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Warsaw Gets Trendy


Poland's capital of Warsaw has undergone a huge transformation over the last 30 years. Investment in the country has led to high-profile architecture projects, even a new metro. The city seems to be thriving. But the political climate casts a shadow on all that at the moment. NPR's Daniel Estrin has this snapshot of the Polish capital.


DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: It's nighttime at the Beirut Hummus Bar in downtown Warsaw. Two architects are eating dinner, and they've got stacks of business cards on the table.

ALEXANDER STAJAK: We printed business cards in 10 minutes.

ESTRIN: Alexander Stajak and his colleague have just come from the printers. They have a meeting the next morning with investors from the hotel industry looking for design ideas. Big luxury hotel chains are flocking to Warsaw.

STAJAK: Warsaw is developing a lot, I would say.

ESTRIN: The city has come a long way. By the end of World War Two, most of Warsaw had been razed to the ground. Then followed decades of communist rule. Today, Warsaw is a city of skyscrapers and rapid growth, says city councilmember Justyna Glusman.

JUSTYNA GLUSMAN: The budget of Warsaw is a budget of a small country, more or less the budget of Malta, the budget of Estonia. So this city is like a country - in economic terms, extremely strong.

ESTRIN: Poland joined the European Union in 2004. And since then, the EU has poured tons of money into the country to help get it up to par with Western European standards. In Warsaw, the EU helped fund a new underground metro with Wi-Fi.

GLUSMAN: This was formative for the city. We would have never built this infrastructure with our own money.

ESTRIN: Poland is ruled by a nationalist right-wing party, but Warsaw is a liberal stronghold. It's also home to dozens of vegan restaurants, challenging Poland's traditional meat and potato cuisine. This restaurant's called Wegeguru, where I meet a vegan dessert caterer, Susan Lyczkowska.

SUSAN LYCZKOWSKA: I think now is the time people are thinking what are they eating. So if you eat healthy, you are healthy.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: So once upon a time, a little fox was traveling through the world.

ESTRIN: Warsaw is also a big center for video game production. This one's called "Bushy Tail." It's being developed by a company called Fuero Games. Their office is like any other gaming company, with programmers in sweatshirts and jeans working on developing games for computers and mobile phones. Tomasz Juszczak is vice president of technology.

TOMASZ JUSZCZAK: All the models, all the animation, all the cool-looking stuff was made and designed here.

ESTRIN: He says the company's building a game-testing system with EU funding and partnering on projects with T-Mobile and the Chinese company Huawei. But he says the political turmoil in his country is casting a shadow on business. Poland's ruling party recently carried out authoritarian reforms on the judiciary, and the EU said it was a threat to the rule of law.

JUSZCZAK: Poland was growing a lot in the recent years, and the growth has never stopped. But the investors are slowly backing out because of the controversial changes that the political scene is making. That's why I think there could be a lot of more investment, a lot of more opportunities here if the changes were not so radical.

ESTRIN: He says his company's been having a harder time securing investors because of the unstable political climate. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Warsaw.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "FLICKER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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