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Since 2004, the cultural picture of the UK’s capital has dramatically changed. “The Poles are coming!” the British newspapers shouted. And so we cameâ€¦ in quite big numbers actually (some estimated the total at one million!).
Polish shops (polski sklep) sprang up in every London borough and our rustling language can be heard on practically every street corner.
But our relationship with the UK goes way back and has for a long time influenced cultural life in the capital. Bonnie Prince Charlie was the son of James Francis Edward Stewart and Polish aristocrat Maria Klementyna Sobieska, daughter of the Polish King Jan III Sobieski.
Funnily enough, Poland Street in London’s Soho was named in honour of King Sobieski, who won the Battle of Vienna in 1683 defending Europe against the Ottoman Empire’s army.
The Second World War saw the Polish flying aces fighting in the Battle of Britain and our mathematicians helping to break the Enigma code. After the war, Polish soldiers and their families settled down in the UK, many of them in London, choosing areas such as Ealing and Hammersmith to build their new lives.
The next generations became prominent individuals in the capital’s cultural life, from composers, musicians, artists, to museum and gallery directors, film producers and directors, designers, architectsâ€¦ the list goes on.
So find your Polish London! Here are a few clues on how to discover it:
Try our food delicacies. Be brave and venture into one of London’s many Polish shops, buy some kieÅ‚basa (polish name for sausage) for the barbeque and try our bread.
See some Polish contemporary art. Works of PaweÅ‚ Althamer, Zbigniew Libera, MirosÅ‚aw BaÅ‚ka, Wilhelm Sasnal and Artur Å»mijewski can be seen in Tate Modern as well commercial galleries such as Gagosian or White Cube. You can also check out London’s branch of Warsaw gallery Lokal 30.
Every March, we host the Polish Film Festival Kinoteka with the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of Polish cinematography being screened at the Riverside Studios, Prince Charles Cinema, BFI Southbank and the Barbican.
Don’t forget to grab a Polish read. Books by established writers such as MiÅ‚osz, KapuÅ›ciÅ„ski and MroÅ¼ek, as well as contemporaries including Huelle, Tokarczuk and Krajewski, are available in every good bookshop. And for a real literary treat, visit the British Library and ask for the Polish Collection, to see the historical gems as old as 15th century.
So no excuses – Polish London is out there and within easy reach!
Check out the Polish Cultural Institute website www.PolishCulture.org.uk for regular updates on what’s to come. And let us know your Polish London recommendations below…