Crossing the street named after Józef Dietl - a once outstanding mayor of Krakow and creator of its modern image, we enter the magical world of Kazimierz. For many of its inhabitants, the pride of this city. But it wasn’t always like that, until recently it was an extinct Jewish district, inhabited by murmuring element of unknown sort. Only the magnificence of the, architecture, rescued by the hand of God, testifies that once, in this place, lived a large population of Polish Jews. A vast majority of the nearly 70 thousand people of the Jewish community of Krakow were murdered during the Nazi occupation, and thus the Jewish Kazimierz was dead for many years. For a long time now, the municipal authorities along with the surviving handful of Jews, have been trying to give the area its proper brilliance. The success of the Jewish Culture Festival and hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting Kazimierz, are a sign of development in the right direction.
The city of Kazimierz was founded in 1335 by King Kasimir III of Poland (Kazimierz in Polish), called the Great. But it didn’t become a Jewish center instantly. Initially, there was to be a university (“Wszechnica”), but the premature death of the king interfered with those plans. Little information remained on bringing Jews to Kazimierz. According to Maciej Miechowita it was in 1492, when a large fire broke out in Krakow, which burned several Jewish homes. It was then that the town councilors took the decision to move the Jewish community to Kazimierz. This information is confirmed in the agreement contained on February 27, 1494 between the guild of butchers and the Jewish seniors of Kazimierz. Soon the so-called baleneum Iudeorum, nothing more than a Jewish Bath, was created and three years later the circulus Iudeorum, the Jewish market. The number of Jews grew rapidly as a result of immigration from Bohemia and Moravia, which they escaped from the continuing persecutions. Jews from Spain and Italy came during this time as well. A Royal Decree of 1537 allowed to build a second synagogue, which was fairly quickly destroyed by a fire, but King Sigismund II Augustus allowed its reconstruction in 1557. Today it bears the name of the “Old Synagogue”. In the XVI century two other synagogues were created, High and Remuh. It can be assumed that in the mid-seventeenth century there lived 5 thousand Jews in Kazimierz. The political downfall of Krakow as well as the dusk of the glory of the country (Rzeczpospolita) affected the number of inhabitants of Kazimierz. At the end of the XVIII century there lived 2 thousand Jews, but one must remember that most Jews still lived in the area of Krakow. After the fall of the Republic (Rzeczpospolita) the Austrian government made a final displacement of Krakow’s Jews, ordering them to leave all of their apartments and shops in the area of Krakow and Kazimierz, with the result that the city population rose to about 4,5 thousand. After the formation of the Free (Independent and Strictly Neutral) City of Krakow in 1818 its Senate announced the “Statue Organizing the Followers of the Law of the Old Testament in the Free City of Krakow and its Environs” which allowed the Jews to live and trade in the whole area of the Christian and Jewish Kazimierz.
Kazimierz grew into the city, becoming, along with its inhabitants, an integral part without which contemporary Krakow wouldn’t be the same.
For a trip to Krakow you need at least 5 days, crossing a couple of streets in the district of Kazimierz may take a whole day if not two.
When deciding about a visit it is best to provide yourself with a guide. But as it is known, no Polish guide will include the most important places, which a local would recommend, furthermore a local Jew and as we all know such sites interest us the most.
To work then! What should you visit, see and what paths should you take to feel as a part of the community living in Kazimierz? Well, you have to realize, my dear traveler, that Jews rather not reside in Kazimierz. We have our offices and synagogues, but this is a typically tourist district. Apartments in old buildings require major overhauls and those in new architecture cost terribly much because living here, nowadays, is quite fashionable. Nonetheless, we spend a lot of our free time and money here, drinking coffee at a charming sidewalk cafe or, as a Cracovian would joke, “eating kosher blood sausage”.
If you came to Krakow and inadvertently did not book a hotel then below you have a couple of ideas and hints. I’d like to note at the outset, that if this is during the Jewish Culture Festival then you have a serious problem – finding accommodation day by day is really difficult at that time of the year.
So depending on your budget I suggest 4 places where you should call and ask about the situation:
1) Hotel Mayaan (www.hotelmaayan.com) is in the heart of Kazimierz on Miodowa street, opposite the Jewish Community Center and Tempel Synagogue. It is a hotel run by a Jew and has relatively low prices giving the area and standard. Usually for 70 zł/person in a room with no bathroom, you can accommodate yourself at a hotel for young people with questionable hygiene standards. This hotel doesn’t officially have any stars, but I’d give it two and a half.
2) If you’re looking for something more expensive and sophisticated then I’d recommend Hotel Alef (www.alefhotel.pl) where you pay 160zł/person including breakfast. What captivated me in this hotel is not only its location on the quiet St. Agnieszki street 5 but the dining room. It is beautifully furnished with antiques, which makes everything taste different. You just want to be there. I hope you will have a similar impression.
3) Another suggestion, a bit more expensive, is Hotel Kazimierz (www.hk.com.pl/kazimierz-home.php) where a hotel night costs 260zł/person including breakfast. This hotel has 3 buildings – two on Miodowa street and one on Starowiślna street.
4) Of the more expensive hotels I invite you to Hotel Klezmer Hois on Szeroka street and Hotel Eden on Ciemna street. Hotel Klezmer Hois (www.klezmer.pl/index.php) offers rooms starting from 200zł and higher, including breakfast. Hotel Eden (www.hoteleden.pl/) starting from 260zł. These hotels have fantastic owners, who are a part of the Jewish community in Krakow. If you are religious and eat kosher then choose Hotel Eden, if not then book a stay at Klezmer Hois. Not only will you have a chance to taste delicious, traditional Jewish cuisine (non-kosher) but you will find decor straight from our grandmothers’ homes, where it smells like old wood, antiques, burned candles and you hear the piano. Each room is furnished a little bit differently and each has its own soul. More about Klezmer Hois in SIGHTSEEING.
If you are already accommodated and your suitcase is in the hotel room, then it is time for a meal. Here we have a problem because there are plenty of places to eat in Kazimierz – follow your intuition and a momentary whims. But if I had to recommend something as “a local”, then I suggest determining whether you want to eat kosher or not. If kosher then it definitely narrows your choices since we don’t have many kosher restaurants.
1) One, which looks quite European and friendly to the eye is The Olive Tree on Kupa 6 street. Its website seems to be out of order so here are contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone number: 48442 77 00, in case you’d become hungry on a Friday evening and would like to eat a Shabbat meal. For the price of 25 EUR you’ll get an appetizer in the form of fish, a chicken leg with vegetables, soup e.g. chicken broth and dessert e.g. mousse. To all of this, 4 kinds of salad and beverages. On Saturday you can order lunch for 25 EUR as well – Gefilte fish, schnitzel, kugel and dessert, as well as salads and cholent. The restaurant seats up to 96 people but pre-book a table. Preferably a few days ahead. Until recently, Chabad also organized dinner but from what I know it will resume with doing so at the beginning of 2013. For more information go to Isaac Synagogue on Kupa 18 street.
Interested in a reformed service? Get in contact with the Galicia Jewish Museum (http://www.galiciajewishmuseum.org/) for more information. Everyone there speaks English.
2) As I’ve written earlier, Klezmer Hois offers non-kosher but recommendable cuisine. Typical Galician Jewish cuisine e.g. stuffed goose neck, stuffed duck or carrot cake are simply delicious! The prices of lunch range from 10 - 15 EUR. During dinner you may listen to klezmer music played live, after buying a ticket which costs around 5 EUR.
3)If you’re not eating kosher and are fed up with the same dishes, maybe you’d prefer something Polish? Here the choice is much bigger. For a smaller budget I’d suggest e.g. the Polakowski restaurant (www.polakowski.com.pl) on Miodowa street, where waitresses dressed up as peasant girls serve tomato soup. For 5 EUR you can really eat a proper meal!
4) If during this vacation you can allow yourself for more, I’d suggest the Sąsiedzi restaurant, on Miodowa 25 street. For 10-15 EUR you can eat a delicious meal. I’ve eaten “pierogi” (dumplings – Ed.) and tiramisu here. Both meals swept me off my feet.
5) If you aren’t in luck and in a hurry, then believe me that eating fast food on Estery street isn’t the best solution. I’d suggest the famous “zapiekanki” (toasted sandwiches – Ed.) to which there’s a line day or night. I’m not sure if you’ll make yourself understood by the saleswoman, but try because it’s definitely worth it. You can eat a “zapiekanka” for around 2 EUR, which can be with “oscypek” (smoked cheese – Ed.), chive, bacon, spinach… and whatever else you choose. “Zapiekanki” at Endzior’s are at the so-called “Okrąglak” on Plac Nowy. It’s difficult to miss the queue, follow the smell.
6) When having the desire to just talk over coffee, I’d recommend cult places like Café Alchemia on Plac Nowy (www.alchemia.com.pl), although it’s difficult to get a table during the evening.
7) If you smoke then go to Tajemniczy Ogród (Secret Garden – Ed.) on Plac Nowy 9. This place has a smoking room (it’s useful during the winter) and a nice patio. May I warn you that if there’s a lot of customers, the waiters are a bit slow.
8) Staying on Plac Nowy the so-called Jewish Square, you may take a look at the known place on Estery street 20 – Singer - the name came from the famous sewing machines. company. If you’re in the mood for vodka, pickles and then go to Zakąski & Wódka right next to Tajemniczy Ogród.
9)If you already miss Israeli coffee then I invite you to my personal favorite – Café Cheder. It’s a place founded by the Jewish Culture Festival office (they share a door). The café is on corner of Jakuba st. and Józefa st. (www.jewishfestival.pl/index,en.html). I’d recommend the Israeli coffee and some free time because you’ll find many books there, also thematic meetings from time to time. Follow their website!
10) The last place I’d like to recommend is Ariel Café (www.ariel-krakow.pl). I have a soft spot for it. Before Kazimierz became a touristic area, where you see the Star of David and Jewish menus left and right, Café Ariel was a place visited by our parents. Because of its uniqueness it is special. Also it is on Szeroka st. where the culminating concert of the Jewish Culture Festival takes place. Not only do they have coffee but tasty food as well.
As I’ve written before, to see Kazimierz it is best to have a guide, in the form of a book or human. I am not able to recommend a book but you count on a helping hand from the members of the Czulent Association (www.czulent.pl). If you have a question or favor to ask, write them an e-mail, I’m sure they’ll help.
1) If you decide to walk through Kazimierz alone then don’t forget to see places like: the Tempel Synagogue on Miodowa st. 24. It is a reformative synagogue in which services take place only on the occasion of visits of larger groups. Further walking Miodowa st. enter the JCC to talk with volunteers and members of the Senior’s Club. If you’ll be a polite tourist they might give you a taste of “nalewka” (a traditional Polish alchohol, similar to tinctures of liqueurs – Ed.)
2) Next to JCC turn left on Estery st. In building number 6 – at present the NFZ (National Health Fund – Ed.), on the second floor The Social Cultural Association of Jews in Poland (TSKŻ – Ed.) is located. The office is open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.. If you get on it you can look at documents from ’51!
3) Turn left on the Placy Nowy – the so-called Jewish Square. Each Sunday there is a market here, where you can buy clothes, jewelry, cosmetics and other things. During the week a couple of stands with antiques, jewelry, fruit and flowers, open up.
4) On Beera Meiselsa st. 17 you’ll find the Center for Jewish Culture (www.judaica.pl). Theoretically there should always be something happening there, but practically each time I go in it’s empty. A big advantage is another café in the antique style and the other one on the building’s roof, which is a certain curio in Kazimierz.
1) Head to Józefa st. If you want to buy handmade souvenirs. This street is full of shops with jewelry, paintings, figurines and everything else we admire when being tourists.
2) Reaching Kupa st. you will see the Isaac Synagogue in which there is the only shop with kosher food in Krakow.
3) Also on the same street you can visit the hair salon, which I honestly recommend. The 60s style décor is simply genius! Mr. Tomasz Marut is the boss and if you’d like him to cut your hair you must get an appointment two months before. But his employees are also good in this profession so if you want to get a haircut, this is the place!
4) Walking further down Szeroka st., you’ll see the earlier mentioned Café Cheder and the High Synagogue. At the top floor there is an exhibition but not a very interesting one, in my opinion. But on the ground floor you will find a bookstore with literature on Jewish themes, it’s worth stopping by.
5) Finally you’ll reach the Old Synagogue on Szeroka st., which is now a museum. To my mind it may be more interesting rather for those who have little in common with Jewry. The exhibition shows the Jewish life cycle, from birth to death. Necessary instruments, a ketubah, Passover Seder Plates and other traditional items.
6) If I were to choose then I’d definitely go to the Remuh Synagogue (www.remuh.jewish.org.pl) on Szeroka st. 40. First of all this is the only synagogue operating each Friday, second of all with the adjoining cemetery it creates a unique and invaluable group of Jewish architecture and sacred art from the XVI century. Definitely worth seeing.
7)The last stop is Dajwór st. 18 where the Galicia Jewish Museum is (www.galiciajewishmuseum.org/). You can see a phot exhibition there, drink some coffee, rest a while and buy a book or CD. It is also here that the reformative Shabbat dinners take place. With a little luck you might meet the first female rabbi in Poland – Tanya Segal. Look out for long, curly, red hair.