I am a bit behind in posting about my weekends so I have some catching up to do!
A few weekends ago I took a tour with my program of Nowa Huta, which is a district of Kraków to the west of the Old Town. Nowa Huta literally translates to “new mill” which refers to the steel mill that originally employed most of the citizens of the area and is still operational today. Nowa Huta was initially planned as a communist paradise which is reflected in the symmetrical layout of the city and even in the sparse and simplistic architecture of the buildings built in the style of Socialist Realism. The district is quite spread-out and it was built on previously unused land, which allowed it to continue expanding as more people moved to the city.
When we went on our tour, we were picked up in small cars called “Trabants” which were popular in communist states because they were cheap to produce and cheap to repair; the ones that we were riding in were built in the 70s! The cars are absolutely tiny and we could barely fit in the back and it was a bit like a game of tetris, but it was a really cool way to see this part of the city.
We drove around the neighborhood and went to the Avenue of Roses, which was a very important square when Nowa Huta was initially built. There were parades and demonstrations there, and a large statue of Vladimir Lenin once stood there as well. Polish citizens continually tried to deface the statue and tear it down as a symbolic protest against communism, and eventually it was taken down in 1989 and the area is now used as a park for kids playing soccer.
As part of our tour we also saw the inside of an apartment furnished with some of the original furniture and appliances of the time. It was quite literally like stepping into a different time period, with framed pictures of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin on the wall and a lot of the original furniture and appliances. Indoor plumbing wasn’t that common across Poland, so these apartments were also particularly impressive, and they were also reasonably priced and overall a pretty good deal.
Later on we sat down to watch a propaganda video about Nowa Huta used to convince citizens around the country to come to the new ‘communist utopia. It highlighted the available jobs at the steel mill, schools for education, and above all equality of opportunity. But what the video didn’t show was the empty shelves in stores, the ration cards, and the high inflation that made it quite a problematic paradise. Still, watching the video helped me understand the conditions that many Poles experienced after the war and it helps me better understand my own family’s history because my mother grew up in Nowa Huta before she moved to the United States.
At the very end of our tour, after seeing enough communist propaganda for one afternoon, we all had to lighten the mood so we participated in a Polish tradition—shots of vodka with a pickle!
Before I actually visited Nowa Huta I thought that it was a small and almost abandoned neighborhood that would look gray and dreary, but as with so many of my experiences in Europe—I was surprised. Not only is Nowa Huta so large and open, but it is very green and full of parks and even lakes to visit. The district is still filled with the older generation that moved to Nowa Huta during communist rule but younger families are also coming into the neighborhood and more businesses are coming in as well.
Our trip to Nowa Huta was so interesting but we really only saw a small part—I’ll definitely have to go back to do some more exploring!