On Tuesday, when I arrived, I got lost in Stalin’s Wedding Cake, the colossal, communist-era skyscraper in the heart of Warsaw.
The building -- an imposing, gray tower topped with a clock and a candle-like spire -- is the first thing you see when you exit the Centralna train station. Constructed in the 1950s in the style of Moscow’s Seven Sisters, it’s officially known as the Palace of Culture and Science and is one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
But despite its beauty, the people of Warsaw have mixed feelings about it. As the name implies, it’s the city’s cultural heartbeat -- housing three theaters, an indoor pool, and a cinema, among other things -- but it’s also an ever-present symbol of the country’s soviet past. This month, it takes on a different meaning altogether: the wedding cake is the centerpiece of Warsaw’s fan zone.
In exploring it, I got lost looking for the fan zone’s accreditation office. Every Euro 2012 host city has press offices near their fan zones: quiet places to work, access the internet, and drink free beverages. I needed to pick up my pass if I wanted access. It should have been easy to find. I asked for directions at an official fan zone information booth, but somehow, and hour later, I found myself inside the wedding cake, still without a press pass.
Together, the fan zone and the wedding cake -- an enormous expanse of purple tarp-covered barricades and gray stone -- take up more than a city block. (To the east, the edge of the fan zone actually extends into the middle of Marszałkowska Street, which is now closed to traffic.) To complicate matters, a new metro line is going in under Świętokrzyska Street, the fan zone’s northern border; the street looks more like an archaeological excavation than it does a major urban thoroughfare. The wedding cake makes for an impressive fan zone centerpiece, but it doesn’t facilitate easy access to the fan zone itself. There are maze-like corridors which wind their way to the building’s various entrances, but these same corridors don’t always double as fan zone entrances.
As I searched for the press office, I encountered numerous stewards, security guards and crew members (The fan zone has several large stages) all eager to give me directions, in English. At first I happily followed their advice. They all appeared confident as they pointed off in one direction or told me I was close, but I began to worry that they weren’t the knowledgeable guides I assumed they were as I wound my way deeper into the bowels of the wedding cake. There, I found an agent selling tickets to the tower’s observation deck. I asked him how to find the press office, and he told me what everyone else I’d asked should have told me all along: “I have no idea.”
In Warsaw, if you get lost, just look for the wedding cake. It’s a soccer fan’s most important reference point. If you get lost around the fan zone, however, you’re on your own.