Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Last Best of the Quest: Letting the Past Catch Up

And we should let the past catch up with us. Case in point: Warsaw's massive Palace of Culture and Science. A prime example of Socialist Realist architecture that is so instantly recognizable in former Soviet satellites. It was a gift to Poland from Joseph Stalin. As a result, many were as ambivalent about it as Romanian's were about Ceaucescu's Palace (see post Nov. 21). Remember all those scenes from spy movies or newsreels of party gatherings in gigantic auditoriums? Warsaw's is here. When Pope John Paul II decided to make his move and give a speech in support of the Solidarity Labor Movement in the 80s, he did that in the square in front of this building, taking advantage of its obvious symbolism.

Once it dominated the city, but today it shares the skyline with modern steel and glass towers. This thing is, it's still a great building. And it has secrets waiting to be explored.

Did you know there's a
Museum of Technology in there? It is massive and deceptive. At first I walked in fully expecting to see a laughable holdover from the socialist past. And indeed, I chuckled at the ancient, cracked display cases that must have looked outdated the day they were put up. The signs were stained, hand written Polish with the odd misspelled English word. But as I walked from room to room, I began to realize that this Museum had a rare and utterly complete collection of technologies. Oh yes, there was the requisite emphasis on factories, but in the form gigantic working scale models.

Another section boasted a collection of computers, from a Commodore 64 to a Kray supercomputer and socialist models totally unknown in the West. Strolling through a section on historical typewriters, I nearly whizzed past an enigma device, the German encoder/decoder so important during WWII.

Today they are opening a
Museum of Communism. I can think of no more fitting place to let the past catch up.
You can hear more about it in last week's EuroQuest.

Segment 1 - British Public Service announcements
Does the public really need instructions on the proper operation of a handkerchief? The British government thought so back in 1945 and produced a film on that and other so-called public service matters. The British national archive has pooled together a number of these films and has placed them online. Want to see them for yourself? Click here.

2 - The Slovak Artist and Vincent van Gogh
Thousands of people have made pilgrimages to the house in Nuenen, where Vincent van Gogh grew up. But only one of them has actually met Vincent, in a way. Helene Michaud tells the weird and wonderful tale of the two Vincents.

Segment 3 - Warsaw Palace of Culture Revisited
The Palace of Culture in
Warsaw, with its monstrous size and audacious architecture, is a tourist attraction and a moneymaker. But, as Michal Kubicki explains, it was a gift from Josef Stalin, meant to glorify socialism.

Please click here to download the program in high quality:

The Podcast of EuroQuest can be downloaded at:

And the Yahoo Podcast Beta

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