Warsaw museum spotlights remains of destroyed city

Curator Jaroslaw Trybus points to a glass display case with an ornate brass door handle inside. Seemingly banal, the 19th-century curio is one of the few things that remains of Warsaw’s old city hall, which like 90 percent of the Polish capital, was destroyed during World War II.
“The door handle was ripped out by force, which you can see by the trim plate, by the city hall janitor during the Warsaw Uprising,” Trybus told reporters at the Museum of Warsaw, which reopened Friday after four years of renovation and redesign.

He “recognised that something had to be saved from city hall” as tens of thousands of Poles fought the occupying German Nazis in the ill-fated 1944 uprising. It was one of the war’s bloodiest episodes, taking the lives of some 200,000 Warsaw residents.
The failed two-month rebellion would go on to spark reprisals by the Nazis, who exacted their revenge by razing the city house by house, street by street, until it was just a pile of rubble.
“I think this story tells us more than a lot of articles,” Trybus said, adding that the janitor also salvaged 11 spoons and a chunk of the floor.

“It shows how dramatic the uprising was, during which it was necessary to save such seemingly everyday objects as a door handle or a spoon.”
The old city hall was eventually rebuilt after the war, as was the museum itself, which takes up 11 connected tenement houses that form a maddening maze of rooms and staircases as complex as the city’s own history.
“I actually think it’s a good thing that you can get lost. It gives you a chance to stop and look around you” and appreciate not only the exhibition but also the historic buildings themselves, museum director Ewa Nekanda-Trepka told AFP.

The museum is located on the Old Town Market Square, which was carefully reconstructed after the war and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To tell the story of the city, one left with next to nothing after the war, the museum staff chose to focus on objects, which Trybus described as “witnesses and themselves participants in the history of the city”.
“Our parents and grandparents used to show us old things and use them to communicate family history. This is a normal, natural way of passing along knowledge found in objects,” Trybus said, contrasting the method with the abstract way history is taught in schools.
The new permanent exhibition, “The Things of Warsaw,” showcases 7,352 objects across 21 rooms with themes like postcards, clocks, maps, silverware, packaging and mermaids — the symbol of the city.
In the Room of Archeology, excavated pottery from the Middle Ages is displayed alongside a couple of modern-day pots whose bright red and blue surfaces show signs of serious damage.
“These pots were also dug up from the ground… during excavations on the site of the former Warsaw ghetto” set up by Nazi Germany during the war, according to Trybus.
The museum’s overhaul cost 64 million zloty (15 million euros, $17 million) and was co-funded by the city and the Norway Grant: money provided by non-EU states Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to poorer EU members in return for access to EU markets.
For those who absolutely require facts and charts and numbers to learn their history, the museum basement provides just that, including fun city milestones like the first post office (1647), the first escalator (1949) and the first kebab shop (1994). — AFP