In 1907 , on the ground floor of the building on Falkenwalder Strasse , Otto Blauert presented the cinematograph to the people of Stettin for the first time . The German city called Stettin is now the Polish city Szczecin . Falkenwalder Street is now Wojska Polskiego Avenue , and the theater is still in operation.
Ada and I went over there a few nights ago to see the Woody Allen film Cafe Society . Neither of us was overly impressed with the film . Ada thought that it lacked passion . We both thought it’s characterization shallow . I thought that Woody Allen’s narration was dull and the script of the narration too stilted . Sorry , Woody , we’re not recommending this one .
To my story , however .
Otto Blauert sold the place to the Pietze couple in 1908 . They called it the ” Welt Theater ” , and later the ” Welt Lichtpiele “, a name in use until the outbreak of the war in 1939 . They showed “comedies , dramas , and moral films ” says the pamphlet now available at the theater . I’m plagiarizing from the pamphlet as this post progresses , changing a few words here and there in case the cosmic teacher catches me and I have to talk myself out of trouble .
One further comment on the Woody Allen film , before I continue . It’s set in the 1930s . I like period pieces , but I have one trivial complaint here . In one scene the young man follows the girl toward the elevator . The elevator door opens and she intends to enter , but she doesn’t because she waits outside the elevator to talk to him , a few last words . She reaches her arm out and the automatic door reopens , as elevator doors now do . They didn’t do that , however , in the 1930s .The first patent for safety bumpers on elevator doors came along in 1944 . Later came the infra-red sensors we are familiar with in modern elevators . Where was the film crew person whose job it is to check those details ? I know , I know , it’s a very minor and trivial item , but something is right or it isn’t right . Right ? Henry Ford had a new factory building torn door because it was 1/4 inch off square .
Well , on second thought , I’m thankful that no one holds me to that strict standard .To my story again , however .
And then came the war . When peace finally came , the Germans were moved out of the city and Poles from the east moved in . On 26th December , 1945 , the first film projection in the Polish Szczecin was held . The audience saw Ivan the Terrible by Sergei Eisenstein with music by Sergei Prokofiev . The theater was then called the Odra , but soon changed its name to the ” Pionier “, the name it still has today .
Well , let me simply quote from the pamphlet : In September 1999 , Jerzy Miskiewicz and Waclaw Szewczyk became the owners of the “Pionier” cinema. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the cinema was renovated . On 7th November , 2000 another screen was installed in the cinema in a brand new room called ” Kiniarnia ” . It is a unique place where the audience can sit comfortably by the tables and enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of wine during the projection of the film. In 2003 , the “Pionier” cinema was included into the prestigious Europa Cinemas network . In August 2005 , ” Pionier ” was recognized as the oldest cinema in the world and entered the Guinness Book of World Records .
A local friend of mine offered to take me on a walking history tour here in Szczecin . He suggested that we meet at the statue of the prince and princess that stands outside the castle gate . And , so we did . What prince and princess I forget , if I ever knew ; but I knew where they stood , and they made a good meeting place .
We walked a hundred yards or so away from the statue , to the corner of the castle , and my guide , Przemek , pointed out the scene of a terrible tram accident in the 1960s . It happened early in the morning . There were three tram cars loaded with about five hundred people , most of them probably shipyard workers headed to work . The tram failed to make the sharp turn at the bottom of the hill . The second car hit a light post and broke in two .
Przemek explained the event step by step , pointing out the specific places , as if it had happened yesterday . There is a freeway nearby the scene today that hadn’t been there in the 1960s , but with his explanation I could visualize the tram accident . The tracks were changed following the disaster , he told me . They were removed .
We were standing on the parapet of the castle , where repair work is now going on . Premek pointed to cannon mounts on the walls . ” Do you remember the cannons ? ” he asked . They were mounted on the castle wall and have been removed during renovation work . Yes , I remember the cannons .
” This brings us to disaster number two , ” he said . He told me about the area just below the walls , down by the river . In past years it had been an open area used as a Sunday market , where people gathered for a little trading and relaxation on Sundays . One Sunday in the early 1970s , during special festivities , young soldiers were assigned to fire the cannons as part of the celebrations . One of the ancient iron cannons blew apart when fired . Premek described the results .
We then walked a few hundred yards further , away from but near the castle . Catherine the Great was born in a house nearby . Premek pointed the house out to me , but our tour was a disaster tour , so we moved along .
It’s good to have a local man tell tales of the city he loves and has lived in all of his life .
And then we came to the plaza where tragic events happened in 1970 , where people were killed and the Communist Party headquarters building was burned . The Solidarity movement ten years later used these events to trace the historical changes in Polish government . Nowadays there is a museum in the plaza area and the sculpture of an angel on the spot . Usually in America we hear of happenings in Gdansk , of Lech Walesa , etc. , connected with Solidarity , but not of events in Sczcecin .
Szczecin was a major shipbuilding center at the time , however . The Szczecin shipyard workers’ union struck , as shipyard workers did in Gdansk , and major historical changes began to take place in Poland .
Przemek summarized the events in December of 1970 for me , and then we moved on up the street to the scene of the Cascada fire . There is a shopping mall on the spot now , called Cascada .
We were having a good time , though , my friend Przemek and I , two history buffs , walking and talking about the city’s past . We both appreciate knowing the value of being aware of from where you’ve come . Maybe it makes us appreciate what we have now a little more .