Life under Communism Museum
A small museum in Warsaw
past, with a focus on everyday life, housing, products, entertainment, sports, and so on, but also touching on the resistance movement.
The museum is a private initiative and was first opened in its current location in 2014; before that it was located in the Praga district on the other side of the river, where the collection had been only open to guests of the operator “Adventure Warsaw” who run retro tours in veteran vans and cars from the communist era. Apparently the old location was tricky to find, so the move to the current one is definitely an improvement.
Confusingly the name the museum uses in English is not a direct equivalent of the Polish “Muzeum Życia w PRL”, which would rather translate as ‘Museum of Life in the Polish People’s Republic’ (the museum’s own website also often uses the slightly deviating epithet “charm of the PRL” in English, probably to indicate that it is a bit retro in character).
What there is to see:
The museum is suitably housed inside one of the big Stalinist buildings around Plac Konstytucji and along Marszałkowska
. Nowhere (other than perhaps the Palace of Culture and Science
) could have been more fitting.
When you come up the stairs to the exhibition on the first floor you are greeted by large red communist-symbol flags and banners, but also a dummy militia soldier menacingly guarding the top of the stairs.
To the left is a section full of communist party insignia, medals, heroic figurines, books, Lenin
and Brezhnev portraits and so on, as well as a life-size recreation of a party official’s office.
Another section has plans of the post-WWII architectural developments of Plac Konstytucji as well as photos of the construction of all those Stalinist buildings, street lamps and socialist-realist
decorations in addition to photos of the sea of rubble and ruins that was Warsaw
at the end of WWII
. There’s also a timeline of the PRL. And some text panels explaining how communism was first implemented (Soviet
-style, of course) in Poland
(complete with election rigging and arrests of opposition members).
Text panels and labels, by the way, are in Polish and English, and the translation quality is mostly fine.
A video screen plays footage from the fabled Rolling Stones gig at the Palace of Culture and Science
in 1967. Everyday and pop culture is also exemplified by the displays of various record players, tape recorders and radios as well LP covers and cassettes of Polish underground music.
There are also walls full of everyday objects and vintage products from the communist era, from hairdriers or vacuum cleaners to washing detergents, soap and packs of cigarettes. Food packages are on display too, such as chocolates, bags of sugar, tea and (ersatz) coffee. Sport features too, in the form of a commie-era exercise bike as well as plenty of sports medals. There’s also a small medical section.
The fashion section is a particular delight, as you can imagine, with vintage clothes … and some period photos of middle-aged “models” in XL swim suits are especially amusing.
In a side room you can see wonderfully realistic recreations of a typical living room as well as a kitchen in a small residential block flat in ca. 1970.
Sections about different branches of culture, theatre, literature, visual arts come with texts explaining the repression of creativity. But the underground counterculture is mentioned too.
One section is about transport, especially cars. Private passenger cars were a luxury back in the day, but Poland was given a licence to make Fiat cars (originally made in Italy
) in the country, and in addition to various model cars half a full-size yellow Polski Fiat is one of the museum’s largest exhibits.
Another large exhibit is a drinking-water vending machine with a glass on a chain; you could fill the glass with water after putting a coin in the slot – but you couldn’t take the drinking vessel away with you!
Up some stairs you then come to a typical milk bar recreation with crates of bottles but a nearly empty chill cabinet. Cafe culture as a countercultural institution is pointed out – and contrasted with the official state control of supply and rationing of food.
At the far end of the exhibition is a children’s section with a whole wall cabinet featuring dolls and soft toys.
Back towards the main staircase you can also take a look at the photo-and-text panels about the tumultuous 1980s in which communist
rule was challenged and eventually overcome in 1989 – see European Solidarity Centre
All in all
, it’s a small and rather lo-tech, old-school kind of exhibition, where artefacts play the central role – and I have to say I like that (ultimately I prefer original objects over the endless touchscreens in modern hi-tech museums). The atmosphere is a bit retro, but not overly celebratory of the “olden days”. On the contrary, the hardships and failings of the communist
era are also pointed out in the various text panels. So overall the museum strikes a good balance.
Access and costs: not difficult to find; not too expensive
If you’re coming from the Centrum area, it’s perfectly walkable in under 15 minutes, just head down along Marszałkowska
until you get to the wide square Plac Konstytucji and turn left into Piękna and look out for the sign. The museum as such is upstairs on the first floor of one of the original Stalinist buildings of the area.
You can of course also take one of the tram lines that go down Marszałkowska
Opening times: daily, Monday to Thursday and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays from 12 noon to 8 p.m.
Admission: 20 PLN (various concessions and/or freebies apply)
Time required: not long, around 30 minutes or maybe a bit more for reading everything and for photography.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Warsaw
The museum is just round the corner from the grand Stalinist Marszałkowska
boulevard, so exploring that combines naturally with this museum both in terms of location and thematically.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Warsaw
- communist life museum 01 - fitting building
- communist life museum 02 - red flags
- communist life museum 03 - medals
- communist life museum 04 - militia
- communist life museum 05 - music
- communist life museum 06 - products
- communist life museum 07 - sports medals
- communist life museum 08 - socialist living room
- communist life museum 09 - the socialist view
- communist life museum 10 - socialist kitchen
- communist life museum 11 - socialist fitness
- communist life museum 11 - socialist mobility
- communist life museum 12 - drinking water vending machine
- communist life museum 13 - socialist meds
- communist life museum 14 - socialist supplies
- communist life museum 15 - socialist toys
- communist life museum 16 - socialist stats