Friday, May 29, 2015

If you want to see what Warsaw looked like pre-World War II, you must cross one of the city’s bridges over the muddy Vistula River to the other side.

The neighborhood north of Park Skaryszewski, the largest park on Warsaw’s right bank, is called Praga. Local press has described this area as gritty, bo-ho and up-and-coming. One time my husband’s Polish colleague said I shouldn’t be in Praga alone because it was dangerous. I laughed because I was already in Praga, with my camera in tow, strolling around and taking photos in the spring sunshine. I’ve lived in enough big cities so that I wasn’t worried.
At one time, yes, Praga was home to more unscrupulous characters and minor criminal activity. However, with the recent opening of the second metro line, Praga seems to be taking on new life and modernization as I discovered during another stroll. Cobble-stoned Ząbkowska street features a couple new cafés, modern apartments as well as empty storefronts that are just ripe for Warsovian hipsters to take over.

What I love about Praga is its crumbling, bullet-ridden, pre-WWII tenement buildings! Some of these appear to be hanging on by a thread while others are currently undergoing renovations. Unlike the rest of Warsaw, Praga remained more intact post WWII…probably thanks to the Russian Army simply hanging out and waiting while the Nazis destroyed the city on the other side.

Over the past two years, I’ve strolled through Praga several times and finally compiled my 400+ photos into this single post. If you’re looking for a neighborhood off the normal tourist path, I’d recommend hanging out in Praga.

Old Tenement Buildings
The main tram stop for Praga from Stare Miasto stops right in front of St. Florian Church. A few blocks behind this 19th-century church is Ząbkowska street, also known as Praga’s Old Town, which contains many old tenement buildings. The oldest surviving house here is located at no. 14, which dates from 1866. This street is where you’ll find some nice cafés and bars and is certainly ripe for development with all the current empty storefronts.
 Communist-era newspapers decorate one of the passages along Ząbkowska street.
A cool cafe/bar at Łysy Pingwin, ul. Ząbkowska 11.
Bar Mleczny Ząbkowski, ul. Ząbkowska 2, is a classic Polish milk bar where you can enjoy very basic and cheap meals such as cabbage soup, pierogies and pork cutlets.
Don’t forget to look for all the fading architectural elements on these old tenement buildings! You can just imagine how beautiful Praga once was!
Bazar Różyckiego
Once regarded as Warsaw’s premier bazaar, the historic Bazar Różyckiego has seen its popularity wane since 1989. During Communism, a black market trade once thrived at the bazaar, which dates to 1901. Now, you’ll find cheap wedding dress, wigs and shoes. Great for photos, but I did feel slightly self-conscious using my expensive Canon camera here.
Ulica Brzeska and Street Art
Behind the bazaar is ulica Brzeska, home to some of Praga’s oldest buildings, dating back to 1874 and the early 1900s. The houses have eclectic, fading facades and you’ll find some quality street art along here as well. This street used to be known as the most dangerous street in Praga, but I’ve only found friendly locals that help pointed out things for me to photograph like the courtyard shrines!
Sea for Brzeska Mural (Mural Morze dla Brzeskiej) is located on one of the brick walls along ulica Brzeska.

Virgin Mary Shrines
Tucked into Praga’s numerous courtyards, you’ll find about 100 shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Catholic shrines usually feature a large statue of Virgin Mary as well as flowers and candles. The Poles built the shrines post WWII when organized religion was frowned upon. Some of the shrines look a little weathered, but they are still worth hunting for behind the buildings. Look for them along Ząbkowska, Targowa and Kępna streets, in particular.
Old Factories
Praga is home to several old factories. Most notable is the Gothic-looking Koneser, ul. Ząbkowska 27/31, a vodka factory dating from 1897. Instead of producing Polish vodka, Koneser now serves as modern cultural center with several art galleries, Praga tourist information office and hosts many local events.
What do you think of Praga? Would you venture over to Warsaw’s ‘wild side’?

Loved these different windows in Praga!
Sadly, many old buildings also are boarded up in Praga.
Housed in a Polish renaissance style building, Teatr Baj, Jagiellonska 28, is a children’s puppet theater now but formerly was the Jewish Educational Center when Praga was predominantly a Jewish neighborhood before WWII.

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Anonymous said...

These photos really remind me of Budapest! I love the shabby side of cities. Thanks for posting. I will be sure and visit Praga when I get to Warsaw (with my camera!)

son doong said...

Thanks for posting.

andra fakhrian said...

you have an amazing posted, see mine my traveling around the world ;)

Joy said...

Thanks! I highly recommend a trek over to Praga! :-)

Joy said...

Thank you!

Sharon said...

I LOVE Praga! Great photos and great post. I am kind of obsessed by the abandoned buildings all over Warsaw, and especially in Praga. Oh the stories they tell...

Have you been to the Old Warsaw Glowny? Aside from the indoor museum and all the old trains outside, there is an adandonded platform that is old and crumbling. If you go behind the platform facing the trains, there are several more platforms with some amazing graffiti. You can see some photos on my blog:!The-Train-Museum/ch6f/5575b8db0cf2e4994fb81ef2

Joy said...

Thanks, Andra!