Nowa Huta Krakow Reviews
Nowa Huta - Built Propaganda Aug 26, 2013
Nowa Huta is a suburb of Krakow; a planned city built around the steelworks (the name means New Steelworks) deliberately intended to make Krakow less middle class and more pro-Soviet, by attracting in large numbers of working class workers. It was intended to be a Socialist paradise, and it is a place of wide boulevards, pretty parks and grand blocks of flats. Of course, it is also one of Krakow’s most deprived neighbourhoods, and the dream of a worker’s paradise was never completed. It is also the site of one of the earliest victories against ideological communism, when a pre-pope John Paul II persuaded the authorities to allow the building of a church, the first new church to be built in a communist country, and several running battles between a nascent Solidarity union and the Communist army.
Why were we trekking out to look at a residential neighbourhood? Well, my husband (doctor, Audi Driver and self-proclaimed working class hero) has always had a bit of a thing for Soviet brutalist architecture. Not the politics, you understand. Just the buildings. On such inexplicable quirks are long term relationships built. And as a piece of living social history, one of the few examples of what the communists thought the future would look like is hard to beat. The brutal oppression and evil of the regime makes it easy to forget that in the early days, many communist officials genuinely believed they were building a better future for ordinary workers (not for me, obviously. My family couldn’t have been more solidly Bourgeoisie if we tried). Nothing in this review is intended to excuse the deaths and oppression, but it’s interesting to see another aspect in the history.
The suburb is based around a central square, full of flowers, and several broad boulevards. One of them leads directly to the steel mill; the communists wanted to glorify factories and mines, not cathedrals and palaces. Some of the boulevards are pedestrianized and have gardens and benches, and all the flats back onto playparks and gardens. There is also a lovely lake park and lots of trees – more sinister when you think that they were intended to absorb some of the explosion if the West bombed the steel mill, and there were even hopes that having trees might offer partial protection against a small nuke (this being before the news leaked out how damaging nukes were). Still, the intention was that ordinary workers would have access to parkland and fresh air, just like richer people could. The blocks of flats were famously built by volunteers (many of whom were still sleeping in tents when the first winter came). They are modelled on renaissance palaces – propaganda carved into solid concrete, shouting that the workers were as good as anyone in the city. But a planned town hall was never completed, and neither were several of the grandest streets. The political climate changed and cooled – hero workers were no longer heroes. Just like in Animal Farm – everyone is equal, but some were more equal than others.
There is a monument to the Solidarity movement and an interesting collection of old photos just outside the cultural centre in Plac Centralne. I don’t think the church we found was the original new church built, but it was pretty cool looking and I might have gone in if they had not been in the middle of mass.
It is worth walking out to the entrance to the Steelyard too; the gates now house a Deutchbank on one side and a branch of the Solidarity union on the other, and it’s hard not to view that as a little symbolic. The number 4 tram goes from the city centre of Krakow to Plac Centralne in the heart of Nowy Huta and to the steel yard gates. If you are going out, remember that you are essentially walking through a housing estate and taking too many pictures of people’s houses is – let’s face it – a little weird. But it is really interesting to get a glimpse of what the world would have looked like if the Communist authorities had kept winning.
Part of the Poland travel blog
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