While the rest of Saska Kêpa enjoyed a reputation for its serenity this was 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 most famous market. Crumbling and decrepit Stadion Dziesiêciolecia, where the market was based, was originally built in the 1950s on top of WWII rubble to mark the anniversary of the end of WWII. 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 1980s the stadium had been left to 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 thousands of traders from Poland’s eastern borders, hence its popular tag ‘The Russian Market’. The Russians – and the guns they sold – were replaced by hawkers from Vietnam, Nigeria and other far flung destinations. Although it's clothes, including some hilarious counterfeit designer attempts (Kevin Clein, Hugo Bass, Tommy Hilfinger), that took up the bulk of the market, it was still possible to pick up some treasures including Soviet military medals, pirated Depeche Mode CDs featuring Bulgarian bonus tracks and electrical devices that go boom the moment they’re plugged in – great Christmas gifts. Indeed, this was the main point for black market activity in Poland, with over 30,000 traders prosecuted since the market began. Figures taken from Wprost magazine a few years back revealed some shocking statistics. It’s estimated some 30,000 pirate CDs changed hands each day, 500 stolen mobiles, 10,000 litres of illegally imported booze and ten guns.
Largely illegal it may have been, but this was a cultural experience that was second to none. Poland, however moves forward. The site, once complete, will host a 70,000 all-seater national stadium, a new subway link, an Olympic swimming pool, hotel and conference facility.
The Euro Cup took place in 2012. It is like prehistory. I can`t get rid of the haunting view of the stadium in Donieck, Ukraine, once so grand, today damaged by shelling during the civil war and closed. Seeing those photos, I never cease to compare the fate of Poland and Ukraine.