Warsaw, Under the Fluorescent Lights

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Even if they can’t bear to go there, practically all Montrealers know a place that they call the Underground City. But by no means is Montreal the only city with such a thing. Across the Atlantic, the city of Warsaw also has a network of underground passages spanning a good part of its downtown.

But you’d never think to associate the two. Where Montreal’s is shiny and commercial, Warsaw’s is gritty and low-slung. Montreal’s underground contains many of the finest international fashion chains, but in Warsaw, those are dispersed throughout the city’s various upscale malls. The underground passages in Warsaw are strictly a utilitarian affair, home to hardware stores, bakeries, arcades, and other small, independent shops.

In a sense, Warsaw’s underground world compensates for the barren landscape above the surface: where Montreal has Saint Catherine street above, the Aleje Jerozolimskie is wide, barren, and more or less devoid of commerce. The passages, on the other hand, teem; at busier moments, they almost resemble the arabic souk in intensity. The central train station is knit right in; some exits from train platforms even skip the train station, emptying out into the corridors. It’s a good thing I missed those when I arrived for the first time in the sleeper train.

At night, the stores close but the passages stay open. It’s only then that you can walk slowly enough to notice the imperfections: the dripping water, cracked floors, peeling yellow paint. A close friend and I passed through once at 1 AM on a wet spring night. There were only two things to be heard: the dripping of water, and our scuffing footsteps.

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This entry was written by Sam Imberman , posted on Tuesday March 11 2008at 12:03 am , filed under Europe, Interior Space and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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