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The heart of KRAKOW. A personal guide to Kazimierz

31.07.2018 City

Kazimierz* – what used to be a hub of the Jewish community is now one of the most fascinating and magical districts of Krakow. The heart of the artistic boheme, it’s resonating with the energy of multiple cultures, galleries, cafes, restaurants, pubs, and hidden gems. The brand new PURO KRAKÓW Kazimierz is by all means the best starting point on our journey through the charms of this enchantingly unique part of the city. Guiding us on this walk around the neighborhood, and coloring it with a romantic anecdote, will be Kasia Pilitowska, a Krakow–born and –raised food lover with an expert knowledge of cooking and the city.

Kazimierz… and the memory of my first date. It was summer, I chose to bike and so did he. Back then, there was no pubs, restaurants, bars, stylish tourists, handsome men with beards, and giggling girls on skateboards. All of it was yet to come. From today’s perspective, you’d say there was nothing to see. However, if you were brave and attentive, you’d soon discover the slow rhythm of the district’s life, fueled by inexpensive wine, neighbors leaning out the windows chatting, the cooing of pure–bred pigeons on a bird market every Thursday, and the shouting of vendors selling vegetables from horse carts. Together with my partner, we took Meiselsa street, turned into Bożego Ciała, Miodowa–with its Tempel Synagogue falling into ruin–and walked all the way to Jakuba street, where a tiny one–story building used to house a  stationery store. Our next stop was the Jewish cemetery… Enchanted, we dreamed that one day this part of the city would be our home. That dream came true! Today I’m taking you on a walk as a happy resident of Kazimierz.

 

Choosing your own paths 

I’m taking you on a walk with some twists and turns, a lot of coming back and forth and stepping on the same path. That’s why I want to encourage you to use my recommendations as a basis for your very own Kazimierz route of discovery. Stradom and Dietla, the intersection of these two streets marks a symbolic entrance to the district–you can already see the towers of the Corpus Christi Basilica and St. Mary and Margaret’s Church, with Wawel right behind your back. Stop for a while to raise your head up and look at the building at Stradomska 27/Dietla 42, known in the city as Ohrenstein’s house (1). Commissioned by a Krakow wine merchant, Moses Ohrenstein, and built between 1911–1913, the building boasts breathtaking details and an enormous dome. How beautiful and modern were both Krakow and Kazimierz before the war? Astonishing!

We’re now officially in Kazimierz. Some people divide it into two parts: a Christian and a Jewish one. I don’t do that. After all, Kazimierz has always been an open district, bringing together various cultures and nations, traditions and customs. We are on a seemingly quiet and unremarkable Augustiańska street, a house to a real gem: the Gothic St. Catherine and Margaret’s Church (2). Inside, you can see a statue of St. Rita, Patron Saint of the Impossible, who loved roses. Go to Rosarium where you can buy souvenirs and enter the church to have a look at the statue covered in rose petals. On every twenty–second day of the month, hundreds of women come here to pray to the Saint for solutions to everyday problems. Raise your heads once again, we’ll be doing it a lot, and contemplate the simplicity of unique stained–glass windows. Leave the church via the Skałeczna street entrance, for this street will lead us to the Church of St Michael the Archangel and St Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr and Pauline Fathers Monastery (3), also known as Skałka (“a small rock” in Polish). As a child, I loved listening to my grandpa’s terrifying stories about a crime that had supposedly happened there. According to the legend, the church is where St. Stanislaus died. Kept inside the church is a trunk on which the martyr’s body is believed to have been cut and then thrown in the courtyard pond. Blood stains visible on a wall behind the altar make the legend even more petrifying, but they’ve also been a great fascination of mine.

Ohrenstein’s house

Pauline Fathers Monastery, also known as Skałka

wild plum tree under Skałka

old Dietla Street

Rosarium, the place dedicated to St.Rita

Wine, cats, violin sounds


Go through the monastery gate to Paulińska street. A quick look at the other side of the Vistula and we’re on our way back, following the path already taken on Skałeczna only to reach Krakowska street and Plac Wolnica (Wolnica Square). Quickly cross the square but don’t forget to stop for a second next to Krakow’s most beautiful fountain from the seventies: “Three buskers”(4) created by Bolesław Chromy, a Krakow–based sculptor. I’m amazed at the softness of the figures and one unconventional solution – the circular basin of the fountain hides within a slightly raised cobblestone pavement. Right on the corner there is “Barawino” (5), a wine bar where you can get a bottle of Polish wine from the Turnau Vineyard complemented with a selection of Polish farmstead cheese and local street food specialty – obwarzanek krakowski. (Translator’s note: obwarzanek krakowski is a braided ring–shaped bread that is boiled and sprinkled with salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, etc., before being baked.) Once we’ve eaten, let’s continue our walk, again in the direction of the river. On our left side, located under number 8 is “Art Mostowa Cafe” (6) a place with a unique atmosphere blending coffee house with an art gallery. A hidden courtyard is here as well, and it’s best to reach it via “Po drodze” (7) café, but let’s leave it for now. Stand in front of an iron gate and try to find a characteristic recess in the wall on its left side. Such recesses–to be found in every religious Jewish house–hide a mezuzah, a piece of parchment with verses from the Torah contained in a decorative case. A person entering the house is supposed to touch it and then kiss the hand with which they did it. There’s no mezuzah now, but let’s do it anyway and enter the courtyard. What we see is a quiet and empty house of prayer (Chana and Abraham Lednitzer Synagogue) (8), whose modernist form dates back to 1907. Forgotten by people and time, the building still resounds with the echo of prayers.


We’re going back, passing bars and outdoor coffee houses buzzing with life, experiencing the happiness and clamor of the street life. We pass a particularly quiet Bocheńska street only to come back later to Idea Fix (9) to buy some one–of–a–kind Polish design. For now, let’s stop in front of the window of Stanisław Krukowski the luthier’s studio (10). Krukowski is one of the most treasured “violin healers” in Europe and, if you’re lucky, you may witness him working in his studio whose interior has not changed for 300 years.


Take św. Wawrzyńca street. On your left side you can see a towering silhouette of the Corpus Christi Basilica. Grab any guide book if you fancy reading about its history and interior, for we’re now going to open a wooden gate number 9. Greeting us are the staircase and the chilly atmosphere of the porch. We’ve reached every coffee lover’s paradise – Karma (11) – where a coffee house and roasting plant blend into one. If the door is closed–mind you, the paradise doesn’t work fixed hours–you can relax for a while on the courtyard steps, hidden under a cap of snow during winter and overflowing with ripe, yellow mirabelle plums in summer. Let’s look for the traces of the times long gone. If you dare to ask, who knows, perhaps the old cat living nearby can tell you something about this place and its past.

 

Fountain “Three buskers”, Wolnica Square

Art Mostowa Cafe

Detail from a hidden courtyard, św. Warzyńca street

Stanisława Kurkowski the Luthier’s workshop

Picnic next to the Old Synagogue

Not so long ago, Wawrzyńca street used to be occupied by trams. You can still see the now useless, rusty tracks spreading all the way to Starowiślna, but don’t follow them. Turn onto Dajwór, stock up with street–food deliciousness from food trucks (12) (Truckarnia Food Truck Pack), go a bit farther and take a break for a picnic on the grass next to the Old Synagogue. When you’re feeling full and strong again, turn onto Na Przejścu, pass the Old Synagogue and Szeroka street and take a narrow Lewkowa street to reach Jakuba. Go along and to the end of the cemetery wall, stopping at a small window with a view to the old Jewish cemetery, Remuh (13). A little bit further along, on your left, you can see one of the few remaining artisanal enterprises – Marek Sałas’s glass–making workshop (14). Can’t say how many square meters of mirrors I’ve ordered from him, but I’m sure I bought 5 panes! If its open, feel free to visit to admire the owner’s handiwork and craftsmanship. Another Kazimierz–based, long–standing enterprise is a hairdresser’s at Bożego Ciała 22 (15). I love their front window with its simple arrangement continuously charming in its unpretentiousness.

Picnic next to the Old Synagogue

A view to the old Jewish cemetery, Remuh

A hairdresser at Bożego Ciała 22

The old Jewish cemetery, Remuh

Marek Sałas’s glass–making workshop

Drinking and shopping

We’re now at the intersection of Miodowa, Jakuba, and Brzozowa. There’s a must–visit spot for alcohol connoisseurs–“Regionalne alkohole” (16) at Miodowa 28–where of particular interest should be a showcase with regional cider and a shelf with Starka–luxury Polish vodka. Go straight along Brzozowa street; when passing Karakter (17), an exquisite restaurant at Brzozowa 17, make sure to book a table for the evening and go to a rarely attended place–the Kazimierz triangle. A few streets cross here, creating a picturesque, green triangle with flower beds and trees, traditionally occupied by the local enthusiasts of cheap wine and couples in love. Vanilia (18), a confectionery with tasty ice cream and Hamantashen (Jewish pastries) is right on the corner (Brzozowa 13), with a peculiar bric–a–brac shop, Old Shop Stary Sklep (19), a little bit further at Brzozowa 7, owned by a chimeric woman as intriguing as her collection. The corner of Sebastian street hides Sito Vintage Shop (20), located in a tenement house at Sebastiana 20, with a fantastic collection of clothes and shoes from the 1980s and ‘90s. Walking in circles, we reach “2 Światy” (21) at Brzozowa 21–an art gallery and school of calligraphy in one. Go downstairs to a cozy room full of bibelots and manuscripts. Living in the world of keyboards, you will find yourselves wondering if there’s anyone still using quill pens, but you’ll quickly find the answer. Now, go back to Old Shop and turn onto Podbrzezie–narrow, quaint street neglected by tourists and a real paradise for anyone looking for vinyls thanks to High Fidelity (22), located at Podbrzezie 6, owned and operated by Piotr, a guru of Krakow barmen and collectors. If he’s in a good mood, he will take your favorite disc, play it on a gramophone and let you listen to it in a comfortable armchair. Let’s leave and let ourselves be taken to Tempel Synagogue, about which everything has already been said and written. I still remember the time when its interior would be occupied by homeless residents of Kazimierz who would approach anyone daring to peek inside the synagogue with a question: “Do you have the visa to enter Kazimierz?”

The Kazimierz triangle

Vanilia confectionery

“Regionalne alkohole” at Miodowa 28

Treasures from Old Shop Stary Sklep

Tempel Synagogue

The heart of the district

The time has come to enter Plac Nowy (Nowy square) – the heart of Kazimierz beating to the rhythm of eateries and pubs. You can reach it easily from the synagogue by taking Estery street and spend some time in a place of your choice. If you want a more detailed advice, you can pay a visit to the legendary Singer (23) at the intersection of Estery 20 and Izaaka 1 (where everyone speaks only English these days) or eat delicious pierogies in Mondo (24), a restaurant located in the least attended part of the square offering traditional pierogi ruskie – muslin pierogies, delicately butter–fried, served with caramelized onion. Insanely tasty.

We’re reaching Józefa street. What used to be a quiet and boring street has now become Kazimierz’s very own Champs Élysées. Anyone looking for gifts should come here and revel in the variety of boutiques, second–hand stores, original concept stores, and tiny bars. I recommend Grzegorz Błażko’s jewelry store (25) at Józefa 11; Paon (26), a store with Polish design and fashion (also Józefa 11); fashion designers’ stores such as Mapaya (27) at Józefa 3 and Anna Gregory (28) at Józefa 2. You also have to visit a secret garden in Eszeweria, a pub at Józefa 9. You can scatter in groups – women go shopping while men grab a cold beer in the garden or vice versa. Our walk has now come to an end. Thank you for being with me. Now it’s your turn to make your own discoveries.

 

Epilogue

So here I am, walking around my Kazimierz with you and thinking about all these still undiscovered places such as a courtyard at Bożego Ciała street with a dilapidated stall where, before the war, Epstein the Jew–father of Avi Epstein, the resident of Kazimierz–would sell fish… Exact street number? Let me leave this to you. Remember to stray off the beaten tracks, leave guide books in your suitcase, and let yourselves be guided by the spirit of this magical district.

 

 

Mondo restaurant

Pierogi ruskie from Mondo - famous and tasty

Hevre, club in the old house of prayer, original frescoes

Hevre, club in the old house of prayer, original frescoes

Addresses:

1. Ohrenstein’s house (Kamienica Ohrensteina), ul. Stradomska 27 i Dietla 42
2. The Gothic St. Catherine and Margaret’s Church (Kościół św. Katarzyny i Małgorzaty), ul. Augustiańska 7
3. The Church of St Michael the Archangel and St Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr and Pauline Fathers Monastery, Skałka, ul. Skałeczna 15
4. Fountain “Three baskers” / „Trzej grajkowie”, Plac Wolnica
5. Barawino wine bar, ul. Mostowa 1
6. Art Mostowa Cafe, ul. Mostowa 8
7. Po drodze café, ul. Mostowa 8
8. Chana and Abraham Lednitzer Synagogue, ul. Mostowa 8
9. Idea Fix, ul. Bocheńska 7
10. Stanisława Kurkowski the Luthier’s workshop, pl. Wolnica 8
11. Karma Cafe, ul. Wawrzyńca 11
12. Truckarnia Food Truck Pack, ul. Dajwór 21
13. Remuh, the Jewish cemetery, ul. Szeroka 40
14. Marek Sałas’s glass–making workshop, ul. Jakuba 3
15. Hairdresser’s, ul. Bożego Ciała 22
16. Regionalne Alkohole, ul. Miodowa 28
17. Karakter restaurant, ul. Brzozowa 17
18. Vanilia confectionery, ul. Brzozowa 13
19. Old Shop Stary Sklep, ul. Brzozowa 7
20. Sito Vintage Shop, ul. Sebastiana 10
21. Art Gallery „2 światy” and School of Calligraphy, ul. Brzozowa 14
22. High Fidelity vinyl store, ul. Podbrzezie 6
23. Singer, róg ulic Estery 20 i Izaaka 1
24. Mondo restaurant, pl. Nowy 3
25. Grzegorz Błażko’s jewelry, ul. Józefa 11
26. Paon Polish design, ul. Józefa 11,
27. Mapaya boutique, ul. Józefa 3
28. Anna Gregory boutique, ul. Józefa 2
29. Pub Eszeweria, ul. Józefa 9

 

*A short history of the Kazimierz district of Krakow: an autonomous enclave of the Kraków Jewish community was created in the middle of the 14th century and up to the end of the 18th century occupied the premises of the so–called “Jewish city” – an area closed by five streets: Miodowa, św. Wawrzyńca, Wąska, Józefa and Bożego Ciała. Centuries to come witnessed a remarkable development of this part of Krakow, most particularly thanks to the fact that the Jews were given equal civil rights in the 1860s. During the interwar period, Kazimierz became a notably Jewish district where the Jewish communities of Krakow would gather. Political parties of various bents representing the Jewish community in the Polish parliament had their offices here as did a number of educational, cultural and sports organizations. Kazimierz was also the center of Krakow’s Jews’ religious life who would pray in one of the six orthodox synagogues, including Tempel, now hosting concerts as part of the world’s biggest Festival of Jewish Culture. The Second World War irrevocably changed Kazimierz. The multicultural world of the district disappeared when its residents scattered around the globe. We can still see their traces, however. They’re hard to notice at times–a shadow of the tree on the wall of a tenement house–hidden in dark courtyards. Sometimes we’ll just pass them by completely unaware of their existence. Guides don’t talk about them and we will not find them in tourists’ brochures. But residents, such as Kasia, do know them and are willing to share their knowledge, so it’s certainly worth asking, searching, and discovering. 

 

 text and photos: Kasia Pilitowska

 

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