The district of Mochina straddles the highway like a sphincter around Warsaw’s Northern Passage. If this were Paris or Rome there would be a giant stone arch with the sour mustachioed face of Pilsudski on one side and a beaming John Paul II on the other with text to remind those leaving that what lay ahead was ample supplies of Baltic amber and those arriving that they were now entering the capital city of the Kingdom of Poland. Today, there is a McDonalds and a border sign that says simply “Warszawa” as if that’s all it has to offer in either direction.
To the west of the highway, Mochina, like most of Warsaw, is a place that follows the “whatever” method of town planning. It is hard to imagine a more eclectic assortment of cheek-by-jowl land use. Here you can find parts of the well respected Cardinal Bishop Whatsit University next door to an expensive, well guarded and sinister looking building believed by many to be an Opus Dei command centre next door to a trashed, unguarded and dangerous looking refugee centre, residential developments from slum to million dollar residences and retail from a huge cash and carry warehouse to the “Yet Another” sushi bar.
We only use the western side for some shopping, the church (going to hell frequency), post office and our daughter’s school although there have been recent suggestions that The Obcy (taken from the Polish for foreigners) should start frequenting the small bar over there, which has not happened yet as the preference seems to be the Jazz bar in Lomanki, a short drive north of Warsaw where most of The Obcy live.
The smaller, eastern side is tightly constrained between the highway in the east, the Vistula river to the west, the wilderness that is Mochina Park in the north and the new Northern Bridge across the river (and its connections to the highway) to the south. These natural and unnatural boundaries have contained development to mainly residential homes all within a reasonably tight band of price stupidity – such is the housing market in Warsaw. The only real exceptions are the half ruined, historically important mid 18th century Bruhl Palace and a handful of small home-run businesses like a beauty parlour, air conditioning and tyre repair workshops (no connection) although it has to be said the latter two are more like museums than businesses these days.
Which all brings us to the heart of this particular story – Strangely Park. It lies within eastern Mochina and was designed and built by Austrian developers, as an exclusive residential estate. The great advantage being that they built it as somewhere they would like to, indeed intended to, live themselves as they have family roots in Poland. This contrasts massively to the normal practice of developers in Poland these days which is to work out the absolute maximum number of popularly sized (30-60 square metres) apartments they can squeeze on a plot and then build the hell out of it leaving postage stamp areas of greenery, the bare minimum of room between one 10 storey building and the next, not enough parking and common areas that would not be out of place in a cheap hospital. One downside however is that Strangely Park was built in the early 90’s, not a high point for construction in Poland and certainly not a time when Austrian standards might be expected to be adhered to, or even understood, especially with Darth Muller in charge.
Strangely Park’s 11 hectares are protected against encroachment on all sides by the river, Mochina Park and the palace such that the only parts exposed to the great unwashed are a formidable entrance gate and the office of the security guards. It is but two short single track roads away from civilization and yet is one of those places that if you don’t already know where it is, you’re never going to find it.
Nine of its ten residences are amply spaced either side of the internal roadway with one stuck out on a limb at the far end of the estate up against the boundary fence of the palace. Eight buildings each contain five apartments, two on the ground floor, two above and a penthouse at the top. All have parking and other utility rooms at basement level. The isolated building has two apartments divided horizontally and one other has two but divided vertically. This second building spends most of its time empty. One half being occasionally rented to French people and the other stands empty because the owner evacuated after a legal battle with the developers about his “imaginative improvements”.
The roads and buildings only occupy about half the land, so there is a generous amount of green space including many beautiful trees one of which has legal protection it’s so old. The most obvious feature is a large lake in front of the buildings to the right of the road. The owners of all apartments jointly own the land as well so there are no fences and everyone is free to enjoy a walk around the lake or picnic on any patch of grass they choose. If that’s not enough there’s a gate that leads directly to Mochina Park with a square kilometer or more of parkland and woodland to enjoy. Great for cycling, jogging or just walking and enjoying the varied wildlife, which includes deer, beavers and wild boar.
The layout being as it is the estate divides itself simply into Lakeside, Parkside and the Isolation Ward. We rented the bottom apartment of the Isolation Ward for a few years before deciding to buy our own Strangely Park residence, middle building, Parkside, first floor, from where this tale is being written.
Strangely Park is at first glance an idilic place to live, without compare in Warsaw. Well designed buildings with generously sized apartments, superb landscaping, surrounded by nature. An oasis of peaceful greenery and yet only 20 minutes from the throbbing heart of the city. However, first glances don’t tell the whole story. The eccentric residents, the infighting, the inept administration, the technical cock-ups and all manner of other issues add a considerable amount of angst, amazement and most of all humour to what might otherwise be, well, quite boring.