Palaces of Culture featured prominently in the educational and cultural policies of socialist states. As places of encounter and education, of culture and sport, they were part of the social engineering practised by the state.
At the same time, they were architectural icons of many Eastern, Central and Southern European capitals. But Palaces of Culture were found not only in the heart of socialist metropolises. “Houses of Culture” were systematically established in smaller towns and suburbs too, where people could take advantage of education, culture and sports offerings that also served to shape the “socialist citizen”. Then, in the years of change around 1989, Houses and Palaces of Culture played an important role as physical venues in the system transformation. Today, the architectural and cultural heritage of these Palaces is handled in ways that are as diverse as the societies of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. In five panel discussions curated by the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb), visitors to the Humboldt Forum will take a look at Warsaw, Kyiv, Belgrade and Minsk together with guests from the respective countries. They will learn more about the socialist idea of Palaces of Culture, urban debates, revolutions in the city environment, international discourses, political protests, state power, and shrinking spaces for culture.
It is hard to find anyone in Warsaw who does not have a strong opinion about the Palace of Culture. Once a “gift” from Stalin, it has shaped the city’s skyline since the 1950s. Several times, there have been plans to demolish the giant complex of buildings, but it still dominates the city centre today. The Palace of Culture has variously housed a cinema, a theatre, restaurants, sports facilities, event halls and a swimming pool. From the refurbished observation deck overlooking the city, tourists now gaze up at glass skyscrapers of multinational corporations towering into the Warsaw sky. The building has long since become a “socialist enclave in a post-socialist city” (Michał Murawski), as Warsaw now has more shopping malls and gated communities than Berlin, with ever-rising property prices. In Warsaw, too, this is why people are discussing who the city really belongs to. In this panel, we will examine how local people are dealing with the legacy of the Palace of Culture – and what debates they are having about displacement and gentrification in a dynamic European capital.
Welcome and introduction
Carolin Savchuk, Advisor on Russia and Belarus in the Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe project group at the bpb
Michał Murawski, Associate Professor of Critical Area Studies, University College London
Martyna Obarska, Cultural Scientist, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Culture and Media, SWPS University, Warsaw.
Emilia Smechowski, Editor-in-Chief, ZEITmagazin, Berlin
Carolin Savchuk: After completing a degree in languages and international cultural and business studies with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe at the University of Passau, Carolin Savchuk worked for over ten years as a freelance facilitator and trainer with cultural managers in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the South Caucasus. From 2017 to 2023, she established and then headed the education and outreach department at Museum Berlin-Karlshorst – the historic site of the end of the war in Europe in May 1945. Since May of this year, she has been an advisor in the Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe project group at the bpb.
Michał Murawski is an anthropologist of architecture and cities. He is Associate Professor of Critical Area Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. His first book, The Palace Complex: A Stalinist Skyscraper, Capitalist Warsaw and a City Transfixed was published by Indiana University Press in 2019; and he is currently completing his second book, recolonial russia: architecture, ecology and violence in putin’s paradise, forthcoming in 2025 with MIT Press. He is Director of the FRINGE Centre for the Study of Social and Cultural Complexity; and co-convenor of PPV (Perverting the Power Vertical: Politics and Aesthetics), a seminar and events platform based at UCL.
Martyna Obarska – Cultural Scientist, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Culture and Media, SWPS University, Warsaw. She researches, teaches and describes ( including in popular science form) how cities change and teaches humanities and design at SWPS Warsaw. Her work focuses on initiatives at the intersection of architecture, urban planning and social action emerging in Polish and international cities. Martyna Obarska is the leader of the Resilient City programme at the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainable Development and the SWPS University team preparing a new strategy for the city of Sopot. She is also deputy editor-in-chief of the city magazine “Magazyn Miasta” and co-founder of the SAS School of Community Architecture – a space for education and reflection on the role of social responsibility of the architectural profession.
Emilia Smechowski is the editor-in-chief at German ZEITmagazin, the magazine of the big German weekly DIE ZEIT. She was born in 1983 in Wejherowo/Poland und immigrated with her parents in 1988 to Berlin. She was an editor at taz, worked as a freelance reporter for ZEIT, Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung. She works at ZEITmagazin since 2020. She has published two books, „Wir Strebermigranten“ (2017, Hanser Berlin) and „Rückkehr nach Polen“ (2019, Hanser Berlin), after living in Gdansk/Poland for a year with her daughter.
- free of charge
- Duration: 60 min
- 14 years and older
- Language: German
- Mechanical Arena in the Foyer
- Belongs to: Post/Socialist Palaces