Vol. 15: Neon Signs in Warsaw (1): Advertising Hoardings Under Socialism

My most striking impression of Poland was that gained from Polish films by avant-garde directors produced during the 1960s. With their sharp images, movies by Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski portrayed the lives of young people in a startling manner. The impression one gained from these movies was of a country way out at the front of the communist world. However, traveling around the countries of Eastern Europe on this occasion, I felt that Poland was economically the most backward of the countries that I visited. My impression of Warsaw was that it seemed to have changed hardly at all from its screen image of thirty years ago. But neon signs were more common here than anywhere else, and I discovered many very interesting examples.

The most unusual and interesting types were the three-dimensional neon signs set on the roofs of tall buildings. Neon tubes were arranged on top of solid frames in the shape of globes or beer barrels. The right-hand photograph seems to have been formed in the image of an atomic nucleus or the remains of an artificial satellite. I have no idea which company the hoarding was supposed to be serving as an advertisement for, but it seemed to me like a sign symbolizing the authority of communism in the manner which characterized Poland when the nation was still ruled by a communist government. Warsaw was the only place in Europe where I saw entirely solid neon signs.

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