jewel in kraków

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Kraków (or Cracow) is a real European Jewel.

For centuries Kraków was Poland’s most important city –  a  place of artists, scholars and kings. Its magnificent town square, atmospheric cobbled-stone streets, ancient buildings and medieval castle on a hill replete with stories of a resident dragon are stuff on which Gothic fantasies are dreamt up.

Kraków is also a lucky city. It could easily have ended up after the Second World War like Warsaw, Poznan and Gdansk – Polish cities that were vandalised, mutilated and destroyed either by the Nazi occupiers on their way out or the Soviet invaders on their way in.

Some historians say that in January 1945 Konev the Soviet Commander purposefully liberated Kraków in time to save it. Most people now believe that, in truth, the Nazis were simply just too busy running for their lives to have time to lay a dynamite in every house.

Whether by dint of fate or a miracle, Kraków was left unharmed. The beautiful city you see today is authentically old and original.

Sadly not everything about Kraków survived the German Occupation. Kraków’s large and important Jewish population did not. It was entirely wiped out. The Jewish citizens of Kraków were herded like cattles and taken to concentration camps and killing factories in  Bełżec, Plaszow and nearby Auschwitz to be murdered on an industrial scale.

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The genuinely eccentric Krakowian charm
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Beautiful Olga at her coffee kiosk
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Poland has a population of about 38.6 million. The population growth rate stands at a paltry 0.02% a year but at least, unlike most of Eastern Europe, it is not falling by much despite high emigration.
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Striding past a traditional Polish restaurant
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At a park in Krakow
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Krakow has a tradition of learning. Young people from all over the country come to study at the Jagiellonian University, the second oldest in Eastern Europe, founded on 12 May 1364 by Casimir the Great

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Youthful commuters at a tram stop
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In 2013 Krakow was made a UNESCO City of Literature in recognition of the city’s reading and scholarship tradition. Other cities awarded around the world include Edinburgh (2004) and Baghdad (2015)

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Although Poland in November 2010 finally followed Europe in banning smoking in public areas, the country remains moderately smoker-friendly.

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The Krakow Barbican built around 1498 is the remnant of a system of fortifications and defences that once encircled the city

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Ci, co wiedzieli
o co tutaj szło,
musza ustąpić miejsca tym,
co wiedzą mało.
I mniej niż mało.
I wreszcie tyle co nic.

W trawie, która porosła
przyczyny i skutki,
musi ktoś sobie leżeć
z kłosem w zębach
i gapić się na chmury.

 

 

Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass which has overgrown
reasons and causes,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

 

From “The End and the Beginning” by Wisława Szymborska, translated by Joanna Trezeciak

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Graffitied-shop front in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz

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Electric trams were introduced in 1901 when Krakow was part of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire.
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Polish comfort food – pork fat spread or smalec on crusty bread
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Club owner cum jazz saxophonist piping before the gig

Words and Pictures Copyright Kerk Boon Leng May 2016

 

3 thoughts on “jewel in kraków

  1. Kerk, Szymborska’s (whole) poem is a snapshot of our world’s dark history. I get the sense, by leaving us with the tail-end, you wanted your readers to find out themselves. On the other hand, given that the ‘main event’ is impending, Olga’s beautiful smile is a contagion for world peace.

    After every war
    someone has to clean up.
    Things won’t
    straighten themselves up, after all.

    Someone has to push the rubble
    to the side of the road,
    so the corpse-filled wagons
    can pass.

    Someone has to get mired
    in scum and ashes,
    sofa springs,
    splintered glass,
    and bloody rags.

    Someone has to drag in a girder
    to prop up a wall.
    Someone has to glaze a window,
    rehang a door.

    Photogenic it’s not,
    and takes years.
    All the cameras have left
    for another war.

    We’ll need the bridges back,
    and new railway stations.
    Sleeves will go ragged
    from rolling them up.

    Someone, broom in hand,
    still recalls the way it was.
    Someone else listens
    and nods with unsevered head.
    But already there are those nearby
    starting to mill about
    who will find it dull.

    From out of the bushes
    sometimes someone still unearths
    rusted-out arguments
    and carries them to the garbage pile.

    Those who knew
    what was going on here
    must make way for
    those who know little.
    And less than little.
    And finally as little as nothing.

    In the grass that has overgrown
    causes and effects,
    someone must be stretched out
    blade of grass in his mouth
    gazing at the clouds.

  2. Nice, nice, nice as usual. You may should change your name to “Hawk-eye” with all the pretty girls you catch on film.!?

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