My trip to the Polin Jewish Museum in Warsaw began when I got the 06.50 train to Katowice and went to the toilet, the kind where you press the green button and the door slides open automatically. Inside the toilet, the button went red to signify the door was ‘locked’. Only it wasn’t. It slid open again as I’m the middle of my grand pee-pee performance, scaring the living oestrogen out of three ladies standing in the corridor. I can’t stop peeing and I can’t lean over and close the door. All I could do was turn my back and wait. And wait. And wait. Then I died of mortification.
But like that bearded hipster Jew who hung around on a cross, I rose again and arrived in Warsaw, where I took the 17 tram along Aleja Jan Pawel to Anielewicza. This is the site of the old Warsaw Ghetto, now the Polin Museum, an impressive cube structure, full of calm and solid superintelligence. The space inside is all about space and light. Rows of Art and Design students sit and trace the elegant contours of the surprising inner curves. Me? I was starving. I went to the Museum café for some Matzo-ball soup. I’ve never had it before and I’m not sure if I ever will again. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted great, it’s just that I paid 12zloty for a portion so small, I spent more time squinting than eating.
It was 30zloty to see both the temporary and core exhibitions; the former being the photographs of Roman Vishniac. He documented life in Berlin, Poland, Latvia and Russia, focusing on the Jewish hardships of the 1930’s and the rise of Hitler. The bulk of the Museum is taken up with the core, which is an amazing celebration of a 1000 years of Polish Jewishness. Someday all Museums will be like this, a non-stop interactive smorgasbord of touchscreen information and immersive production values; as you arrive at the Holocaust section, the space gets smaller and the corridor you’re walking on morphs into a rusty-walled, steel-floored chamber. The effect transported me to the dark place where millions of souls cried out in vain.
As Museum experiences go, the Polin one is up there with the best of them. If you’re as fascinated by history, maps and old photos of Poland as I am, you’ll love it. But if you’ve inherited a dislike of the Jews and have an aversion to being around lots of foreigners, in particular, New Yorkers, then maybe this one isn’t for you. Don’t worry; there’s always the junior league turkey-plucking championship in some regional sports hall.
With a few hours before my train home, I decided to check out Saviour Square. Its giant rainbow sculpture surrounded by grungy opulence alerts you to being in the hipster’s paradise of Warsaw. Only it felt a little…forced. The style is there, but I’m not so sure about the content. I had a sandwich and a slice of cake in Café Forum, the kind of café where they have Aeropressing competitions and tiny clothes-pegs on the serviettes. The place resembled a woodsman’s cabin as designed by IKEA, but the food tasted like a doctor’s tongue depressor. The king of hipster cafés is Charlotte, where you’re nobody unless you’ve got a tattoo of Vishnu rubbing suntan lotion on Lady Ga-Ga and a vintage Black Rebel Motorcycle Club t-shirt for your mini-me hipster offspring. Everyone there under fifty is a hipster, with middle-aged men wearing jeans so tight a doctor could diagnose their prostate. There’s a few hipsterettes but mostly the place is teeming with blonde Warsaw princesses, rich daddy’s girls trying to purchase a little bit of ‘kool’ by sitting next to a man who has tragic fur on his chin. Charlotte is all rough hewn wood and cracked concrete floors. The impression given is of an alternative co-operative and to be honest, it does have a nice feel to it. Maybe it’s just the legions of primping, preening females that puts me off. One of the great things about Polish women is how relaxed they are about their beauty. Not in Warsaw where you get the impression they would eat their own fingers off if someone told them it was hip.
I get the Pendolino train home. It’s nice. It’s fast and praise the hipster-man Jesus, its toilet doors stay shut.