Abstract

This article links metropolitan cultural life in Warsaw to the everyday economic and social realities of the First World War and to policy decisions of Russian imperial, German occupation, and municipal authorities. To do so, it examines different modes and sites of cultural consumption and expression, which were in turn challenged, reshaped, or created by various disruptions to prewar routines. Since the war affected practically everything, including and especially food supply but also transportation, street illumination, the consumption of alcohol, the availability of clothing and footwear, not to mention the city’s demography, Warsaw’s street life was essentially reconfigured by a seeming return to an earlier period, less mechanized and illuminated on the one hand, and by the formation of a modern urban entertainment industry and new forms of nightlife on the other. With the emergence of a thriving counterculture of cheap and popular entertainments in opposition to an elite emphasis on austerity, sobriety and propriety, anxious debates over cultural practices and behaviors appropriate to wartime reverberated in public discourse. Indeed, cultural conflict of all sorts exploded during the war years, between the occupier and the occupied, between men and women, but most ominously between Poles and Jews, with publicly-financed education, theaters, and parks as their main arenas.

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