Wanting to get a sense for Krakow’s long and tragic history during my time here, today I wandered into the centre of town and joined a free group walking tour. I was looking forward to learning about the ancient buildings, beautiful churches, and Jewish ghettos populated during the Second World War, and was pleasantly surprised when the guide started the tour by talking in Polish. It added an air of authenticity to the experience, and really set the mood.
Twenty minutes later, when the guide was still jabbering on in a language I couldn’t understand, I started to become concerned. I turned to the little bloke next to me, who was busy nodding his head and taking notes in a book, and said, “So when’s this dickhead gunna stop fucking around and start speaking English?” The little bloke just gabbled back to me in the same weird language as the guide.
I was now faced with a conundrum. If I stayed with the group, I wouldn’t understand a single fuckin’ word the guide was staying, but if I left halfway through, she would be highly offended, especially as she makes a living off the tips people give her. Figuring the tour couldn’t last that long, I hung in there, nodding away at everything as if I understood what was going on.
Three bloody hours that thing ended up taking. Three bloody hours of hanging around with that group of grinning imbeciles, looking at stupid bloody buildings and learning not a lick about them. Krakow might have an interesting past, but I didn’t pick up on any of it, and to me it looks like any of the other cities I’ve been to. A fancy church here, a town square there, oh look, a bridge! Don’t get me wrong, it’s pleasant, but visiting so many European cities in a row is like watching 15 episodes of MASH in a row – fun at first, but by the end of it you just wanna smash Radar O’Riley’s stupid face in.
We ended the tour by singing some sort of stupid song that I obviously didn’t know the words to (I pretty much just sang “Poo, poo, wee, wee” to the same tune) and I handed the tour guide a pile of Slotzkys. She smiled and said something in Polish, and I just gave her a wink and said, “Luv, I didn’t understand a fuckin’ word you said all day, but you’re alright.”
Thirsty and in need of a drink, I headed to the nearest supermarket – and it was massive! Aisles of beer and vodka stretch to the sky, while the market stretches out as far as the eye can see. It took me half an hour just to walk from one end, then another halfa just to pick out which bloody beer I wanted. If there’s one thing Polish people really, really like to do, it’s shopping.
On the way back, I stumbled upon a peaceful park that sits above the city, providing commanding views out over the river. People jogged along tree-lined tracks, or sat and ate from picnic baskets, creating a truly serene scene. It wasn’t until later that I realised I was walking through the Płaszów concentration camp, where thousands upon thousands of people were worked to death or executed during the 1940s. More than 8000 innocent people were marched to the nearby Hujowa Górka, hill, where they were shot, and their bodies tossed into mass graves. When the Red Army advanced on the site, the bodies were exhumed and burnt, with the ashes filling several trucks.
Once I realised where I was, the signs of terror became obvious. The terrain shows signs of once holding mass graves, and there’s a giant stone statue commemorating the dead. I came across a gigantic quarry that still houses watchtowers, and scattered around the site are the remains of Nazi-era buildings. But the camp has been turned into something positive, that the locals (and survivors) can enjoy. Płaszów isn’t a sad place anymore, but is definitely somewhere worth checking out.
Tomorrow, I visit an even more infamous concentration camp; Auschwitz. Well, that’s if I can work out how to even get there…