Krakòw is generally known for two reasons. For partying, and for it’s close proximity to the small polish town of Oświęcim, which just so happens to house the relics of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The location in which one of the greatest modern humanitarian travesties occurred some 70 years ago.
There are two types of people who visit the city. Those who still can’t believe vodka can cost five euro a bottle, and those who want to explore some of modern histories defining moments. Surprisingly, Krakòw shows it’s possible for a city to be a beacon of ignorant excess and sombre remembrance. Clearly an odd combination.
It doesn’t discriminate. The partiers can go off and lose their mind for 10 euro, but that’s something that can be done all over the world. People often mouth off about how Krakòw supposedly has the highest density of bars in Europe. But that shouldn’t be your sole motivation for visiting, and you’ll probably end up being disappointed if it is.
Anyone who is been traveling for a significant period of time could probably tell you getting fucked up and fornicating strangers in odd situations day in and day out is not what others have made it out to be. So called “dark tourism” has gladly filled the void left by the empty feeling one gets after living the European backpacking lifestyle for a long time.
Others can go off to learn and reflect on a darker time, all the while enjoying this unique city. The Jewish quarter houses chilled cafés and nice bars. The depravity is segregated from the nicer areas.
However this mixture has clearly left some people confused at how to behave.
When walking through markets in the Jewish quarter you can meet old men selling rusting Hitler Youth knifes among trinkets and Soviet-era film cameras to budding tourists. Authentic or not, I don’t want to know.
At the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, couples take selfies and people still spin in circles with GoPros on sticks. The same GoPros they probably used at generic clubs the night before. People storm through reconstructed rooms with cameras out, clicking away. Signs politely urge people not to take pictures of the gas chambers used for abhorrent purposes in the past. Tour groups spend their time texting their friends inside rooms full of children’s shoes and human hair.
The visit will no doubt realign your faith in humanity. You will just be a little confused as to the reason why.
It’s not hard to raise your eyebrows at a lot of things around Krakòw. Whether it is history of the reactions to the history. But it’s a unique place I could not recommend enough.