- -  Day # 323  + +

EU > Poland > Wroclaw

Growing up in the 1980s

Wroclaw, PL (View on map)

After visiting six post-communist states and the three Baltic States, I can easily tell that growing up in communism was very different from growing up in the West. Polish `tweenagers` confirm this statement. Please find some Polish childhood memories below:

Kasia (27):

`I collected alu foil from chocolate bars`
Unlike in Romania, it seems that young Poles who grew up in the 1980s were less aware of the `system` than the Romanians were. Surprisingly, most of the young Poles do not exactly know what their parents did to cope with the system, how their managed to obtain the dollars needed to go to the Western European-style Pevex shops or which secret agents their parents were forced to go see in order to get anything done. Most do remember how the needed vouchers for everything, how those vouchers were handed out by the bosses of their parents, how the number of vouchers were based on the number of family members and how people used to exchange vouchers with one another. One child gave right to the same amount of vodka that an adult man would be entitled to, but a family would oftentimes be happier having some extra meat than another litre of vokda.

Ford Taunus
Ala (26) tells me that she only learnt to understand some particular things in her childhood when she was a teenager. `Everybody in Poland had a Maluch in those days: a tiny Fiat Polski that could theoretically transport five people. My parents had a Ford Taunus, which was very, very exceptional in the 1980s. Whenever we were driving places, people would always stare at our car. I don`t know how or where my father bought it, I just remember that we had it and that it really felt like that car made us very different from everybody else.`

`What I remember most from my childhood are the holidays with that car. We drove around Poland with all our camping necessities somehow attached to the roof of the car. We went to the seaside, to the mountains and everywhere else in Poland that`s worth going. We could hardly go anywhere outside Poland, because we didn`t have passports. Back in the time, people may have had passports, but those were all filed by the authorities. It was very difficult to have access to your own passport. We once went to Czechoslovakia and it took my parents half a year to get the paperwork arranged`, Ala says.

`I had a great childhood`, Ala continues, `and I miss those carefree and careless moments as well of the endless freedom. Life is a bit different now. As a grown-up, I have obligations, worries and responsibilities. However, one thing remained the same. I have always been able to rely on my mother and she is the best friend I have. Even though she lives 400 kilometers away, I still visit her every month and we phone each other every day.`

While many Slovaks told me that they were impressed by the birth of younger brothers or sister, Poles seem to have many memories of older family members. Ania (22) lived in one houde with her parents and grandparents and remembers the special bond she had with her grandfather. I spent a lot of time with him and I was sitting next to him when he died. I was 7 years old at the time and I didn`t really understand what was happening. He put his head on my shoulder and then passed away. As I learnt later, he had already had two heart attacks and this was the third one. I still feel like my grandfather is with me though. I listen and talk to him and I feel protected by his presence.`

Bartek used to spend holidays at the place of his great-grandmother in the East of Poland. `I was not the type of kid that ran away in the morning only to get back home late in the evening. Still, during these holidays on the countryside, I did enjoy spending time outside and sometimes played shepard. I also clearly remember the worst thing I ever did when I was a child. That was in preschool. My brother who is one year younger than I am had beaten somebody and I ran straight to the teacher to tell her about it. I still feel guilty for that.`

Milosz (22) regrets teasing the family dog, which he started doing when he was only a few months old. `My mother then told the dog to leave me alone, and ever since, I could do to the dog whatever I wanted. I can`t tell how it exactly happened, but I eventually ended up causing the dog to break his leg when I was 5 years old. He never recovered and died half a year later with his leg still broken.`

Most of Milosz` childhood memories are happier. `Playing Kapsla with caps of beer bottles was much fun and we spent lots of time doing that. I also remember my first holidays to the sea side, when I was about four years old. It is still a very impressive memory. I spent most of the rest of my childhood in Wroclaw and surroundings, although we had to move often because of the shortage of apartments. The good thing was that our house got bigger every time we moved, and so did the family. It expanded along with the size of the accommodation.

Hard to imagine
Gosia (27) grew up in Ustronie Morskie, a small city along the Baltic Coast. Like many young Poles, she has nostalgic feelings about the Maluch. She tells: `In the 1980s, many things were very difficult to get. There were long waiting lists for everything. I remember how my parents, my brother and I went on a trip to Katowice in the South of Poland, just to buy a washing machine. Us four in the small car, with a trailer to pick up the fridge and a solid 12 hours of driving to Katowice, where it was easier to buy fridges. Katowice was a mining city and they had lots of industry. Because of that, waiting lists were a lot shorter there. My parents had friends in Katowice who probably also helped in the process. But looking back at that adventure today, it is hard to imagine that anybody would travel so far to buy something as basic as a washing machine. It is equally strange to see old photos of how entire families fitted into something as small as a Maluch. We struggled with what we had, but always somehow managed.`

Gosia remembers seeing the fall of the German Wall on TV, but otherwise remembers very little of the changes in the early 1990s. `I only learnt about Solidarnosc and the things that happened in Poland when I was much older. For me, childhood was about playing outside. Cycling, swinging in trees, tennis on the street... I lived close to the beach so we had the popular game of wave chasing. The goal was to get as far into the sea as possible without getting wet feet. That game was nice in summer, but it was a good way to get your parents angry in wintertime. The second day of Easter was also traditionally a good excuse to get wet, and actually it still is. This day is the day of water wars, during which everybody is allowed to shoot or throw water at anybody else.`

We also used to play Pod chody, in which one team needed to find another team somewhere in the forest. The first team would leave clues on the ground, which could be arrows or instructions, and the second team had to try to catch up with the first one. I remember it as an old game from scouting, which had many members at the time. I also joined for a while, but stopped attending when I went to secondary school.`

`One of the scariest memories of my youth was the time we had made a hut in the middle of a haystack. Then, the owner of the farm came to take some hay and he started poking his fork into the hay while we were inside. Fortunately, some of us were not inside so they could warn the farmer.`

`Then, one of my funniest childhood memories was how my brother used to cry all day long, except for the moment he heard the starting tune of the 18h30 TV news. Whenever he heard that?s signal, he would remain silent for the next 30 minutes, before going back into crying mode.`

Collecting aluminium
Kasia (27, photo) remembers how she collected aluminium foil from the scarce chocolate bars she ate. `I first made it back flat again and then carefully put them on top of the ones I had collected before. I preserved them carefully in my drawer, even though I don`t remember for what exact reason. I also remember the chocolate bars `with window`. They were packed in carton but with a small see-through piece of foil that was also well worth collecting. Boys collected beer tins from foreign countries.`

Kasia continues: `I think that our generation is the last one in Poland that was easily satisfied. We didn`t have a lot of toys, but I remember how many things that are now normal were very special at the time. When we only had oranges for Christmas, that was the time when oranges smelled the best. The Pevex shops, where we could only rarely go, smelled of coffee and whenever we went there, it was a really special occasion. I even knew people who resold plastic Pevex bags, because they almost served like status symbols. My parents had some international friends who brought presents when they came over. I remember being given two lollypops by a friend of my parents: one had a stick that could serve as a whistle, the other one had chewing gum inside. Those were the kind of things that excited children in the 1980s, but I bet that today`s children would hardly be impressed if you give them two lollipops.`

`My worst childhood memory was when I stayed over at her aunt`s place for a few days. `I was a very tidy and clean girl and I though I`d wash my underwear when I was there. Unfortunately, I used some very expensive French soap and my aunt was very angry with me. I didn`t understand, because I thought I had behaved like a well-mannered girl, especially for my age at the time. I was maybe 5 years old, how could I know about this soap..`

Kasia`s biggest family friend was her grandfather. `He wrote poems for me and about me and they were all really funny. If I went to my other grandparents, he would write a poem about missing me and wondering what I was doing. Others about me being naughty and doing stuff that was not allowed. I still have them somewhere in a box.`

Books and TV
`As much as I liked my grandfather, I hated a guy called `Jaruzelski`. He was Poland`s president and he often appeared on TV. I remember his dark glasses and his military suit. I was afraid of him, even though I didn`t understand what he was talking about. I thought that whenever I moved away from the television, he would not be able to see me, which was a very reassuring thought.`

Kasia also remembers some more television programs that were more pleasant to watch. `We had many programs from Czech Republic and some Russian stuff as well. We only had two television channels and children programs were scarce. The Russian stories about the rabbit and the wolf were nice to watch and so were the Czech programs Kreczik about a moll, Tik Tak which combined different types of short stories, Piatek z Pankracem about an old man and a dog. We also had Moomins from Finland and Pat i Mat from Czech Republic.`

Bartek (27) did not spend a lot of time watching television when he was a child. `I liked reading and my favourite book was Dzieci w Bullerbyn. Every Polish kid had to read that in primary school and I think few minded because it was a great book. I remember how much I enjoyed reading and I still do. The fact that we didn`t have Lego or real toys was probably one of the reasons why I ended up reading so much.`

Enlarge photo | Link to this article