WARSAW, Poland (AP) — It was rebuilt from ruins after World War II, but still hides a German bunker. And while this square in central Warsaw is named for a Catholic church, it's also famous for a pro-gay rainbow structure that's repeatedly been set on fire.
Plac Zbawiciela — Place of the Savior, or Savior Square — encompasses Poland's past and present in a nutshell, with all its conflicts and contradictions. Once gray and grim, the square is now a colorful place full of trendy cafes, reflecting the economic and cultural changes the country has undergone since toppling communism in 1989 and joining the European Union. Sometimes called Hipster Square, Plac Zbawiciela has become a magnet for tourists, students and professionals alike.
On a recent sunny morning, actress and model Kamila Beres was enjoying a salad and a coffee with her mother at an outdoor table at a bread and wine place called Charlotte. "I like this place very much," she said. "It's like a small enclave with very special atmosphere. It attracts nice and interesting people, artistically minded."
Her mother, Janina Beres, said she remembered the area from the time when it was "dormant," adding that she appreciates the stylish way it has been revived.
Despite its contemporary vibe, the square — built on a star design, like many squares in Paris — manages to retain its quaintness. The idea for the square originated in the 18th century as part of a road linking royal residencies under the reign of Poland's last king, Stanislaw August Poniatowski. The first buildings, a few inns, appeared a century later and were linked to the city by a horse-drawn tram in 1882.
The Church of the Holiest Savior, a Renaissance- and Baroque-style building with twin towers, was completed in 1927 after 26 years of construction delayed by World War I.
Today the square's many businesses cater to various tastes and purses. There's a florist, a sushi bar, a shot bar, an Italian cafeteria, and a gay-friendly French eatery.
"We are very happy that people engage in creating such captivating places that build the city's positive atmosphere," said Bartosz Milczarczyk, spokesman for the City Hall. "They have our full support."
But that does not include financial support: A traditional Polish restaurant on the square modestly hides in a crumbling pre-war building that awaits renovation.
Every evening, but especially on weekends, the square is filled with the sound of laughter and clinking wine glasses. Many in the crowd are students from the highly esteemed Methodist English Language College. The school, established in 1921, was closed during World War II but survived during communism thanks to its popularity and protection from some communist officials who were students there.
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