This is the story that Bogdan told me when he was still with us. This is the story of love, dreams and challenging all these little hiccups that life brings.
First, there was the wedding – well at least this is where this story will begin. The wedding happened in April 1969 and as was the custom those days started with a simple civil ceremony at the registry, followed by a ceremony at church and finished with a wedding reception that was held at the bride’s parents’ house. Over 30 guests were invited and arrived to enjoy the feast of homemade cold meats, sausages, cakes and as much vodka as was possible to provide in the communism times.
The newly wedded couple were flooded with generous gifts that would make every young family happy – the latest model of the fridge, white goose down pillows and duvet, hand-embroidered bed linen, a crystal vase, and a porcelain floral dinnerware set for six accented with gold banding. They were all ready to set up their own new home, except they had no where to move in yet and could only wait and hope the allocation will happen soon.
Even though it was twenty five years after the second world war and the country was being rebuilt at allegedly a very speedy and efficient rate, the housing was still very scarce. Usually a family of 3 or even 4 generations lived together under one roof. Grandparents, and their children with their families shared rooms, cooked in the same kitchen and queued to the only bathroom there was. Wiesia and Bogdan were no exception and shared a two-room apartment with Wiesia’s parents, her sister’s family and soon enough with their little son and niece.
Wiesia and Bogdan had this dream of moving into their own new flat and so they thought, and they planned, and they did their best to make it happen. They knew they had to wait for the state to allocate them a house, as it was the state who actually owned all the housing. Money would not buy you a house or not even time, yet in the end you had to pay for whatever accommodation you were allocated. Choice was back then definitely one of the most overlooked human rights. Wiesia was already on the allocation waiting list and a member of a certain building fund, yet together they tripled the funds and with the savings of over 30,000 that was the equivalent to 1.5 annual salary they could even afford a 3-room apartment. As there were much more 3-room apartments being built and allocated, the plan was to apply for a bigger house consisting of 3 rooms rather than 2 rooms and be able to move in sooner. The state dwelling ratio, however, assigned 13.5 square meters per person and by no means a family of three would be entitled to a house consisting of 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. Wiesia and Bogdan applied for the allocation for five people to meet the requirements. To double their odds, they transferred the building fund membership to Bogdan who – due to his factory employment.- would be eligible for the prioritized allocation. They crossed their fingers and toes.
Two years passed and the prefabricated ten-floor buildings started to pop up around the town crowning its panorama. Everyone was admiring the newly constructed estates hoping one of thousands of flats will be theirs.
Bogdan received the good news at work. He finished a bit earlier and decided to walk along the main street to meet Wiesia on her way from work.
‘We have a problem’,
he started with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘we’re going to need a lot of money.’ He hanged around for a tiny bit longer to cherish the moment and then happily announced.
‘We’ve got the apartment!’
Wiesia threw her arms around him and cried with joy.
What for us now is a socialist realism architecture of mass constructed concrete ten-floor buildings, for them then was the ultimate dream come true. They had their own address now and could move into a shiny new flat that they would make their home.
It’s the early seventies and everything about the estate is brand new, launching or still under construction. There are no buses servicing the area and the nearest bus stop is 15 minutes away. The lifts are not fully installed. There are cranes, there is dust, there are snags. Bogdan does his bit of research and finds out the Dos and Don’ts of living in a ten-floor building. One commonly acknowledged fact is that the fifth floor, where their apartment is supposed to be, has the lowest pressure and therefore frequent water shortages. It gets even worse at the site visit that reveals a state of art pipework system that zigzags from the floor to ceiling. It is now clear that any other floor would be better to live on. Bogdan takes measures again. He spends his contingency dollars on a finest bottle of cognac and persuades the officer to change the allocated floor number. They are now going to move in on the sixth floor.
After officially receiving the apartment in November 1973, the big day finally
arrived in January 1974 and the family moved into their own three rooms. First things first, the fridge had to be carried upstairs as the lift was not working. The semi-automatic washing machine had to be purchased and installed. The kitchen and the living room had to be furnished. The hall had to be fitted with wardrobe. The bathroom needed tiling yet the tiles are impossible to source. Bogdan writes a very well worded letter to the authorities requesting the tile installation as a part of – as he argues – providing facilities to the public. He succeeds and soon enough the whole family can splash in the white tiled bathroom.
Life goes by
It was the home of celebrations, cooking and welfare. Everyone was warmly welcomed. Food was always served. Help was always given. Things got always fixed. Everything was in spotless condition and perfectly organized. It was the happy place where you want to spend time and the safe place where you want to go back. Christening and communions, birthdays and anniversaries, Christmas and Easter all happened here for – as the saying goes – there’s no place like home.
The view from the 6th floor might have slightly changed over the years. The estate got more structured and greener, many new buildings appeared in the city panorama and all the new roads lit up brightly at night but for my husband it will always remain one of the most stunning views you can wake up to.