A Warsaw landmark, stadium from the communist era, is about to fall
The Stadion Dziesieciolecia, or the Tenth Anniversary Stadium, is a left-over piece of architecture from Poland's recent past. Its outdoor market is a special universe of sellers from all over the world. But its days are numbered. Poland's surprise win in the bid to host the 2012 European Football Championships means a brand new sports complex will be built on the site. Soon the market will close forever.
Just across Warsaw's Poniatowski Bridge where few tourists dare to tread, is a place where Nigerians and Vietnamese speak Polish, clothes of all kinds are comically cheap, and an underground economy of CDs, DVDs, and cigarettes thrives pretty much out in the open.
Designed by three Polish architects and completed in 1955, the Stadion Dziesieciolecia - meaning 10th Anniversary Stadium - was built to celebrate the first decade of Communist rule and the end of World War II. It's in fact built largely built from rubble left by the war. In its heyday, it was Poland's national stadium, and host to a variety of Communist Party festivals and international sports events. It accommodated as many as 100,000 spectators.
But in the early eighties, technical problems and safety concerns led to the stadium's abandonment and subsequent disrepair.
After 1989 and the collapse of communism, the stadium transformed into an arena of capitalism - a giant outdoor market home to thousands of sellers.
All those staffing the stalls may speak Polish, but a great deal of them are from far outside Poland's borders.
In fact, this place was for years known as the Russian market - and the perfect place to pick up Soviet souvenirs. Everything from hammer-and-sickle pins to Kalashnikov rifles. These days, it's more a place to pick up pirated CDs and counterfeit designer clothes. And vendors from Africa and Asia outnumber the Ukrainians, Belarussians, and Russians.
- Where are you from?
"I'm from Zimbabwe..." "Pakistan...." "Egypt..." "Afghanistan..." "India..." "Bangladesh"
Their preparations begin early. "What time do you get here in the morning?
" "Four in the morning!"
From the long lanes leading into the stadium to the top-most tier, stall after stall is crammed with goods of all kinds. Varsovians and visitors alike crowd inside for some of the best deals in town.
"Yeah, it's cheap. Compared to any supermarket it's cheap. So cheap. It's half price. Half of half price! "
And though high-end new malls with names like "The Golden Teraces" keep cropping up on Warsaw's cityscape, it's still markets like these that offer goods at prices actually within an average Pole's budget.
"I visit here for sweaters and jeans. And shoes maybe. And like my mother, jewelry."
Seekers of coats, athletic jerseys, underwear, and cosmetics come away happy. You can find perfumes claiming all kinds of designer names, as well as kitchenware and utensils.
The market does have its dark underbelly, though not so dark as it used to be. Polish police have cracked down on the stadium in the past. Between 1995 and 2001, thousands of vendors were prosecuted and millions of CDs, video tapes and DVDs were confiscated.
The 10th Anniversary Stadium will soon be closed for good. A large, fancy new sports complex will return the site to its original purpose, in preparation for Poland's role as co-host of the 2012 European Football Championships.
But not everyone is cheering. The Stadium's vendors - the vast majority of them struggling immigrants - will have to find somewhere else to set up shop and support their lives in Poland. Shoppers will have to go elsewhere to find deals - which for some means simply finding the things they need at prices they can afford.
But in the meantime, visitors to the Stadium's outdoor market can marvel at a dilapidated monument to socialist values, ponder whether or not those designer perfumes are for real, and maybe even pluck up the courage to ask one of those furtive-looking men about his DVDs.