“Warsaw is now in the middle of great, great things going on,” Wojciech Matusik assures me as he sips a drink in the posh bar of the Bristol Hotel, a five-minute walk from Norman Foster’s Metropolitan Building. Formerly the city’s director of planning, Matusik was once in charge of development, a position that allowed him to anticipate much of what is happening today.
I had frequented the Bristol in the ‘70s when it was a shabby, down-at-the-heels palace way past its prime (and I had known Matusik when he was a modestly paid functionary). Now renovated, the Bristol is one of Warsaw’s finest hotels, and Matusik, elegantly tailored, today a real estate consultant, is right at home. The man and the hotel have both prospered, and illustrate the distance Warsaw has come since I first passed through here 50 years ago.
“The past is very heavy here,” said Bogna Swiatkowska, a young woman who founded an organization to bring art and artists to public places. “So much happened here—World War II, the ghetto, the uprising and everything after. We live with ghosts in Warsaw, but it’s a very special place with wonderful, talented, creative people. Now it’s time to get rid of the ghosts, make our peace with the past, and think about the future.”
Rudolph Chelminski is author of The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine. Tomas van Houtryve, a photographer on his first assignment for Smithsonian, lives in Paris.