Crossing cultural boundaries in Krakow

Crossing cultural boundaries in Krakow

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By Jonathan Bousfield
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Poland’s oldest football team, Cracovia Kraków, serves as a metaphor for the multicultural history of the city. During the interwar years, Cracovia was nicknamed the “Yids” because significant members of Kraków’s Jewish community were on both the terraces and the team sheet. It also happened to be the favourite team of local boy Karol Wojtyła, who would later become Pope John Paul II.

Before World War II, many of Cracovia’s supporters came from Kazimierz, the inner-city suburb where Poles and Jews had lived cheek-by-jowl for centuries. Most of Kazimierz’s Jews perished in the nearby camps of Płaszów and Auschwitz, but their synagogues and tenement houses remain, providing a walk-round history lesson in Jewish heritage and culture. Kazimierz’s complex identity is underlined by the presence of some of Kraków’s most revered medieval churches. In May the suburb’s narrow streets swell with the solemn, banner-bearing Corpus Christi processions that are among the best-attended events in the Polish Catholic calendar.

Today Kazimierz’s Jewish population is a tiny fraction of what it was in the 1930s, but the district retains a vibrant melting-pot atmosphere – thanks in large part to its varied population of working-class Poles, impoverished artists and inner-city yuppies. The most dramatic change of recent years has been its reinvention as a bohemian nightlife district, full of zanily decorated cellar bars, pubs that look like antique shops and cafés that double as art galleries. With the area’s non-conformist, anything-goes atmosphere drawing increasing numbers of the open-minded, tolerant and curious, Kazimierz is emerging once more as a unique incubator of cultural exchange.

The tourist information office is at ul. Jozefa 7 (http://www.krakow.pl). The Cracovia stadium lies west of the town centre on al. Focha.

 

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