SASKA KĘPA (Polish pronunciation: [ˈsaska ˈkɛmpa]. There are reasons for me and my wife to be there, enjoying an annual street fair in Saska Kepa. It was in 2009.
We have been living here for around two years and half in this old beautiful residential area in Warsaw. Saska Kepa, like old residential area in Menteng Jakarta, is where the elites and artists preferred to spend their lives there.
I have been invited by the local authorities to attend this celebration every year. But this time was very special. My friend, Ambassador of Colombia told me that a world champion of Salsa from his country would stage its performances in that day. The group was in Poland in a cultural tour.
Colombia is not only known for its coffee: we were also together in Gdynia for a coffee festival. Our Embassy was also one of participants of the coffee culture. Colombia is the capital of Salsa, claimed the ambassador.
It was rainy all the day. I wanted to practice my photography I had learned from the internet. So, I packed my equipment in my backpack, wearing running shoes and a good blue jacket with the hood to protect me from frozen. The temperature was around 5 degrees, and it was windy!
Saska Kepa Day is a festival and fair held in the district of Saska Kepa--a unique place located in the south-eastern part of Poland’s capital city, Warsaw. Held for the fourth time, this festival included street parades, pop and jazz concerts, as well as other musical performances and recitals of poetry and ethno jazz. But the hit of the festival was the special guests, the Swing Latino Tigo Dance Group from Colombia, five-times winners of the World Salsa Championship, who gave a gala concert. It was written in the special newspaper published for that particular day.
People enjoyed themselves dancing tango and salsa at this year’s Saska Kepa Holiday. Of particular interest was the appearance on stage of Colombian dancers—the Swing Latino Tigo Group, who won five times the World Salsa Championships, organized by the ESPN TV station. This was the largest competition in Salsa in the world. Forty countries took part. More than 200 million people watched the transmission of the second edition of the World Salsa Championship, which was held in Las Vegas in 2006 and which was won by our guests. In May last year, Swing Latino Tigo became the champion in the third edition of the festival, which was held in Orlando, Florida. Despite the cloudy weather with sporadic downpours, the Saska Kepa Day with time gained greater tempo with more and more of guests. The next one will be in 2010.
Heart of Warsaw
The charming district managed to come through World War II pretty much unscathed, with its old houses and cafes remaining intact as they were before. A stroll through the Skaryszewski park is a certainly a pleasure, and you can round it off with a trip to some café or restaurant, renowned for their excellent classic Polish cuisine.
The area is the home of one of the most attractive residential districts in Warsaw, i.e., Saska Kepa is an exclusive villa district, characterized by its 1920s and 1930s-like construction style, recreating Polish architectural trends of those years, from historic-style cottage-like and classical buildings to extreme functionalism. Many embassies have found their seats here, including the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia and the residence of Indonesian Ambassadors.
Thanks to its unequaled atmosphere, Saska Kępa is recognized as one of the most magnificent parts of Warsaw. In addition, it plays the role of “diplomatic” space – the numerous embassies and consulates located here add a cosmopolitan dimension, expressed not only in street names but, most of all, in restaurants, pizza parlors and cafes serving classical Polish, Italian, French, Hungarian, Turkish or Chinese cuisines.
Saska Kępa also celebrates a special holiday–once a year. In the spring, its streets are transformed into colorful promenades with concerts, theatre spectacles, film screenings and crowds of guests strolling between cafes, wine bars, conjurers and antique vendors—this is the SASKA KĘPA.
During the German occupation (1939 – 1945), Saska Kepa because of its social status was an area of intensive educational activity. Prohibited secret teaching went on in private houses and even clandestine students, especially from Warsaw University, listened to lectures. Illegal anti-Nazi leaflets were printed here.
In October 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered Saska Kepa, with Polish units who attempted to cross the Vistula to aid their brethren across the river, fighting heroically against the Germans in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. But facing the overpowering German military might, they were forced to return to the right side of the Vistula. The Uprising took the lives of more than 300,000 Varsovians.
The Soviet Red Army, which was on the left side of the river, said at that time it needed some rest, and no help was extended to the handful of courageous fighters in their desperate fight to free Warsaw from Nazi oppressors. Between 1939 and 1944 over 84% of Warsaw, mainly on the right side of the Vistula, was completely destroyed, with the city center bearing the brunt of the damage.
The Germans methodically demolished building after building after having crushed the Uprising. In spite of the Herculean rebuilding work that has since taken place, the odd bullet scarred walls of pre-war tenement houses can still be found.
Until recently, the Jarmark Europa (Europe Market) an immense open-air market located in the former 10th Anniversary Stadium was a major tourist attraction. One of Europe’s largest bazaars, Jarmark Europa attracted visitors with its low prices and distinctive folklore. Now the market has been partially shut down and within the next few years, its former 10th Anniversary Stadium will be reconstructed into a major complex--the National Sports Center whose opening is planned on the eve of the UEFA Euro 2012 Football Championships.
Brief history of Saska Kepa
In the 17th century one of areas of present Praga Południe (an administrative district of Warsaw) was turned into a military camp. In the 18th century part of the area was named Saska Kępa (literally Saxon Rise or Islet) after the Saxon Guards of the Kings of Poland stationed there. However, until the early 20th century the area retained its rural character. The area officially became a part of Warsaw in 1916. It soon became one of fastest-growing areas of Warsaw, and Saska Kępa became its center. In 1920's and 1930's it became one of the most popular villa areas of the Warsaw's middle class.
During and after World War II the borough was not destroyed. Despite several plans, it was not industrialized either, which allowed the district to retain much of its original, quiet and peaceful character. It has historically housed many embassies and consulates of foreign nations, nestled among streets named: "French", "Parisian", "English", "Mexican", "Dutch", "Angolan", "Brazilian", "Estonian"—seat of the Indonesian Embassy, "Finish", "International", and others named after the continents, nations, and prominent cities.
Currently French Street (Francuska) is the main commercial street, lined with shops and restaurants. The "front door" to the Sasla Kepa district is George Washington Circle (Rondo Waszyngtona), which links the district to Warszawa-Śródmieście (Warsaw Center) via road, tram, and bus. On the other side of the Circle is the site of where the 10th Anniversary Stadium once stood. The site is currently undergoing redevelopment to become the Polish National Stadium for the 2012 European Football Championships.
There are now several new areas with luxurious blocks of flats complexes in the area, but the authorities do not plan to construct more houses and want the character to be preserved. Many of the older homes have been repainted and remodeled in the late '90's and early '00's to resemble the pre-WWII character of the district.
Spirit of Saska Kepa
Its spirit and soul have never succumbed to the communist regime, remaining the Saska Kepa of the old times. It is mostly populated by people who are proud to live here and would not change it for anything.
Saska Kepa area is the most prestigious district in Warsaw, with some of the most expensive housing estates and houses. It is considered an area of artists, scholars, and painters, as well as of poets. Few districts in Warsaw can boast of such great artists as Saska Kepa. Some of the most famous artists are my neighbors, like Tadeusz Baird – composer, Miron Białoszewski - poet, novelist, playwright and actor, Katarzyna Figura – actress, Józef Gosławski - sculptor and medallic artist, Witold Lutosławski – composer, Agnieszka Osiecka - poet and perhaps Poland’s most prominent Songwriter, Jan Parandowski - writer, essayist, and translator, Stanisław Sojka - jazz and pop singer/songwriter, and many other outstanding Polish generals and intellectuals.
The Saska Kepa local self-government publishes a quarterly illustrated magazine, Na Kepie. The latest issue devoted its front page to the Colombian Swing Latino Tigo Gala Concert at the festival as well as to other local matters such as: the great people of Saska Kepa; the Center of Saska Kepa (if there is one); and other topics and entertainment. The last page of Na Kepie is devoted as its title satirically says to political science.
Yet besides political puzzles and riddles and rebuses, it also contains some interesting principles for the office, namely aphorisms:
Principles of Bureaucracy, number one: Don’t think! But if you did, then…, Number two: Don’t speak! But if you had spoken, then… Number three Don’t write! But if you had written, then… Number four, Don’t sign it! But if you had signed it…
Then don’t be surprised!
Another good one is: “A matter once postponed, continues to postpone itself.”
Warsaw, 26 May 2009