Secrets of the Palace of Culture

It was the favorite place of party notables, western celebrities and. suicides! Learn the secrets of Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, the Soviet Union’s gift to the People’s Republic of Poland.

Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz leaned over the wooden railing and threw a zloty coin into the first pit. The coin landed in the muddy slush, and a cry of “Na szczastie!” rang out from above. It was May 2, 1952. Construction had begun on the building that was soon to become the symbol of the capital. Joseph Stalin himself had promised it to the Poles. And the pledge was recalled by USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who, during a “friendly visit” to Warsaw in the presence of top party and government officials, asked Joseph Sigalin, head of the Capital Reconstruction Bureau:

“What if you saw a skyscraper like ours in Warsaw?” “Well, yes,” – replied the pinned-down architect.

A gift from the Soviet Union

Molotov had the Moscow State University in mind. It was decided to build the twin “wysotka”, as this skyscraper was called in the USSR, in the very center of Warsaw, although the Poles prepared several other locations, including on the Prague side of the Vistula river. Designed by Lew Rudniew Palace of Culture and Science named after Joseph Stalin, a gift of the Soviet Union to Poland, was built at an impressive pace – it was opened on the eve of the Polish Renaissance in 1955.

The Przyjazn estate of wooden houses in Jelonki, where the palace’s builders lived, most of them Russians, was given to the capital’s universities as dormitories. Like the palace, they still serve today.

Joseph Vissarionovich did not live to see the end of the construction, and among the monuments decorating the edifice his likeness is missing. The name of the patron of the “gift” quietly disappeared from documents in the autumn of 1956, 3.5 years after his death. It was also then that the name of the vast square in front of the palace was changed from Stalin Square to Parade Square. However, Stalin’s name is still visible on the wall under the neon sign above the main entrance from Marszałkowska Street.

The building evoked mixed feelings from the beginning. After its commissioning, an anecdote circulated in the capital: “What is the most beautiful place in Warsaw?” The answer: “The 30th floor of the PKiN, because you can’t see the Palace of Culture from there”. And a chant, to the tune of the national anthem: “What foreign violence has given us, we will dismantle at night”. Władysław Broniewski called Rudniew’s work “a nightmarish dream of a drunken confectioner”.

In autumn 1957, the first suicide jumped from the 30th floor. Some said that he was crazy, others – that he had had enough of the system. In total, there were a dozen or so suicides, including one Frenchman. At the beginning of the 70s, a couple – the contemporary Romeo and Juliet – jumped from the 30th floor holding hands. She was from the countryside, he was from the city, “My parents didn’t agree to get married,” – they wrote in their farewell letter. In 1974, a metal grate was fixed over the 30th floor railings.

Servant striptease

Nine of the 11 congresses of the Polish United Workers’ Party were held in the palace’s Congress Hall. In the 1970s the Soviet comrades who attended them necessarily wanted to see a striptease in the ‘Kongresowa’ restaurant, of course, on business. They watched, and then asked that the delegations stamp the “Troika” restaurant for them, a restaurant of much lower standard and, of course, without striptease.

In the 1970s, a large portrait of Leonid Brezhnev was hung in the Congress Hall during the party congress. According to the palace employees, the hydronet to wash the portrait was not filled with water, but with fecal matter. The culprit was never found. The precious portrait was scrubbed all night long, but the smell could not be eliminated. The Polish United Workers’ Party ruled several floors of the palace indivisibly. Institute of Social Sciences and the Evening University of Marxism and Leninism.

The head of this institution and his deputies were also given spacious offices equipped with separate bathrooms on the 24th floor. Almost all the Western celebrities who came to Poland also performed in the Congress Hall. The first of them was Marlene Dietrich. It was January 1964. The 63-year-old artist came on stage wearing a tight dress and a fur coat that stretched along the ground. It was four meters long and three wide. It was sewn from the feathers of more than 300 swans.

Before two Rolling Stones concerts in April 1967, there were riots and fights between fans and the MO near the palace. Only a few had tickets. And some had bought fake ones from the horsemen! Water cannons went into action.

In 1969, Mireille Mathieu and Juliette Greco performed at the Congress Hall. Ten years later, Eric Clapton played and sang, and in 1984, Elton John. Twice – in 1983 and 1988 – Miles Davis performed here.

Western visitors tended to speak well of the palace, mistakenly believing that they would offend their hosts. Gerard Philippe, visiting Warsaw in the late 1950s, noted with sarcasm: “Small, but tasteful!

Underground to the embassy

As befits such a massive building, the palace must have hidden many secrets. For example, it is deprived of the 3rd floor (the representative halls on the second and fourth floors turned out to be too high and there was not enough space). On the 14th floor the elevators didn’t stop – the archives were located there as well as pipes, pumps and compressors supplying air. However, the most exciting part of the building was the underground, which was supposed to lead to the Party House or even to the Soviet embassy on Belwederska Street. There were also stories about an underground railroad station (which did not exist in reality) where trains with leaders of socialist countries were supposed to arrive.

The explosion in the Rotunda in February 1979 was supposed to be a failed attempt on such a train, which was planned to carry Brezhnev! After 1989, there were ideas that the palace, as a relic of communism, should be demolished. So far, this has only succeeded in the comedy Controlled Talks. Emerging from under the rubble, Ryszard Ochódzki (Stanisław Tym) comments on this fact with the words: – It will be rebuilt. Last year, the palace celebrated its 60th anniversary. With its 237 meters it is still the tallest building in Poland.

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