Berlin's Incredibly Strange Polish Art Bar
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because there are more bars and cafés worth going to for drink-infused art viewing than in all your books of science.
By Eugene S. Robinson
There are two types of people in this world: those who when they hear their native language in another country gravitate toward it and those who don’t. The former, which we all become if we’re on the road long enough, are hitting tourist spots. The latter, which we all might be once we learn the lay of the land, are looking for places off the beaten path that really just bolster our sense of superiority in the face of how completely friggin’ cool we are.
Cue: Café Warschau.
Housed in a nondescript building on Berlin’s Sonnenallee Strasse (aka the Gaza Strip, on account of the area’s heavy Arab vibe), Warschau, as the name might suggest, was started by a Polish expat, the indomitable Kristina. And when you use the word “indomitable” in a country like Germany, where service industries can, on occasion, be, um, brusque, you’re saying a whole lot. Kristina has been running Warschau for a good two decades and has quite comfortably reached a place in her life largely absent of fucks. As in, she gives very few about very much.
Look, this is like her living room. You like assholes in your living room?
Which explains the third degree we get when we walk through the door. We’re grilled on where we’re from — being a New York native seems to have a little more pull than being a current California resident, though Kristina has visited both states — and why we’re in Berlin, in addition to a host of other queries designed not so much to measure cool but to gauge our willingness to make our night here, well, special. And this is everything but idle chatter. You come out of your mouth sideways on this one? You’re out. That simple.
“I’ve seen her throw out groups large enough that I could tell she’s not making decisions on the basis of profits and losses,” says studio engineer Jadwiga Mielcarek. “Look, this is like her living room. You like assholes in your living room?” A position that Kristina neither defends nor explains when, after having decided that we’re OK enough to stay, she tells us, “Time to go downstairs. But first: your cellphones.” After we turn over our phones, she lets us into the “art gallery” below Warschau. Probably also known as Warschau’s basement. The phone requisition? No unauthorized photography allowed.
On the walls? Well, in another time and place we’d have called them “vacation photos.” A black-framed photo of Kristina at Twin Peaks in San Francisco. Kristina squatting in a field of flowers. A naked man using a fox stole to cover his genitalia. Kristina dressed like a belly dancer. Kristina with a bodybuilder named Peter in front of a fake-palm-tree backdrop. Kristina in a mirror surrounded by great works of hotel art.
Someone in our gaggle lets out a long, low, highly respectful sound of deep appreciation. Someone else in our group realizes that Kristina didn’t take her phone and discreetly snaps pics. Both reactions are for the same simple reason: It’s very hard to believe the unbelievable. Back up top, the decently priced drinks are great and the music just right.
That’s clearly not enough for some. Those who’ve been removed have been vocal in crapping on Kristina online for everything from the service to, well, the service, but that’s absolutely OK. “This is a very special place,” Kristina says. And you don’t doubt that a bit, not even for a second.