A city emerging from its past
Warsaw is a city that has suffered greatly at the hands of history, and yet it continues to forge ahead. This is what makes it one of the realest and most fascinating tourist destinations in Europe. Eighty-five percent of the Old Town was destroyed during World War II, but today this is hardly noticeable. You can sit in the Old Square, drinking a cold Zywiec beer, not realizing that the (apparently) 14th-century buildings are actually reconstructions, painstakingly rebuilt in the 1950s. The same is true of St. John's Cathedral, which is connected to the Royal Castle. This does not mean that the horror and destruction of World War II are by any means forgotten. There is a powerful memorial at the Umschlagplatz, the train station in the Warsaw Ghetto from which Jews were deported to the concentration camps; The communist era left its mark as well. The past ten years have brought economic development and a rash of brand-new skyscrapers. However, the skyline is still dominated by the Palace of Culture and Science, the huge birthday cake of a building in the city's center given to the city as a "gift" by Joseph Stalin. This is an apt metaphor for Warsaw, a city emerging politically and economically into the new Europe but still laboring under the shadow of its harsh history. To visit Warsaw is to experience this fascinating historical transition firsthand.