Kazimierz





Kazimierz is the Jewish District of Kraków. It is also now THE place to hang out due to its abundance of characterful bars, restaurants, shops brimming with artwork, antique shops and unique Kazimierz cafe culture. It is bohemian, full of spirit and its own vibrant atmosphere. 

It flourished for 500 years as the centre of Jewish life in Kraków. However, this life and culture was snuffed out by the Nazi invasion when the district's residents were decanted firstly to the Ghetto in Podgorze across the river, and then finally to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. After the war the area became run down, brimming with vagrants and crumbling, empty buildings. The life and culture gone and the ghosts of the dead whistling with the wind through the gaping holes in walls and collapsed roofs. 
Dilapidated courtyard, Kazimierz
What happened to the residents of these apartments?
Jewish residents being forced out of their homes to be moved across the river to the Podgórze ghetto
 Image courtesy of the Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team


The same street corner in Kazimierz today
Kazimierz 1990 - abandoned buildings
Abandoned building
Neighbourhood bakery
With the fall of the Berlin Wall however, and the end of communism, the area has started to flourish once again. Life has returned to the abandoned buildings. There is such an abundance of remnants of Jewish life from the past that it has become a pilgrimage for many to experience the area. This of course has been encouraged by it featuring prominently in Speilberg's "Schindler's List". The area also hosts a world renowned Jewish Cultural Festival every late June/early July which culminates in a massive street party on Szeroka. 

Synagogues, Jewish museums, book shops, historical sites mean that this has to be the best, and only place left in Europe, that gives a true feel of what Jewish life would have been like pre WW2.

KAZIMIERZ SIGHT SEEING
To reach Kazimierz on foot from the Rynek Glowny (Old Town Square), walk south along ul. Grodzka and at the end turn left onto Stradomska. Continue along Stradomska, cross Gertrudy and then Jozefa Dietla (don’t be tempted to “jay walk” the red lights at the crossing points – tourists are not exempt from on the spot fines!) Soon now you will be able to turn left into ul. Jozefa – the first access way to Kazimierz; or you may continue a short distance to Plac Wolnica guarded by the old Town Hall building. 

Plac Wolnica and the impressive town hall - now the Ethnographic museum

Immediately there is the opportunity to visit the fascinating Ethnographic Museum. http://etnomuzeum.eu/ Yes, this place does sound like it should be a complete bore, however, a tour around its 3 floors takes you into the world of traditional Polish folk culture. There are replicas of rural dwellings, authentic folk costumes and utterly fascinating, and sometimes scary, displays about the background to Polish traditions.


Ethnographic Museum

From Wolnica, head towards the imposing Corpus Christi church on Bozega Ciala. Like most Krakow churches, the exterior disguises the jaw dropping interior. Don't miss a visit inside.


Corpus Christi Church

At the first intersection on Bozega Ciala, turn right into ul. Jozefa. Although you cannot access this, number 5 Jozefa has a courtyard that featured in "Schindler's List" in the famous scene with the Nazis stamping around the balconies to empty the ghetto.




Number 5 Jozefa courtyard and the scene from "Schindler's List"

Cross the road on ul. Jozefa and enter the courtyard of number 12. This is the Kamienica building, the courtyard of which once again featured prominently in "Schindler's List" and is often mobbed by tour groups gawping around. It is also where Stajnia pub/restaurant now resides and the courtyard and passageway through the building are bedecked and decorated with rugs, furniture, tables, chairs and vintage bric-a-brac. It also houses the legendary summer garden of the most wonderfully awesome pub, Mleczarnia. (please look at pubs page for more detail).








Piccies of Kamienica courtyard and passageway

Returning to Jozefa you will need some time to enjoy perusing the art, crafts, vintage clothing and souvenir shops. Useful guides and info is available at the tourist office found at number 9. 
ul. Jozefa 

 Mural of Kazimierz's most famous inhabitants
One of the many hidden courtyard pubs

Number 11 Jozefa has a fascinating history. It is here that students of the nearby Corpus Christi church supplemented their income by charging Jews a transit fee to travel into the city centre!

As you venture down Jozefa, the old Jewish town proper begins where Jozefa meets ul. Jakuba. Indeed, a guarded main gateway stood here for centuries. Next to this junction is the High Synagogue (Wysoka), one of the oldest synagogues in the neighbourhood. Its name comes from the fact that the actual synagogue was on the first floor. Sadly, this building's interior was ransacked by the Nazis, however, it does house some interesting exhibitions. Also, don't miss the bookshop on the ground floor.
 Some of the many quirky shops on Jozefa



 The High Synagogue


 The Torah Prayer House


Ul. Jozefa

Close to the High Synagogue is a building that stands out due to the obvious carved stars of David on the exterior. This is number 42 and was the Torah Prayer House dating from the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Stara Synagogue
At the end of ul. Jozefa, take a left and walk towards the Stara (old) Synagogue which bookends the edge of Szeroka. At this point you might want to take a detour to the Galicia Museum. The main exhibition here is entitled "Traces of Memory" and introduces visitors to images of Jewish life as it existed in southern Poland prior to the Holocaust. The aim is to keep the memory of this life alive and should really be an essential stop-off for any visitors venturing to Kazimierz. There are some very haunting images of wrecked synagogues, forest massacre sites and death camps that leave an lasting impression. It is located at ul. Dajwor number 18.
SZEROKA
This was the former Jewish market place and is basically a long, wide street.
Jewish Restaurants and Bars on Szeroka
Today it is lined with bars, hotels and restaurants, and is a wonderful place to spend warm summer evenings. The terrace seating areas outside them are usually complimented by musicians either busking or providing the entertainment for specific restaurants. A good place to soak it up, is the decking outside the Rubinstein Hotel (named after Helena Rubenstein who was born next door). That way you get the full benefit of the music from Ptaszyl on one side, and Awiw on the other. Incidentally, it is not recommended to eat at any of these venues. There are far superior and better value eateries in Kazimierz. Awiw in particular is not recommended, even for drinks, as the service is indifferent, cocktails not the best value, and there is a 10% service charge automatically added onto the bill. In fact, sadly, drinks prices here are on a par with the main square and this has changed the ambiance and clientele from being a bohemian local hang out, to essentially a tourist niche. However, it is still worth hanging out here for a drink or two to absorb the atmosphere. Also, the huge concert at the end of the Jewish Cultural Festival on this very street is an absolute must!
Szeroka
There are some important historic sites to note on this street. At one end, as already mentioned, is the Old Synagogue. This was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and is the oldest example of Jewish architecture existing in Poland today. It actually does not function as a synagogue any more, but does house interesting displays in it's museum which will give you a good feel for the lives and customs of Krakow's Jews.
Next to it the smart bank building originally housed the Na Gorce Synagogue. Walking along the pavement towards the other end of Szeroka you will pass the Popper Synagogue which has exhibition space and artists in residence. Plod on further and you will happen upon the Klezmer House hotel/restaurant. This used to be the old community bathhouse "mikveh".
Klezmer House

Opposite this, those familiar with "Schindler's List" will recognise the railings. They provided the backdrop for one of the film's most harrowing scenes depicting the emptying of the ghetto. More importantly though, the little garden enclosed by the railings has a memorial at the end of it stating "Place of meditation upon the martyrdom of 65,000 Polish citizens of Jewish nationality from Cracow".
The other "bookend" of  Szeroka houses a great bookshop (Jarden) and the "not to be missed" faux shop fronts of the truly atmospheric, must visit pub/restaurant "Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz". More detail on this can be found on the pub/restaurant page.
Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz

The final point of  interest on Szeroka is the Remuh Synagogue (number 40) and cemetery. the latter contains the graves of many important characters from Jewish history and has tombstones dating back to the 16th century. Of interest is the wall around the cemetery, which consists of gravestones smashed up by the Nazis. The synagogue itself has been under renovation for quite some years now and the cemetery is sadly overgrown and poorly tended. There are some very moving plaques on the wall of the synagogue courtyard. Amazingly, the synagogue still functions to this day!
Remuh Synagogue

From the Remuh Synagogue, stroll along Szeroka to a small alleyway called Lewkowa. Half way along this alleyway turn into ul. Ciemna past the hotels Eden and David. Cross and continue to the corner of Ciemna and Kupa where the entrance to the Izaak Synagogue is. Again, this synagogue's interior was stripped out by the Nazis but today it now houses concerts, Jewish functions and a Jewish street food takeaway!
PLAC NOWY
Ul. Izaaka leads from the synagogue to one of Krakow's best known squares - Plac Nowy. This was another important Jewish market square (sometimes referred to as the Jewish square) and today is very much the centre of Kazimierz's bustling heart. It is now lined with bars, cafes, stalls, restaurants and is an absolute must for the visitor to experience what Kazimierz is all about. Still at its heart is the red brick rotunda which used to be a ritual Jewish slaughterhouse for poultry (the Okragiak). This rotunda still had this function right up until the Nazi invasion. To this day, poultry stalls can be found inside it. It's exterior is surrounded by serving hatches which predominantly dispatch 'zapiekanka' (kinda like a french bread pizza) to lines of hungry students, locals and visitors. It is said to not have a zapiekanka whilst in Krakow would be like visiting Dublin and not having a Guinness and Plac Nowy is THE place to try it.
 The Rotunda

The square also houses a market which always offers interesting wares. Most noteable is the flea market that occurs here on a Saturday and the clothes market on a Sunday. Thursday is the day for the bird market (yes - live birds are bought and sold here). Additionally, the Saturday flea market is regularly being supplemented by local artists and young entrepreneurs flogging their creations.
Plac Nowy itself initially appears to the visitor as a ramshackle, vagrant and pigeon infested 'down at heel' dump in total contrast tot the opulence of the old town. However, do not be put off. This place has such vibrancy and bohemian spirit it makes it truly unique. The bars and cafes surrounding the square offer wonderfully atmospheric interiors or pavement seating from which you absorb the bustling life of the square.
 The Singer
Alchemia
"Alchemia" and "The Singer" are the most notable hostelries (check out the bars and restaurants page for more information). Indeed, these two bars were the first to spring up in the initial post communism years, and epitomise the Kazimierz spirit that cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world. Additionally though, Plac Nowy offers a myriad of other bars and restaurants that energise the square making it pump with life, especially in the evening from Thursday to Sunday. Do not miss a night out here! 
From Plac Nowy head west to ul. Meiselsa. Here you will pass the Judaica Foundation with its lovely rooftop terrace and 'glory hole' antiques/bric a brac basement. Next door is the wonderful beer garden of Mleczarnia already mentioned and the cafe itself across the street. Do not miss stopping here for a refreshment.
 Mleczarnia
Street art 
From here, double back to Plac Nowy and head west to ul. Miodowa. On the corner with ul. Podbrzezie stands the Temple Synagogue.

BEYOND PLAC NOWY
There is quite a collection of synagogues in Kazimierz but alas, most of them have remained empty shells after their innards were ransacked by the Nazis. However, the Temple Synagogue on ul. Miodowa 24 gives a colourful feel for how synagogues should look. The interior is the grandest of those in Kazimierz and well worth a visit. There is also a superb postcard/art shop next to it and the Jewish Cultural Centre (JCC) is found behind it. Pop in to find out more about how Jewish life is coming back to Kazimierz.
JCC
Across the road from the JCC along ul. Warszauera is the Synagoga Kupa embedded within what remains of the old defensive walls of the area.
Temple Synagogue

 Temple Synagogue Interior
 Temple Synagogue Interior
Temple Synagogue Interior

Other places to venture in Kazimierz include the City engineering museum (ul. Św. Wawrzyńca 15. The bar across from it Stara Zajezdnia is a great hangout in the warm summer afternoons and evenings with its own brewery, deck chairs and open air cinema screenings. It is also becoming a popular concert venue.
Stara Zajezdnia
Just along from here on ul. Św. Wawrzyńca is the Food Truck Square. This is basically an area of Kazimeirz waste land which in true Kazimierz style has now become the home of bizarre fast food stalls housed in old caravans, trucks and buses!


 Food Truck Square



Judah
Of note is the mural on the wall here. Entitled 'Judah,' it was created by by Pil Peled who is apparently one of Israel's most famous street artists. It emerged in July 2013 as part of the annual Jewish Culture Festival. Supposedly the image of the child represents fear, vulnerability and the inner child, and the lion represents the Jews' struggle to survive and preserve their culture, as well as strength.

THE NEW JEWISH CEMETERY

Many people visit Kazimierz but only trudge to the obvious, well frequented areas. Places such as the New Jewish Cemetery are therefore sadly ignored. However, it is actually a very interesting and poignant reminder of the life that once flourished here and how it was cruelly snuffed out. History is still here, in the raw for the intrepid visitor to seek out.

Its name is actually a misnomer as it is distinctly not new! This enormous cemetery was established in 1800 and was the burial ground for many of Kraków's distinguished Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was built on land bought from Augustinian monks and is now accessed by crossing ul. Starowiślna at the end of ul. Miodowa, and walking under the archway underneath the main Kraków/Tarnów railway line. The road bends round to the left and you will see the cemetery wall and red brick pre-burial hall in front of you. Just before the pre-burial hall is the main entrance. Men, please make sure you cover your head. There is usually a small table with skull caps and a donation box when you enter.
The pre-burial hall is in a very sad, graffiti covered state at present, but hearteningly it is about to undergo renovation. Ahead you will be faced with a wall of gravestones inscribed in Hebrew lettering: some clearly very old, others distinctly new and shiny! Candles and flowers show that many people still come here to pay their respects.

Immediately on your right is a large memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. It is reads to "The memory of murdered Jews, victims of Nazi genocide 1939-45". The plaques on it commemorate individuals and whole families that perished. There are also pieces of nineteenth century tombstones with Hebrew inscriptions embedded into the monument.

Holocaust Monument 
Beyond this, is a lengthy mosaic on the inside of the cemetery wall of broken up gravestones. Sporadically along this wall are plaques inserted here by survivors dedicated to Jews killed in the death camps. I defy anyone not to be very moved when reading these!


The cemetery itself is very overcrowded which is typical of Jewish cemeteries across Europe. Indeed here, it became so crowded they even had to put graves onto the walkways between the rows of tombs!

Graves in the paths between tombs!
Towards the bottom right hand end of the cemetery, the graves become altogether more broken up and wrecked. This area conveys a sinister air as it is here that the German Nazis destroyed the tombstones, broke them up, including smashing ceremonial objects, opened up graves and scattered the bones. Despite an attempt to tidy up this devastation in 1957, the mess still remains to this day. It is evidence of Nazi anti-Semitism for all to witness. The ground is still covered in broken up tombs, smashed urns, glass and rubble.

Smashed up graves - the work of the Nazis
Many of the tombstones in the cemetery are now actually no more than memorials to entire families that were killed in the Holocaust, which now lie in overgrown clusters. There are a number of notable people who are commemorated or buried here which are very well documented in the small guidebook entitled "Jewish Krakow" by Eugeniusz Duda. It is sad that rebirth of Kazimierz has not yet spread to the New Cemetery, but I do recommend a visit here.

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