Stumbling over the past: the Warsaw of Rising Up

In this week’s blog, Evie Woolmore recalls how a weekend in Warsaw inspired a novel.

To arrive in Warsaw by train at the end of the last century was like waking up inside the memories of one of John Le Carre’s characters in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The train had cut a ponderous path through the Czech Republic, slowing but not stopping at tiny concrete stations on a single line track. Through the dirty windows I glimpsed slender, behatted men, always alone, pulling up the collars of their coats, turning a cold shoulder to onlookers as they lit their cigarettes, waiting, always waiting for something. At every border crossing I had been scrutinised by uniformed soldiers, moustachioed, bushy eyebrowed, curious about the British woman travelling alone through their country. The Iron Curtain had long been torn down but its shadow still seemed to fall, gauzy and grey.

It is not surprising I arrived in a contemplative frame of mind as the train pulled into the subterranean central station. When I emerged into the late October afternoon, I realised why Warsaw nestles shops and walkways beneath the streets – because even on a bright sunny day in autumn, the wind is brutal, scouring the plains all the way from Siberia, and whistling across the sheer glass facades of the endless modern buildings that dominate the modern Warsaw skyline. The roads seemed as wide as the buildings were high, perhaps echoing the Wisla River that cuts a swathe Continue reading