinking fountain.

Water Fountain-Museum of Life under Communism in Warsaw

As you can see, it isn't your typical water fountain where you push a button and free clean water pours out for any and all to drink from (and for some to put their entire mouth on the mouthpiece!! Ew!!)

If a person was out and about during the day, there were no convenience stores to pop in for a bottle of water or even a coke (soda or pop if you will, but in Texas they are all called coke no matter the actual brand).  Their only option were these public water fountains.  

One thing to really really notice is that there is a cup on a chain for people to use.  ONE cup for EVERYONE to use.  One cup.....

.....I would just stay dehydrated!!

Since there was only ONE cup for EVERYONE to use it became a cup full of germs.  In fact, the staff member told us that these were more commonly referred to as tuberculosis machines because they made so many people sick! It wasn't just the shared cup that was to blame.  You see the water source was just the local tap system.  

"What is wrong with that?" you ask.  

Well the staff member told us that it wasn't until a  mere FOUR years ago that the tap water was deemed drinkable!  Crazy, right?

This ends our tour of the communist museum.  I hoped you enjoyed it.  I have one more post to write about Poland and it was the craziest thing that happened to us while there.  Ok, not THAT super crazy, we are pretty straight laced, but it was memorable!

I hope I have you interested enough to come back.

Until then!