“ Europes largest market with over 5000 vendors. It is comprised of international community selling cloths, shoes, phones, CDs, makeup, everything possible! Most of those emigrants are coming from Vietnam, Russia or Africa. The selection is enormous and the prices are affordable. „
Europe's largest outdoor market and Warsaw's most absurd attraction looks set to be closed down by the authorities to make way for a hyper modern stadium complex that is to be the crowning jewel in Poland's bid to host a successful Euro 2012 football championship. Originally due to close in June it's continued to survive, and the chances are the latest deadline for closure will also be missed.
Catch it while you can. From the city centre make your way to Rondo Waszyngtona. It's here that the religious experience begins. While the rest of Saska Kepa enjoys a reputation for its serenity this is anything but, and little more than a battlefield of tramlines and concrete subways, always buzzing with people laden with plastic bags making their way to Poland's famous market. Crumbling and decrepit Stadion Dziesieciolecia was originally built in the 1950's on top of WW11 rubble to mark the anniversary of the end of WW11. The oval shaped open air arena became the national football stadium and frequently drew capacity crowds of 70,000, and occasionally much more for official state parades and festivals. It was in front of a crowd of 100,000 that Ryszard Siwiec set himself ablaze in 1968 in protest at the Soviet led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
By the late 1980's the stadium was left o fall into disrepair, the memories of Michael Jackson performing to tens of thousands of people a fading memory. It was the fall of the Iron Curtain that was to signal its rebirth. Rented out by the city to a group called Jamark Europa the stadium emerged to become the focus of thousand of traders from Poland's eastern borders, hence its popular tag 'The Russian Market.' Now the Russians - and the guns they sold - have all but gone, replaced by hawkers from Vietnam, Nigeria and other far flung destinations. Although its clothes, including some hilarious counterfeit designer attempts (Kevin Clein, Hugo Bass, Tommy Hilfinger), that take up the bulk of the market, it's still possible to pick up some treasures including Soviet military medals, pirated CD's featuring Bulgarian bonus tracks and electrical devices that go boom the moment they're plugged in - great Christmas gifts. Although you will find numerous police milling around and most guide books tell you to be aware of pickpockets I have personally never felt worried or threatened. However, seeing that not all these hatchet faced traders are completely legal its best not to start pointing cameras into strange faces. Indeed, this remains the main point for black market activitiy in Poland, with over 30,000 traders prosecuted since the market began. Figures taken from a popular Polish magazine a few years back reveal some shocking statistics. It is estimated some 30,000 pirate CD's change hands each day, 500 stolen mobile phones, 10,000 litres of illegally imported booze and ten guns. What will become of these traders is anyone's guess. As is, more pressingly, what will happen to the rubble the stadium is built on. Poland has no facility to cope with such a huge amount of debris, and this remains one of the lingering question marks found so commonly in the country.
Largely illegal it may have been and in no way do I condone selling illegal goods, but this was a cultural experience that was second to none and a way of life for a lot of people in this part of the world. But Poland moves forward. The site has now been earmarked as part of 1,225,000,000 zloty(293,650, 512.02 GBP) complex that will feature a 70,000 all-seater national stadium, a new subway link, an Olympic swimming pool, hotel and conference facility. The end of an era.
(Please note - figures quoted are from a local mag).