Neon signs first began to populate Warsaw’s streets in the inter-war years when The Second Polish Republic was, briefly, an independent state. WWII destroyed most of Warsaw and nearly all of its then-popular neon signs. The Communists maintained control of the country and officially frowned on the decorative advertisings. Although old town was rebuilt nearly brick-by-brick to its former glory, Warsaw’s signs did not return. This began to change with the “thaw” following Stalin’s death and, by 1960s, a new “Age of Neon” had begun in Warsaw. During the final period of communism in Warsaw though, in which martial law was enacted, many of the neon signs were removed and stored away in fear of a new wave of destruction. Many were never returned to their former perches, but today there is an active movement to preserve neon art in Warsaw.
The one of a kind Neon Museum opened in 2005 and houses the largest collection of neon and electro-graphic art in Europe. Their mission is to preserve the past of neon, and subsequently inspire a new neon renaissance here in Poland. Sounding like a cool place to checkout, myself and a friend went to explore this retro museum in the Praga District. In this article I will share my experience, recommendation, and of course, pictures from the Neon Museum!
We met up in the city center of Warsaw, near the Place of Culture of Science and took the tram across the Vistula River and then walked the rest of the way. The museum is actually located in an old factory – which added to the cool factor. There are several old factories in this district, however, and it can be difficult to find the right one. The one you are looking for has a big neon rocket ship on the outside, so it is impossible to miss when lit up.
It was only 10 PLN ($2.5) to enter with a student ID and funds directly support the museum as they are a private organization that is self-supported. There was no one in the queue to enter (we went on a Wednesday), so there was no waiting. I do advise going on a weekday because you can get some really cool pictures without having a lot people blocking the way. After reading a small exhibit explaining the history of the discovery, invention, and functioning of neon, we entered the main exhibit of neon signs.
The first thing you notice is the humming of the hundreds of large neon signs displayed on the walls. We made our way around the gallery floor inspecting them, then reading where and when they were from (all sign descriptions are in Polish and English). Inspecting the signs up close was fascinating. First you feel the heat being radiated from the signs, then, upon closer inspection, you can actually see the neon beam dancing inside the colored glass tubes (touching them is not allowed, though). They also had a short film playing about the history of neon in the eastern bloc during the communist era which was amazing. Learning about this niche piece of history, and Warsaw’s involvement in it, was a great way to spend an afternoon in Praga.
I highly recommend checking out this museum if you have a couple spare hours while in Warsaw. The price is quite affordable and learning about the unique history of neon is very fun. The Neon Museum also makes for an amazing place to get some perfect Instagram pictures (they do not allow large cameras though, only phones). After you finish at the museum there are some great local restaurants nearby to grab a meal at too. I guarantee you’ll have a delightful time! (pun intended)