City guide: Nowa Huta
Nowa Huta is a communist model city near Krakow built as the Soviet response to the US Marshall help. The city and the giant Lenin Steel Mill were constructed near Krakow as a gift from the USSR to Poland. Nowa Huta is only 25 minutes away from Krakow and a prime example of Socialist Realist architecture and city planning. A great way to visit Nowa Huta is with a “communist nostalgia” Tourist organization like Crazy Guides.
Comtourist has visited Nowa Huta on multiple occasions both by ourselves and with Crazy Guides, the nr 1 tour operator for Nowa Huta. Walking around in this communist model town really reminds of a period gone by. No cost or effort was spared to make Nowa Huta the perfect socialist city, so it is as close as one can get to see what Utopia looks like according to Stalin and his henchmen. Nowa Huta is easy to reach from Krakow and has many tourist attractions to offer like multiple museums, communist era restaurants and an apartment decorated in 1980s Eastern Bloc style. Some of the shops and restaurants have not changed since the fall of the Iron Curtain, so plan at least half a day in Nowa Huta when visiting Krakow. Nowa Huta is known as one of the most dangerous areas of Poland and the home of notorious football hooligans. We did see some scary looking neighbourhoods while driving through the back streets but the central area is safe and clean. We have visited Nowa Huta on three occasions and never felt unsafe in any way
Nowa Huta is easy to reach from the Krakow city centre, it takes about 25 minutes by Tram. Take tram 4 from the city centre and get out at Central Square (Plac Centralny) in Nowa Huta. Tourist companies also organize guided tours to Nowa Huta, most famous are Crazy Guides who deliver a total “communist” experience. Crazy Tour guides pick tourists up at their hotel in a Trabant or other communist era car and then races them to Nowa Huta. Tours include visits of a house with communist era furniture, lunch in a real Milk Bar and a drink in a communist era cafe. Nowa Huta can also be easily combined with the Polish Aviation Museum that is located a couple of stops before Nowa Huta with tram 4.
Nowa Huta walking tour
The best way to explore Nowa Huta is either by communist car with Crazy Guides or by foot. A map with walking tours is on sale at the Nowa Huta museum close to Central Square. Signs with comprehensive descriptions are placed near the important highlights along the routes. The best place to start a tour is on Central Square where the trams from Krakow stop. The tours then take you past the architectural highlights and places of historic significance. The perfect start of the tour is a traditional Polish lunch in the Nowa Huta Milk Bar. Visitors can also catch a glimpse of the giant Nowa Huta Steelworks. The entrance to the Steel Mill is a fifteen minute walk from Central Square or can be reached by tram. There is a great view overlooking the giant steel works from the Neolithic burial hills like Mound Wanda that Crazy Guides include in the tours. End the tour with a Beer and some Polish food like Bigos in the communist era Restaurant Stylowa.
Nowa Huta architecture
Socialist Realism was the architectural style enforced on all countries under Soviet influence after World War II until Stalin’s death. The communists believed that architecture would play a key role in building a new utopian society, so high investments were made in building and rebuilding cities. Nowa Huta is one of few examples where a whole new city was build according the principles of Socialist Realism. Central Square is main show piece were all the main roads of Nowa Huta end. Many housing estates are built around courtyards that can be reached through gates. The state requirement for Socialist Realist architecture was dropped in 1956, Teatr Ludowy is a great example of the new architecture in Avant Garde style. The entrance to the steel mill is another interesting area with a castle like administration building and the famous name sign of the steel works.
Eating in a traditional Polish Milk Bar
The best way to start a Walking tour in Nowa Huta is by enjoying a traditional Polish lunch in the Milk Bar on Central Square. Milk bars (Bar Mleczny) were the restaurants for the people during the communist era in Poland. These heavily subsidized cafeterias were frequented daily by workers, students, professors and other city dwellers. Most of the sold food was either vegetarian of made from dairy products, since meat was scarce in Post War Poland. Nowadays most Milk Bars have disappeared from the Polish streets although some have managed to stay in business often with government subsidies. An excellent dish that hungry tourist can try at the Milk Bar is Pierogi, noodles stuffed with vegetables, cheese or meet.
A beer or dinner in Restaurant Stylowa
What better to do after a long walk then have a cold beer and some tasty food. Restaurant Stylowa on Central Square is the place to go in Nowa Huta. This 1950s restaurant has not been redecorated for decades and is a prototype communist era establishment. Stylowa has a large menu with Polish specialities like Bigos, Borsh and Pierogi.
Nowa Huta museums
A small museum dedicated to the history of Nowa Huta is located close to Central Square on the Aleja Roz. The exposition shows photographs of the construction of Nowa Huta, the people that lived here and the social unrest over religious and political issues. The museum also has Nowa Huta maps, leaflets and books on sale. Comtourist has not managed to visit the Museum of the War Effort managed by Polish World War II veterans. It should be a great museum but is now in danger of being closed down . The Museum can be found at os. Gorali 23, visitors are admitted by appointment only.
Communist era apartment
Crazy Guides include a visit off a house that looks that has not changed since the 1980s in their Nowa Huta package. This Nowa Huta apartment is decorated with familiar Eastern Block furniture and many household appliances from Soviet, Polish and East German make. Typical communist interiors still exist in the houses of elderly people but are vastly disappearing across Eastern Europe. The Crazy Guide apartment is a unique opportunity to see how millions of people lived on East of the Iron Curtain.
Short history of Nowa Huta
The fate of Poland’s post war future was decided by the allied leaders at the end of World War II. Poland was given to Stalin resulting in yet another era of repression for the Poles. The US initiated the Marshall help in 1948 supporting European countries with millions of dollars to kick start their economies. Stalin was asked to participate but blocked Marshall help for Eastern European countries. Stalin decided to offer Poland a steelworks factory and a brand new city with all the facilities that a socialist worker and his family requires for a quality life. Silesia would have been the ideal location since Iron Ore and Coal are mined in that region but the communist choose Krakow for the Soviet present however. Krakow has been the cultural, religious and intellectual capital of Poland trough the ages and presented a hotbed of anti communist resistance. Nowa Huta was planned on the Krakow city border with the aim to change Krakow from an bourgeois intellectual centre to a socialist industrial centre.
Construction of Nowa Huta started in 1949, volunteers from all over the country were drafted to construct the city and the steel mill. Many of the bricks used for the construction were transported from the former German territories that were given to Poland after the war. Nowa Huta became a district of Krakow in 1951 and a tram connection was opened to the Krakow centre. Problems soon started in Nowa Huta since the supposedly atheist workers actually wanted a Catholic church in their now town. This was an unbearable thought for communist authorities since Nowa Huta was intended to be a Socialist paradise where there was no room for religion. Nowa Huta inhabitants supported by Bishop Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) placed a big Cross that would results in an ongoing struggle with the government. The Solidarity movement was widely supported by the people of Nowa Huta the early 1980s. Martial Law was declared in 1982 and many battles were fought out between the steel workers and the riot police.