Updated: Jan 9, 2019
Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before. Dalai Lama
I spent 72 hours in Kraków in Autumn 2018. It was during the early days of my photography learning, when I hadn’t yet mastered the camera controls and was shooting on auto or semi-auto mode, so I didn’t take my camera with me. Instead, I tried to bring a photographer’s eye, that is, I tried to think like a photographer, to seek out images that would capture my experience of the trip even though the medium I had at my disposal, my phone camera, might not do them justice.
Before I travelled I had a pre-conceived idea of what the city would be like and it was nothing like I imagined. I think it is safe to say it now ranks as one of my favourite cities to visit. The fact that the sun was shining probably helped, but on our first evening we spent a very pleasant few hours strolling, having coffees, drinks and ice creams in outdoor cafes and watching the world go by. It’s a compact city which is easy to navigate on foot. Our apartment was very conveniently located within easy walking distance of the centre and taxis were in abundance for the journey home when the feet had had enough.
We packed a lot into our short visit. On the second day we made the journey to Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. It’s hard to describe for anyone else what is essentially a very personal experience where each visitor is alone with their own thoughts. The exhibits depicting the various atrocities were heart-breaking to witness first-hand and to reflect on the grim reality which they portray was sobering. Shoes, suitcases, hairbrushes, all testaments to those who arrived at the camps and didn’t make it out alive. What struck me forcibly was the horror depicted through the photographs on display; photographs of people arriving at the camps unaware of the terrible fate that awaited them, and photographs showing the enormity of their everyday suffering. Photographs of ‘Mengele’s Twins’, showing those who were spared the death chambers only to be subjected to Mengele’s inhuman experiments, are among some of Auschwitz’s saddest pictures. Many of the Auschwitz photographs are a permanent record of the horrific, inhumane conditions in the camps and the scale of the suffering inflicted on those incarcerated there, an atrocity that hopefully will never be forgotten.
Our third day involved a visit to the former Krakow Ghetto, also with its reminders of the terrible history inflicted on the Jewish people. The most prominent evidence of the ghetto is the 12 metre remaining stretch of the original ghetto wall, which houses a commemorative plaque erected in 1983.
The ghetto’s largest open space, Plac Zgody, was a place to socialise and spend time away from the overcrowded tenements, but it was also the site of tortures, beatings and mass deportations to the death camps. During this time families were torn apart and during deportations the square was strewn with furniture, clothes and belongings that the unfortunate victims had to abandon. This was later the inspiration for a redesign of the square as a permanent memorial to the terrible atrocities carried out there.
A visit to the Jewish museum and the Schlinder Factory completed this very interesting tour and after a walk around the Jewish Quarter we headed back to the main market square.
I was sorry that I didn’t have time to visit the Museum of Photography while in Krakow but it will be on my list for my next visit! I did pick up a beautiful book of black and white photographs depicting many aspects of Kraków through the years, interspersed with reflections from residents and visitors, artists and writers, poets and those who suffered in this beautiful city. It is a book to treasure forever.
Kraków is an amazing city. It is a modern city with a tragic past, a city which has moved on but doesn’t want to forget. It is a city where a decent meal doesn’t cost the earth and where you can spend hours exploring, people watching, chatting to locals over coffee and cake, dropping in to one of the many churches or museums, browsing the market stalls or relaxing in one of the trendy underground cellar bars. 72 hours in Kraków only gave a taste of what this city has to offer and it cries out for a return visit.
During my brief visit to Kraków I took some family snapshots to share with those at home. But I also wanted to capture some images that would give a flavour of this wonderful city, images of everyday life and of people, locals and visitors, going about their daily business. I took these with my smartphone camera, a Samsung S7 at the time, which I am glad to say I have now upgraded!
One’s own experience, no matter how small, is an asset more valuable than the experience of a million other people.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, German writer and philosopher.