It’s the bridge everybody knows but that nobody remembers: but Śląsko-Dąbrowski bridge has a background every bit as compelling as the Old Town right by it.
By Stuart Dowell
How many bridges are there in Warsaw? Go on, have a guess. The surprising answer is that there are as many as ten. Most people would probably mention the Poniatowski, Świętokrzyski, Śląsko-Dąbrowski, Łazienkowski and Gdański bridges as the main ones. Some might also mention the pre-war Średnicowy rail bridge, the stunning Sierkiekowski suspension bridge and the two northern bridges: the functional Grot Rowecki and the recently opened Maria Słodowska-Curie. What’s the tenth one? Well, alert readers will point out that right alongside the Gdański bridge is the Citadel rail bridge, mainly used by goods wagons and local passenger trains.
The second bridge that was built after WWII was the Śląsko-Dąbrowski bridge, opened in 1949 and named to commemorate the contribution of miners and steelworkers from Silesia and the Dąbrowa region in the rebuilding of the capital after its destruction in the war. Built on the six pillars of the old Kierbedzia bridge, it links the Old Town with Praga and is an integral part of the massive Trasa W-Z post-war urban road development that created a 6.5-kilometre highway linking Wola with Praga and which ingeniously took road traffic away from the Old Town by sending in through a tunnel under Plac Zamkowy.
The Trasa W-Z project included a socialist-realist set of three escalators taking pedestrians from the tram and bus stop on the viaduct leading to the bridge up to the ground floor of the famous rococo ‘John’ tenement house. The Russian-built ‘moving staircase’ was quite simply a sensation when it opened and it wasn’t only children who would delight in going up and down it time and again.
Other elements of the fascinating post-war reshaping of the east-west corridor included two cinemas, Kino W-Z at the Wola end and Kino Praha, both now closed and demolished, the shifting of a whole church by 20 metres to make way for the widening of Aleje Świerczewskiego (now Al. Solidarności) and the bear pen by the zoo in Praga, adored by Varsovians and hated by environmentalists in equal measure.
The new bridge replaced the one opened in 1864 designed by Stanisław Kierbedź – an impressive six-span construction with an enclosed grillwork tunnel for horse-drawn trams, pedestrians and later cars. It was blown up in 1915 by the retreating Russians and patched up in 1916 by the Germans, then blown up again in 1944, this time by the retreating Germans.
A plaque on the new bridge commemorates the deaths of Zbigniew Gęsicki (a.k.a Juno) and Kazimierz Sott (a.k.a Sokół), members of the Home Army’s elite anti-Gestapo Agat unit who jumped from the Kierbedzia bridge on 1 February 1944 when fleeing from the Germans after being involved in the successful assassination of Franz Kutschera, the brutal head of the SS and Reich’s Police in Warsaw.