It took me awhile to write this post. I’ve generally not felt particularly compelled to blog mostly due to some big stress factors in my personal life. I just lost the will to do much of anything at all to be honest. I have pondered quite a bit on how to approach this blog post. Should I cram the whole trip into one post? Split it up into days? Districts? I’ve decided to just split it into a couple of post. Today’s post is about Cracow’s former Jewish Quarter districts: Kazimierz. I’m starting here because this is the spot we stayed at and thus probably spet most of our time at.
Kazimierz was actually it’s own city back in 1340 established by and named after the Polish king Kazimierz the Great. At the end of the XVth centaury economical and political conflicts between ethnic Polish and Jewish populations in Cracow had increased. To pacify the situation, John I Albert King of Poland and Duke of Głogów, decided to split former Kazimierz between a Jewish and Christian districts. At that time, Kazimierz also attracted artisans from all over the place as they could operate there cheaper than in Cracow. In 1822 all restrictions had been lifted and Jewish residents were allowed to established themselves in all of Kazimierz and Cracow as a whole.
Pre-WWII Cracow was inhibited by 65 thousand Polish Jews and was home to over 90 synagogues ad prayer rooms. It was frequently referred to as the main Jewish cultural center in Europe. All this came to an abrupt stop after the brutal Nazi German invasion from which the city has never fully recovered. After the war, Kazimierz became a poor and rundown area of the city with rampant poverty and increasing numbers crime. Only in recent years, this area has transformed into the hip part of town with many creatives flocking here to work and socialize.
But enough about the past. I’d like to proceed to the part where I tell you a bit more about what this district of Cracow has to offer today.
We had arrived at our hotel, Metropolitan Boutique Hotel (ul. Berka Joselewicza 19, Stare Miasto, 31-031 Kraków, Polska) in the late afternoon. There was no particular reason why we chose this hotel besides the fact that it lived up to our minimal standards (within walking distance of many places I had wanted to visit + had it’s own parking area). We got upgraded to the Junior Suite ,which was very lovely and specious. The restaurant was okay. A rather basic but decent continental breakfast. The a la carte menu could be a bit bigger. We ate something there only once + one time room service mainly because there just wasn’t all that much to choose from. I had a brownie with vanilla ice cream and merigue as well as a non-alcoholic cocktail per staff’s suggestion one evening and that was the extent of it. All in all, I had really enjoyed my stay in this hotel nevertheless.
Shortly after arrival, we left our hotel to grab something to eat. We went to Szeroka street, it’s more like a square but I digress, which used to be the heart of Kazimierz and houses two of the most important synagogues in Cracow: Old and Remuh. Today it’s mostly dotted with restaurants and eateries. We settled on Hamsa: a restaurant serving middle eastern/Isreali & North African-fusion food and drinks. It also houses a Jewish bookshop and a tourist agency in the same building. We picked a Moroccan lamb tagine with apricots as well as some falafel with pitta bread on the side. For drink I went with a non-alcoholic (I don’t like alcohol but enjoy mixed drinks so I appreciate when restaurants and bars carry those) cranberry cocktail while Dan picked his trusty lemonade. We both really enjoyed everything at this restaurant. It has a lovely garden/courtyard area in the back (where we chose to sit) as well as a decently sized indoor dining area. I’d definitely come back to this restaurant if I ever have another chance.
Just around the corner from Hamsa is the famous Kazimierz ‘photo spot’ – Miodowa Street. You can snap some cute shots with shop signs stylized to look like old artisan marquees. Other things to do or see in around Szeroka street are things such as live performances of klezmer bands (Klezmerhojs holds these performances almost every evening – Szeroka 6, 31-053 Kraków) , tasting unique Eastern European Jewish cuisine (for example at Ariel’s – Szeroka 18, 31-053 Kraków) & public art exhibits. For those who love reading, I highly recommend visiting Wolf Popper Synagogue’s book shop by Wydawnictwo Austeria. They publish a large selection of books (novels, poetry, history, cookbooks etc.) surrounding Jewish heritage, literature, culture & tradition. They have quite a wide selection of books in English so it’s not just for Polish speaker. As the artsy-fartsy soul that I am; at times, I feel a sense of despair and sadness thinking of all the works of art that we are destined to never experience due to language barriers so I adore publishers like this. The ones that focus heavily on bringing us those literary works that we would ,probably, other wise never have a chance to explore and experience. I’ve personally picked two books: ‘Legends of Polish Jews’ and ‘Żydowski Krakow’ (‘Jewish Cracow’). I have been reading the latter and really enjoying it thus far. In front of the synagogue you will find a Marc Chagall inspired mural. Chagall was an early modernist painter mostly known for dream like compositions depicting elements of Jewish tradition, Eastern European folklore, peasant life, animals and generally… a lot of flying things… it’s kind of fauvism meets symbolism and cubism with a dash of avant garde.
Szeroka street is absolutely lovely. The only criticism I have is the ever present cars. I think this small square could really benefit from being a non-car zone. (…same for Cracow’s main old town square honestly.)
If you happen to be in Kazimierz on Saturday you may want to check out a little flea market on Plac Nowy (Nowy Square). It’s honestly not that extensive. At least when we went there. There were only a few stalls around. However, the area is full of interesting cafes, restaurants and bars. You will also find antique shops and other peculiar little places in the close vicinity to Plac Nowy. Honestly, Kazimierz is chuck full of amazing and unique places to dine and drink. I had so many on my list but ,unfortunately, I couldn’t visit them all. After our little flea market stop we went to Klub Alchemia (Estery 5, 31-056 Kraków) for a little morning tea/coffee. It’s a jazz bar but all kinds of music and art centered parties take place there. O regular days you can visit for drinks and lunch – which is what we did. The club interior is filled with antiques and all sorts of miscellaneous items. It’s very cozy with a bohemian atmosphere.
Another interesting cafe I can highly recommend is Cheder cafe on Józefa street (Józefa 36, 31-056 Kraków). This cafe is run by Jewish Culture Festival Association in a former prayer house. It’s name ‘Cheder’ means room or primary school for boys in Yiddish. Living up to it’s name it’s a cozy place ,which frequently hosts lectures, film screenings, concerts and other events promoting Judaism, Jewish cultural education and exchanges between Isreal and Poland. One of the things you will probably notice straight away when you enter is an impressive library of Jewish-related books, many of which are in English. Cheder’s specialty is coffee brewed in finjan. Finjan is an Arabic term ,which refers to a brass pot for brewing black coffee. Its particularly popular among Israelis. The cafe also serves a diverse range of snacks and dishes inspired by the Middle-Eastern cuisine. We came early and got ourselves a finjan coffee with cardamon and spices as well as some baklava. As a black coffee drinker – I was a huge fan. It’s possibly the most delicious coffee I have ever tried. My hubby was less enthusiastic about it, as a person who likes their coffee with milk exclusively, thus he quickly ordered himself the good old flat white. If you enjoy coffee and never had a chance to drink a finjan brew before – this place is a must visit!
I will end this Kazimierz ‘food-and-drink’ saga on a small burger bar Beef Burger Bar (Warszauera 1, 31-057 Kraków) and The Tokio Tower (Podbrzezie 2, 31-054 Kraków). We have admittedly had most of our meals in other parts of town so aside from these spots and Hamsa I do not have much to recommend.
BBB is a tiny burger bar that serves well… burgers. I have to admit I’m not a huge burger connoisseur. To me there is only two types of burgers: the fast foody type and other/the better version of the fast foody kind. I do prefer the latter though I cannot lie… I enjoy both :). What makes these burgers a bit different is that they are served in a flat bread/bun ,which makes it much less messy and thus easier to eat than regular burgers. We were lucky enough to get the sitting spots on the bar stools facing the windows but overall, I feel like eating there otherwise wouldn’t be a too comfortable of an experience. In the end we both enjoyed our burgers. Dan also ordered some fries but those were less delicious than expected.
The Tokio Tower is another small restaurant. It’s serving Japanse comfort food: mostly katsudon and Japanese curry. We both ordered the katsudon set with miso soup. Not much to say here – it was delicious. I’m a particularly big fan of this uncomplicated dish and I was not disappointed. Katsudon seems like a simple dish but somehow outside of Japan it’s frequently just not done right! It’s not the case for The Tokyo Tower. Highly recommended! Big thanks to sweet Aleksadra ( @cottoncandyflavor on ig) for this; and many other foodie tips in Cracow.
Okay, but what else is there to do in Kazimierz? Well, there is some interesting museums such as Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory and the Ethnographic Museum. The latter I’m always a big fan of as a lover of folklore. However, the museum I’d like to recommend in the area, is the Galicia Jewish Museum (Dajwór 18, 31-052 Kraków). *sic -via wikipedia* ‘Galicia Jewish Museum is a photo exhibition documenting the remnants of Jewish culture and life in Polish Galicia, which used to be very vibrant in this area.’ The museum takes you though personal stories and experiences of people from Polish Galicia in a very personable and touching way. It also tackles the close yet tense and complicated relationship Polish Jews tend to have with their roots as well as the ups and downs of the Jewish presence in Poland post WWII until today. This place really struck an emotional cord with me. The story telling through the medium of photography and film interviews was fantastic even though it may appear rather dull in its presentation at first. A must visit for me!
What else? Well, I guess I will have to give the standard ‘olivcho’ answer here: Just go and explore. Take a walk if you have the time. See what you can discover in this fascinating part of Cracow!
‘Hate is easy, love requires effort and dedication.‘ – Mark Edelman. From ‘And There Was Love in the Ghetto’,
“People can be only divided into good or bad; their ethnicity, nationality, religion, education, wealth – don’t matter. The thing that matters is the type of person they are.” – Irena Sendlerowa. From Anioł czasu zagłady, „Przegląd Polski”, 23 maja 2008.