Stop for a moment and think about your perceptions of Poland during the communist years - the so called “PRL” era. Chances are your mind will conjure up visions of bleak and colourless concrete heavy cityscapes with miserable old grannies and drunks trudging through the mud and snow pulling trolleys laden with potatoes and toilet paper behind them. That vision may be partly true, however, hold your horses now, the reality was actually brighter and more exciting than our history teachers and the western media led us to believe.
After the death of Stalin in 1953 Poland's authorities were well aware of the opportunity to break free from the shackles of the Socialist Realist urban vision and a less restrictive and artistically creative period for architects, designers and city planners ensued.
First shown at the Paris Motor Show in 1910, neon lighting rapidly became the medium for advertising. Soon after, cities like Paris, Berlin and New York were ablaze with colour by night, the signs were seen as symbols of modernity, progress, energy and the cultural high-life. Even today, it would be hard to imagine a sight which says more about financial success and a happy-go-lucky approach to leisure time than a photo of Las Vegas at night.
One important cultural difference is the fact that in Poland the signs were, more often than not, designed by some of the country's top artists and graphic designers who were drafted in to add contemporary and creative flair to the projects.
In Warsaw, the neons certainly brightened up the city, but in reality they also served as a convenient veneer, covering over the fact that behind the modernist façades and bright lights, the shelves of shops were regularly empty or that the glamorously advertised restaurants and cafes could rarely sell you a beer or a bite to eat.
As the country drifted into the economic despair of the 1970's the last thing on people's minds was fancy energy wasting advertising, proclaiming non-existent lifestyles and goods. The lights started going out and due to the lack of maintenance and general apathy the neons were quickly forgotten about. The collapse of communism and the hatred of anything to do with that era saw many important architectural buildings torn down and neons tossed into the dustbin of history, or simply left to fall into further states of disrepair and neglect.