Krakow past and present

This is a fun thing to do in Krakow. I came across a site featuring old photographs of the city and wondered what these places look like now. Here’s an example: a shot of Plac Nowy in the Kazimierz district taken in 1979 and the same view (more or less) taken today (Sunday 13th April, 2008).

Plac Nowy 1979

Plac Nowy 2008

Kazimierz is famously the hip and trendy bohemian quarter of Krakow and Plac Nowy is hip central. To misquote Douglas Adams, the place is so hip it can barely see over its own pelvis. Plac Nowy is ringed by distressed bars, cafes, dives, hangouts and other sorts of places lusted after by romantically inclined Westerners. You can barely move for quirky accordion/French horn trios, stubbly desperados, world-weary danger chicks, and people seriously considering writing a novel. It’s a great place to get tremendously drunk while pretending that you’re suffering on some obscurely existential level. I go down there sometimes; often the revelers are inclined to poke me with a stick to see if a human being of such enormously advanced age could possibly still be alive. I tell them I remember when all this was fields.

Here are some of my observations on what 30 years have wrought.



1. There are a hell of a lot more traffic signs than there were 30 years ago (nice to see that stop sign has survived though, almost in the same place). This could mean: a) There’s a lot more traffic than there was 30 years ago; b) Traffic is a lot more stupid than it was 30 years ago; c) Somebody thinks traffic is a lot more stupid than it was 30 years ago; d) Somebody’s making a tidy profit from erecting traffic signs.

2. This is the only apartment in the entire square that hasn’t had it’s old wooden windows replaced with nasty bright white PVC ones (or PCV as they, bizarrely, call it here). Suddenly I have an overwhelming desire to take a look inside that apartment and see if anything else has changed since 1979.

3. The rather attractive round building in the middle of the square has had a ‘back to basics’ make over. Somebody’s stripped off all that yellow paint or render and taken it back to the naked brick. Must have been a hell of a job. I quite like the yellow look.

4. Smart new German motors. It never ceases to amaze me what people will spend their money on.

5. Potential hoodlum carrying some kind of space-age shiny food. A far cry from the days when stick-thin lads and lasses hauling satchels stuffed with school books trod these streets.

6. Pigeon invasion. In the wider photo I took there are dozens of pigeons in evidence. There are none at all in the 1979 scene. More tourists, more money, more junk food lying around on the streets, more pigeons. I’m sure there’s a moral in there somewhere.

7. Pavements have improved only marginally. Honestly, the number of times I’ve almost snapped a foot off on ridiculously wonky paving is not funny.

If anybody has or knows of a source for more of these old pics I would dearly love to hear about it.

I sometimes rave about Krakow’s architectural oddities over on Wyspianski Unwinding.

Tagged , ,

15 thoughts on “Krakow past and present

  1. […] Learn more fascinating facts about Krakow past and present. […]

  2. Jolanta says:

    Some available sources:

    A recently published photographic album “Krakow. Fotografie z dawnych lat” wyd.Bosz

    W.Mossakowska “Kraków na starej fotografii” (published in the 1980s)

    Albums published in the 1960s and 1970s or earlier – Biblioteka Wojewodzka ul.Rajska (you can find out what they have on offer on-line)

    Muzeum Historii Fotografii – their large collection is worth checking

    a CD with old photographs of Krakow “Krakow na starej fotografii” – I think I bought it at the Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa a few years ago; available from:

    “Widoki Krakowa” by Ignacy Krieger; photographs taken between 1870-1903, a fascinating collection

    Album “802 procent normy. Pierwsze lata Nowej Huty”

    Good luck.


  3. mochafueled says:

    Actually there is a very good book with this same theme of pictures past a present…

    though I doubt your life would be as exciting.

  4. Jolanta says:

    Another interesting website with Krieger’s photographs (each can be enlarged):


  5. Jolanta says:

    PS. I suggest that you also look for Henryk Hermanowicz’s post-war photographs.

  6. […] compares Krakow's past with its present; the beatroot writes about a survey that found Warsaw the third most […]

  7. […] taken in 1979 and the same view (more or less) taken today (Sunday 13th April, 2008).  Complete Article  Submitted ByThe […]

  8. island1 says:

    Jolanta: A multitude of thanks. I’d hope I could rely on you for some wise suggestions. I will dive in.

  9. Pawel says:

    What a lovely square;) The sunshine and flowers everywhere! No one should doubt Krakow is the most beautiful city in Poland hahahahaha:))))

  10. scatts says:

    You’re right Pawel, that square is a bloody mess! It’s annoying because it is in a very prominent position en-route to the main sights of Kazimierz from the old town area so pretty much everyone gets to go through this place at some time during their Krakow wanderings.

    It looks very much like nobody knows what to do with the round thing but it is (I’m guessing) a listed building and so rather than demolish and start again they have just surrounded it with naff kiosks. So now, what should be / could be a very nice square is just a cramped and messy space. Very inventive!

  11. Jolanta says:

    Dear gentlemen,

    You should have seen the square at the beginning of the 20th c. – it WAS messy then.
    If I recall correctly, for many years until WW II the building (Okrąglak) was rented from the local council by the Jewish community in Kazimierz; they used it as a kosher slaughter house.
    Actually, I am quite fond of the square, especially in the summer. It does not look so bad then; in fact, I do appreciate that the area has retained some of its pre-war shabbiness and that it has not been “manicured” according to the European standards yet.
    Perhaps my perception of it is a little different from yours because I associate this area with my childhood, with buying meat from a terribly unhygienic stall in that very building, with fresh fruit and vegetables which one could always get outside it and with the Sunday flee market (the second hand clothes straight from the USA – what an adventure!).
    Obviously, there are plans to change the building and its surroundings. Some people want a general makeover; instead of the fruit stalls, the old ladies with non-descript stuff and the omnipresent drunkards they see a large pavement cafe around the central building, elegant boutiques etc. Others want to put glass panels around the Okrąglak, install some outside shops and generally upgrade the standard of commerce there (and the prices too).

    By the way, the official name of the square is plac Nowy, but all real Cracovians call it plac Żydowski.


  12. Sirocco says:

    Just nitpicking – either you have PVC, or you have PC_W_, not V.


  13. island1 says:

    Sirocco: I beg to differ:

    Although it is weird, I agree.

  14. […] I’ve been guilty of this kind of post before, although not quite on the same scale. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

  15. hallo all – just to let you know – more info on Krakow on my Blog – have a look and enjoy as I do writing it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s