Category Archives: KRAKOW

Going Underground – Krakow

Following on from my Warsaw museum visit, I spent some time last weekend in a Krakow museum, this time in the Rynek Underground Museum (Podziemia Rynku). The market square has always been one of Krakow’s main highlights, with sights such as Mariacki church, the Ratusz (town hall), numerous restaurants with outdoor seating under umbrellas and of course, the Sukiennice (cloth hall). However, in 2005, an archaelogical dig revealed there was even more to the market square than met the eye with many items of historical significance being found just under the squares cobbles around the Sukiennice. It was then decided in 2007 to build and open a museum that would house most of the archarlogical findings, and make them available to the public. Underground 2

With about 800 years of history on show, the museum tries to blend an old world and modern feel in what is presented. There are a few visual tricks, some hi-tech options and then ‘real’ items to be touched and felt. The entrance is found just at the end of the Sukiennice, and entrance is limited to a maximum of 300 people at one time. This is controlled by musuem staff and some security guards, in order to make sure that the experience can be fully savoured without too many people. However, with temperatures of -16 last Saturday, it meant that there were no queues for entry, but rather only for the cloakroom, as everyone was discarding heavy jackets once entering. The entrance fee is 17zl for adults, with concession prices of 14zl for those young or old enough to qualify. Underground 1

The first sight on entry was a real-life smoke screen with a projector showing Krakowians from the Middle Ages welcoming you to the exhibit. Visitors can put their hands and more through it, as it is only a steam projection. Later there are some water pools showing ripples of people walking by, also using projectors. There were many kids having great fun there. From there, the exhibits get more ‘real’ as there are paving slabs from the 14th century, rebuilt houses of blacksmiths and goldsmiths, and then some re-created graves and burial grounds, with full skeletons inside. Indeed one of the surprises is when walking around and crossing a glass walkway to see a skeleton sitting in the hollowed space under the glass walkway. For me, the highlight came next in the centre of the space, where a scale model of Krakow from the 15th century was shown. It was very realistic, but it was also the only part of museum visible under natural light, as above it, there is the 4-sided pyramid skylight, which can be seen from above ground on the Rynek (as seen in a summer shot below). Pyramid

The second part of the musuem is more of a walking tour, with long passages ways with small nooks and crannies available with small archaelogical treasures found in most of them, including some skulls which had been found, and are estimated to be from soldiers who had died trying to defend Krakow from the Swedish ‘Flood’ in the early 17th century. There are many small artefacts such as necklaces, small knives, spears and so on which would have all been used in Krakow’s market through the ages.Skelton

Overall our visit lasted about 1 hour, although that can be lengthened or shortened depending on the level of detail you would wish to see. There were numerous tour groups, but as it was December, most of them were receiving the tour in Polish. Most of the exhibits had 7 language options, including Polish, English, German and French, among others. The visit was well worthwhile, and can show more of Krakow and the Rynek than just the standard options.

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Krakow Film Music Festival

A few days ago, I attended the opening of the 5th Krakow Film Music Festival. It was a unique cinematic experience, for a number of reasons. The festival focuses on the musical excellence in major films, and in the past used examples such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, which portrayed the music of John Williams and Howard Shore respectively to powerfully add to the drama, excitement and tension within the films. The film shown for the opening day of this years festival was Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Pachnidło: Historia Mordercy). For those not familiar with the story, it is based on a 1985 novel originally published in German and written by Patrick Süskind. It centres on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille living in 19th century France, who has an amazing talent for smell, and begins to use it to try to generate the perfect perfume, but eventually with nefarious results.

The Krakow Film Music Festival had a taste of Perfume 3 years earlier when about 40 minutes of the film were shown. However, the performance last Thursday expanded on that greatly. Firstly, the whole score of the film was being played live, using the talents of the soprano Karolina Gorgol-Zaborniak, along with a full choir and the Cracovia Symphony Orchestra, lead by the Swiss conductor Ludwig Wicki. Also in attendance were the film’s director, Tom Tykwer and one of the other musical composers Reinhold Heil. Before the showing of the film began, they gave a few words about how the project came about, and how glad they were to have such an opportunity to play the full score in a live setting. Finally, it turned out that it had been Tom Tykwer’s birthday last Wednesday and after some gentle encouragement from the hosts, the audience stood to sing “Sto Lat” to him.

The other key unique factor in the performance was in the setting and location. For the 5th consecutive year, the film festival was hosted in the Nowa Huta Steelworks. The Tadeusz Sendzimir Mill (originally known as the Vladimir Lenin Steelworks) dominates the Nowa Huta part of Krakow. It is not naturally a site you would associate with a more cultural touch, but having been taken over by ArcelorMittal (the worlds largest steelmaker) in 2005, hosting the FMF has showing a lighter touch, but also allowed a few hundred people to see behind the curtain which would never be possible in normal circumstances.The site is so huge (approximately 30 km²), which meant that ticket holders were picked up just inside the gate of the mill and then driven in buses a couple of kilometres to the building screening the films. The film was screened in a factory building with sheets of steel and metal stacked up to the side. A few hundred seats had been set up with a giant screen to show the film. The choir and orchestra then sat just under the screen, evoking nostalgic images of films from 100 years ago when movies would be showing on a flickering screen with a guy near by playing the piano as required.

However, despite the uniqueness of the occasion and opportunity to hear the live score of the film reverberating around a steel mill, it did not feel as ‘polished’ as it could have been. Firstly, while the orchestra and choir were great, it felt at times like they overpowered the film being shown instead of supporting it. This happened from time to time when the music built up to such an extent that it was not possible to always hear what was being said on-screen. Perfume was filmed in English and shown with Polish subtitles, so most people would be able to read instead if required, but if you were watching a film in the cinema or at home and could not always hear what was being said, you would not be happy.

Secondly, I personally believed that the film Perfume did not fit so well to such a setting of a live rendition of the music. This is because the story of the film is one where the drama builds up to a big finish, but the music tried to ebb and flow, up and down, as music will naturally move. Thus, it felt like another style of film would have fit the setting better. Finally, it was interesting to see how many people were moving around and coming and going during the performance. There were wooden floors put down in order to make it safer for those attending, but it meant that every footstep rattled around in the factory environment. Usually when watching a film in a cinema, it is rare for people to leave half way or two-thirds of the way through. However, it seemed like some people either didn’t like the film or perhaps the music, so there had been a lot of movement of people.

However, from my perspective, it was an enjoyable experience and one I would like to try again in future years. The most interesting sensation occurred when walking out the gate of the steel mill with a smell of burning/melting steel reaching us, while discussing the merits of a film about smells and perfume.

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Krakow – smog city

Air pollution levels in Krakow reached record levels in March and the city has no plan for tackling the problem. Literally no plan. The local government regards slowly suffocating its citizens to death as no big deal. If you want a breath of relatively clean air in this town it’s now advisable to squat down behind standing traffic and suck the fumes directly from exhaust pipes.

Below is a thing I wrote when I was feeling particularly annoyed about this and turned to the infallible weapon of satire. In the cold light of retrospection I feel even more annoyed – a lot of people are going to die younger than they might have because of all the PM10s floating around in our air – you or I might be one of them.

As air pollution in Krakow continues to exceed dangerous levels, surprising advice has been issued to residents. Peak pollution days over the winter saw schools closed and suggestions that vulnerable individuals stay indoors. Recent guidelines include holding your breath for short periods as you walk from your door to your car and a plan to use military helicopters to dispel smog. Inhaling deeply before stepping outside and then breathing as little as possible during short journeys on foot has been recommended as a sensible way of reducing exposure to particulate matter. Laughing, yawning and singing in the open air are also identified as risky activities.

Fresh ideas for tackling the smog itself have also been unveiled. Overflights by squadrons of military helicopters from the nearby Krakow-Balice Air Base have been touted as a way of disrupting the temperature inversions that trap polluted air over the city. On bad days, the helicopters could be used to hover at 500 metres, sucking smut-laden air to greater altitudes. Locals have begun calling Krakow ‘Londyn nad Wisłą’ (London on the Vistula) following a winter plagued by smogs reminiscent of the famed ‘pea soupers’ that afflicted the British capital in the 1950s. Suggestions that vehicle traffic in the city centre should be restricted or that smoke-producing fuels should be banned have been dismissed as absurd.

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I say Krakow and you say Cracow but they say Kraków

Did we raise this one before?

What is the right way to spell / name the city lies sprawled below Wawel hill? I see it spelled these three different ways all the time and it must be jolly confusing for anyone not familiar with Poland.

Obviously, the omission of the accent on the O is simple laziness…..or is it? Is there widespread use of the K version bez the accent? The C version has no accent, at least not when I see it used.

So, which is correct and which are not and more importantly, why are the incorrect versions still widely used?

This wouldn’t be so fascinating if it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other place in Poland being spelt in more than one way, the official Polish way (ignoring the German names of course). Also, this ‘abuse’ is being done not by obcy people but by Poles themselves.

If one or the other is an attempt to make a Polish town more pronounceable or understandable to foreigners then I could think of far better examples – Łódż for example.

Why does the city allow this to continue? Hell, why doesn’t the editor of the Krakow Post do something about it! ;-)

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Krakow’s balloon goes up

For what seems like forever now Krakow’s river front has been enlivened by the extraordinary sight of a giant white balloon that never goes anywhere. Suddenly appearing early last summer this vast blimp caused an awful lot of people to stop in their tracks and exclaim “Good heavens, there’s a giant white inflatable thing. I wonder what that’s all about?” or whatever the equivalent phrase in Polish might be. Answers were not forthcoming. For month after month it sat there behind blank hoardings like an inscrutably spherical white elephant. A faction of cracovians were convinced it was something to do with anti-missile defence radar or some such NATO voodoo, others thought it sure to be some tyrannical new Gazprom installation.


A giant white balloon appears on Krakow’s river front – Cracovians are mildly interested

The truth is, as ever, far stranger even than Polish fiction. The Krakow balloon is just that – a giant tethered balloon intended to carry fee-paying passengers 500 meters above the city and then return them safely to Earth. Exactly why anybody would want to place themselves 500 meters above the north bank of the Vistula in Krakow is a question I hope the balloon-people marketing lads have thrashed out to their satisfaction. The higher up you get, the further you can see. As far as I’m concerned the less off the outskirts of Krakow that are visible the better. There’s nothing out there but second-hand car lots and weird concrete churches, neither of which become charming from a great altitude.


The following winter: it’s still there

A while ago a had a chat with the security guard on the site. After a period of moaning and whingeing he eventually realized I didn’t understand a word he was saying and switched to carefully-rehearsed English instead. I learned the following things:

1. Nearby residents believed they were building a supermarket – betraying a surprising ignorance concerning the size and shape of supermarkets.

2. Two eighty-something-year-old ladies have expressed an interest in becoming the first passengers – I fear Babcie with the advantage of the high ground, who knows what damage they could do.

3. The principal reason they are still waiting to start flights is because Krakow airport’s air-traffic controllers think it might be dangerous to have dirigibles dangling baskets full of tourists floating around in their airspace – you can see their point.


It flies! It flies!

Maybe you can find people willing to suspend themselves under an inflated bladder for the chance to see Now Huta from 500 meters. What worries me is that the first thing I think of when I see the balloon is “where can I buy a bow and arrow?” The temptation to burst the thing with a pointed stick propelled at high speed from a longbow is just overwhelming. So far I’ve had no opportunity, but what happens when the the Tatars come back? Look at what they did with one arrow before. Hejnał…

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