On our second day in Krakow, we decided to do something different and went on a Communist tour, where we would visit the planned socialist realist community of Nowa Huta. It was built to be a communist utopia of some sort.
We weren’t supposed to meet until 11, so in my aggressive FOMO mindset, I was hoping that we could get a quick breakfast before doing a quick tour of the university library and then heading over the meeting point. Our breakfast wait was a little slow, though, meaning we had just enough time to eat. The Krakovian breakfast spread was pretty delicious, though.
Now, here’s a fun fact about the tour we took. It was in a Trabant, the East German-built car that you could have the honor of buying if you made it off of a decade long waitlist. I didn’t realize how small these cars were until a bright green car rolled up to our meeting point. Another fun fact is that you can get a pretty good core workout climbing in and out of the backseat of those cars, especially if you’re a little taller. Driving in the car was slightly terrifying and it didn’t want to start at some point, but we survived the tour.
Nowa Huta is about a 15-20 minute drive out of the city center. Although our guide explained to us that Nowa Huta was built to be a utopian community and a tool for propaganda, I couldn’t help but expect to see rows and rows of the stereotypical Communist era housing. The community was actually built more in the style of Paris, even taking on the concepts of the large avenues and neighborhoods. The residents, in theory, would have everything they needed within their neighborhood. It was also built by the people. As it was explained, if you helped build the city, you would have a flat in the city.
We stopped for some quick drinks in the one sit down restaurant of the neighborhood. Over these drinks, our guide gave us some background and history and progression of communism in Poland during those decades. She infused some stories of her family’s own experiences into the history as well, giving it a more personal touch. There was also vodka involved, so Oppa was happy.
Our next stop was to see the old factory area. You need special permission to actually get into the factory, so we stuck to the outside. A key component of Nowa Huta was that it would be built around a factory and that the factory workers would be able to live in the city and commute to the factory each day. The name of the town even means new factory.
There is a factory there now, although it’s not nearly as big as the factory that was once there and they may or may not do steel (as the old factory did). It also used to be named after Lenin but is now named after a famous Polish scientist.
We had one more stop to see an old enormous tank and catch a glimpse of one of the city’s theaters.
There was one point of interest in Nowa Huta that we did not stop at and that’s the church. For obvious reasons, the initial plans did not include a church, but Poland is a very religious country and the residents of Nowa Huta wanted a church. After much petitioning, a demonstration involving the erection of a large cross and some lobbying from the then-bishop of Krakow (who we now know as Pope John Paul II). They had to build it, though, and could not use the local steel being made down the street. The result was a massive church essentially built from pebbles with subtle nods to Catholic stories built into it.
With that, our tour of Nowa Huta was over and we got dropped off at Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter. It was actually built as a separate city that later merged with Krakow. W didn’t really have a set plan for the area, except I knew that there was interesting street art in the area and that I would want us to ultimately get to Ghetto Heroes Square and Schindler’s Factory. We were also told by our guide before we were dropped off that we absolutely had to try zapiekanki while were in Poland and that there was a really great area to try it in Kazimierz.
We didn’t end up finding the zapiekanki. It involved us finding a large yellow circular building (I think) and we were never really able to track it down. On the other hand, we did end up at the Father Bernatek Footbridge, which is a pedestrian bridge (lined with locks, of course) but also adorned with a number of gravity-defying acrobatic sculptures. It was pretty impressive.
From the river, we walked over to Ghetto Heroes Square. The square used to be the gate to the Jewish ghetto, but is now the site of a powerful monument consisting of 33 empty chairs. The chairs are there as a memorial to the residents of the ghetto who would lose their lives.
It was a somewhat long walk, but we went from there to Schindler’s Factory. Due to the holiday hours, the museum in the factory was closing right around when we got there. It was unfortunate as I was looking forward to seeing the museum.
It would have been a long walk back to the Old Town, so we caught a cab to get back. The rest of the day was pretty low-key. We got to end the day with an early Easter dinner at a restaurant in Old Town.