Kazimierz - A vibrant Polish phoenix

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I'm standing in a weather-beaten square in the Kazimierz district of Krakow, Poland. It's a quiet afternoon, and nearby stall-holders are packing up their motley wares... but something has just caught my eye.

I've spotted a gleaming red and gold lapel badge with "30 DDR" inscribed around a hammer-and-compass emblem. This remnant from the 30th-anniversary celebrations of the East German Republic has endured some 15 years longer than Poland's former communist neighbor. It's a genuine find! A bit of quick bargaining with the seller, a tired-looking older man in a gray cap, and this historical scrap is mine.

tempel synagogue - Kazimierz KrakowKazimierz is a fitting place to have stumbled across this fragment of the past, for this lively precinct is riddled with the visible traces of history: a fascinating, sometimes tragic story that goes back centuries.

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Restaurants and entertainment venues offering traditional Jewish culture followed suit. With significant synagogues concentrated around Szeroka Street and the Galicia Jewish Museum displaying large, evocative photographs of the architectural remnants of Jewish life across southeastern Poland, this part of Kazimierz developed into an important center of Jewish heritage.

Then something fascinating happened: As the medieval center of Krakow became dominated by tourists, young, non-Jewish Krakow residents directed their attention to Kazimierz's narrow, atmospheric streets and character-filled shops. Even the distressed look of the façades became an asset, adding a certain "alternative" appeal.

The result is a vibrant nightlife area centered on Plac Nowy, a square to the west of the heritage quarter. Its narrow streets are crammed with bars catering to just about any taste you can imagine, ranging from slick modernist joints to grungy drinking holes.

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So Kazimierz lives again, but, of course, the revitalized district is very different from its days as a Jewish community. Is it somehow disrespectful to the original inhabitants for the new Kazimierz to become a lively entertainment area?

I don't think so. The half-forgotten, half-abandoned Kazimierz was a depressing place. Though the Jewish heritage of Kazimierz will always be its key characteristic - especially in its eastern half, with its cultural institutions - it's good to see its streets returned to the animation and energy that they had before the war.

Kazimierz was once a busy center of human interaction; now it is once more. As a reminder of its tragic, tumultuous past, Kazimierz is also a symbol of how Poland and its Jewish heritage have survived into the present. Alive again, this vibrant neighborhood is a phoenix risen from the ashes.

 

Sorry, this is the Salt Lake Tribune story, and cannot be displayed in full on CracowOnline.com.
Source: the Salt Lake Tribune