When I first told my friends and family that I was packing my bag and moving to Krakow, Poland, I’ll admit that I was met with quite a few shocked and confused facial expressions! Sure, all of my nearest and dearest knew how much I loved spending time abroad, so in that respect, they weren’t so perplexed; but they also knew how much of an art buff and cultural Hoover I am – ‘why not Paris or Rome, or perhaps Barcelona or Madrid?’ They all said: ‘Isn’t Krakow all stone gargoyles?’ and/or ‘Isn’t it a bit sparse after the occupation in WWII?’ said a few others.
No, no and no. I couldn’t believe how warped people’s perception of Krakow was and I’ve been making it my personal mission to promote its cultural credentials ever since. I wanted them to see the Krakow I saw, the medieval jewel, littered with echoes of its communist past, not just a cultural center with Renaissance merit, but a city with a diverse and ever-changing cultural scene. In fact, I’ve converted so many of my nearest into dearest into loving Krakow’s culture as much as I do, I thought it was about time I shared my pick of Krakow’s cultural highlights with you too!
Let’s start with the basics – no cultural guide is complete without a lowdown on the best galleries and town, and boy does Krakow have its share of great ones! Bunkier Sztuki is an innovative little gallery that focuses heavily on young artist’s practice and non-standard creative techniques. It also heavily promotes collaboration and communication between the artist and the public, meaning it frequently hosts workshops and talks by local artists. Another great option is the equally quirky Starmach Gallery, housed in a former Jewish synagogue, it’s exhibitions feature showcases from home-grown and international talent.
My favorite of all will always be MOCAK (Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow)- the gallery I frequently pop into on a Sunday, in order to boost my inspirational juices after a tough week at work. It’s impossible not to want to return time and time again. Featuring prominent artistic names, such as Marina Abramovic, Pawel Althamer, and Ai Weiwei, there is always a new piece to fall in love with and a reason to return.
Theater, Old, and New
Founded by Tadeusz Kantor as an interactive documentation of his art, it’s setting, content and general feel, are unlike anything I have ever encountered before. Modern museum in iconic Jewish district Kazimierz is an absolute must for modern theater lovers, often playing host to a vast array of contemporary theater pieces.
If you’re slightly more traditional in your appreciation of the visual arts, you can’t go wrong with Krakow’s Opera House. Unsurprisingly it’s opera program is diverse and impressive, but also look out for ballet performances and other musical concerts.
Perhaps it’s my love of history, but I’ve always been one of those people who enjoys walking in the footsteps of people who inspire me. Whether it’s skimming through books in the same second-hand book shops as the literary greats in Paris or walking under Michelangelo’s ceiling imaging every stroke of his brush. But nowhere in the world, has transported me back in time, like Krakow’s avant-garde history has.
Maybe It’s just that- the refreshingly unique twist on art the Polish greats Stanisław Wyspiański and Andrzej Wróblewski offered the world. But walking in their footsteps is a thrill to this day. Wróblewski’s ‘Executions’ series is utterly powerful. Depicting scenes of events during the German occupation of Poland in WWII, he uses cadaver like hues of green and blue to show its brutally deformed human figures. Intense and thought to provoke, in every sense. Krakow is a city of artists!
Folk Festivals and Party Parades
One of the best nights I have ever had in Krakow was last year’s Wianki Festival, where locals, travelers and expats like me danced the night away in unison! Held on the summer solstice, the festival has echoes of pagan history and has taken place in various forms throughout Poland’s incredibly diverse history. The festival has been going in its most recent incarnation since 1992, with fireworks and wreath floating in the water – I can’t recommend it enough!
Whilst I may have rolled my eyes at those family members who dismissed Krakow as being all about its medieval gargoyles and dragons, it would be wrong not to mention them at all! Folk tradition is still very much present in the heart of Krakow, particularly in the form of its two major parades: the Lajkonik Parade and the Dragon Parade, both of which celebrate the city’s medieval history. Expect floats, costumes, fireworks, lasers and even music. In fact, they’re both great events in Krakow to take your cultural kids to, too!
So next time someone tries to tell you that Europe’s culture only exists in pockets of Renaissance adorned France and Spain, remember Krakow’s culture and art scene spans hundreds of years and only continues to flourish. Even after living in Krakow for over a year, the city continues to surprise me with the unexpected culture that can be found around every corner.
#This guest post was written by Jules Bukovski who is an independent traveler. She moved to Krakow from U.S.A and is still working as an English teacher in the city.#