And to the West too. Trendy city, hipster capital, rejuvenated boomtown: just a few of the terms used to describe Warsaw these days. In recent years, the Polish capital on the Vistula River has reinvented itself and cast off its former socialist character. “It’s all true,” Kasia Kausa tells us. She has lived here for six years, and through her job has become acquainted with plenty of business people, artists and creatives. The 33-year-old is about to introduce us to her captivating city, and we’re bringing just the car for the rendezvous.
The new Mercedes-Benz GLA is the perfect companion for urban adventures. Kasia (pronounced “Kascha”) Kausa has a PhD in languages, is mother to a three-year-old son, and works for Photoby, a film and photography agency. Her reaction upon spotting the GLA from the balcony of her city-centre apartment: “Wow!” She is suddenly in a rush to get downstairs: keen to see the car close-up, hop in and get going. “I love the paintwork,” she marvels. “And the black leather seats combined with the red stitching. Very elegant indeed.”
It’s early in the morning and things are just beginning to stir as we drive down one of the city’s fancy boulevards. In many of Warsaw’s districts, the ongoing transformation of the city is clearly discernible, reflected for example in the joie de vivre with which its citizens are driving change. “Let’s begin by getting an overview of the place,” suggests Kasia. Now it’s our turn to marvel as Kasia says, “The view from up here is amazing.” We are at Plac Europejski, gazing up at the sparkling glass façade of the Warsaw Spire skyscraper: a 220-metre-tall building completed in 2016, at a cost of 250 million euros. At the MIPIM Awards in Cannes, in spring of this year, the Warsaw Spire with its two flanking 55-metre-tall auxiliary buildings won the award for ‘Best Office & Business Development’, beating rival contenders from London, Rome and Shenzhen in China.
Selected wines and dishes from fresh regional produce: Maciej Sondij’s Dyletanci restaurant and wine bar.
We take the lift up to the 38th floor – the same level that was visited just a few weeks ago by the British Prince William and his wife Duchess Kate, when they met some young Warsaw-based start-ups. The view from here stretches out over the city, across to Warsaw’s second skyline only a few kilometres away. All around the Warsaw Spire, you can see lorries manoeuvring and people hammering, welding, soldering. Several new skyscrapers are set to spring up, providing more than one million square metres of new office space.
Among the companies up here in the office tower is Tomasz Rudolf’s ‘The Heart’, a consulting firm specialising in advice for startups. Its 30-strong staff is made up not only of Poles, but also of people from the US, England and France. Tomasz Rudolf speaks excellent English – as so many do here in Warsaw – as well as German. 39-year-old Rudolf recently had the honour of spending a whole hour with the royal visitors from Great Britain as he showed them around the Warsaw Spire. He is currently working on plans to expand his company and open operations in London. In the digital world, knowledge, commitment and imagination are key competencies; Varsovians have an abundance of all three. Kasia Kausa stands at the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out. “The city has so much energy,” she says. “Things are really growing and thriving here.”
We get back on the road. Kausa has to go to the studio of 30-year-old artist Cezary Poniatowski, at Ulica Rydygiera 8, to collect a few of his paintings. Poniatowski is currently preparing for an exhibition in Rome. Kasia folds down the GLA’s back seats to fit the large canvases into the car. “Great,” says Kasia. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s not enough for cars to just look good – they need to be practical too.” We don’t chat for long, as we have a hairdresser’s appointment to get to. And not just any hairdresser. We cruise through the city in the GLA, passing shopping malls, the occasional crumbling façade, and lots of newly restored historical buildings. We navigate through narrow streets and alleys, where new buildings rub shoulders alongside old ones.
Warsaw is an exciting mix of sophistication and scruffiness. It has a distinctively cosmopolitan air about it, and is extremely clean to boot. Its various squares are filled with people of all nationalities: Japanese, Chinese, Australian, American, western European. Kasia ends up having to enter our destination into the car’s satellite navigation system, and she’s pleased with how easy it is to do, along with the fact that the screen is so large. We leave the business district and the rejuvenated old town, and head towards Ulica Burakowska 5/7 in our GLA. The street is located in an upmarket area of the city, characterised by tidy gardens and parks. Jaga Hupało, 50, has run her salon here for the last 17 years.
The star hair dresser has 8,000 followers on Instagram and almost twice as many on Facebook. Among her clients are many well-known Warsaw personalities from the worlds of sport, culture and show business, as well as some very famous French actors. Her salon, housed in a former textiles factory, is decorated almost entirely in black, with chill-out music emanating from the speakers. Hupało, who sports long, black hair, lives by the motto “Born to create”, which is emblazoned on the wall above the reception counter. Kasia points to it: “Typically Warsaw,” she laughs.
There’s a memorable motto at our next stop too: magazine makers Krzysztof Kozanowski (publisher) and Monika Brzywczy (editor-in-chief). It seems to be a great reflection of the new Warsaw: “We eat, we kiss, we talk”. Their glossy lifestyle magazine USTA sells around 40,000 copies per issue and comes out four times a year, full of stories embodying this mission statement. Kasia chats to the two Warsaw connoisseurs about the best travel tips to give visitors to the city. (If you’re curious to know what these are, take a look at the list on the left!). As night begins to fall on Warsaw, the city gradually lights up, revealing yet another exciting aspect of its personality. In our GLA, we glide past neon signs and stylishly illuminated buildings. We then park the car to explore Warsaw’s nightlife on foot.