Near to where my grandparents live, in a leafy corner of Warsaw, stretch the tarnished grounds of the Warsaw Physical Education Academy. This sports-oriented higher education institution had functioned in one way or another since 1929 and had its hey-day expansion sometime in the late 50’s. By the time I started retaining memories of it in the early 90’s, the lack of upkeep that characterised many of Warsaw’s communist initiatives, had transformed the place into something that made a strong post-apocalyptic impression.
The campus was definitely past its prime where appearance was concerned, but still very much a social focus of the local community. It housed an indoor swimming pool, multiple indoor and outdoor sports fields, gyms, courts and racing tracks - all in varied states of disrepair. Most facilities were available to “The People” (and Their Children) through a multitude of after school programmes. It was publicly suspected that the local community thus made use of the campus to a much greater extent than the Academy’s famously hung-over athlete elite ever did. Furthermore throughout my childhood there remained continuous free access to all the outdoor premises – either through the rarely attended front gate, or the multiple holes in the fence surrounding the complex, some of which were so well established they had their own names. “Do you want to meet up by the car park to the left of the Tram Loop Hole?” or “The last one to the Forest Hole and back is a smelly rotten cabbage!”
Yes, the more I think about it, the more otherworldly this socrealistic destination appears to me. For a while there existed, for example, a little shop not far from the Tram Loop Hole, that sold chocolate wafer cuttings in bulk. My grandpa was always the one dispatched to procure the delicious and mysteriously cheap product. His return was awaited with a mixture of excitement and fear, for the shop (a little basement room in an abandoned gym building, with a sign painted over it and no opening hours) was in business periodically and unpredictably.
The grounds were extensive, with what seemed like miles of tree-shaded alleys. It was a perfect destination for my grandparents to have a leisurely autumn stroll while my sister and I got rid of our excess energy by riding our bicycles in maniacal loops around them. In the winter we took our sleighs to campus hills that definitely seemed steep to me at the time. In the spring the mountainous bumps in the cheap alley asphalt made an exciting practice ground for roller-skating, and in the summer we cooled down by running under the two token sprinklers rotated between the weedy grounds of the ever-shrinking sports fields, whose edges were slowly but steadily reclaimed by tentacles of wild vegetation.
My sister and I liked to play with the outside equipment, by which I mean “tried to climb things made of rusty pipes that weren’t meant to be climbed”. One of the few things there that was meant to be played with, was the balance exercise equipment in the corner of one of the football fields. The apparatus was plank-based and consisted of: 1) a few narrow planks to walk or run along on, fixed about a metre above the ground, 2) a straightforward plank-over-cylinder affair, and 3) a narrow plank suspended a few inches above the ground by four chains hooked to a sturdy frame. I liked to play on the latter. You stood with legs apart, knees bent, arms out – the surfer position. You then had to swing the plank underneath your feet with the weight of your body, and keep on it for as long as you could while increasing the degree of your own instability. Falling off was never painful enough to deter you from the next attempt.
Today, somehow, a connection in my mind materialised between you and me and that contraption. If I could choose to believe things, I'd say it's because you always ask about how I balance myself.
in response to her inner, more eloquent