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Where 36 Hours Isn’t Enough

The ‘Times’ goes to Krakow

Stephanie Butnick
October 04, 2011
Krakow, Poland.(Wikipedia)
Krakow, Poland.(Wikipedia)

I love Krakow, Poland. It’s a beautiful, lively city that often gets overlooked, particularly by Jewish travelers. So I was excited when Krakow got the latest Times’ 36-hour treatment, which offers readers a glimpse of what an ideal weekend–or, almost-a-weekend–in a chosen destination might look like.

But as it turns out, 36 hours is simply not enough time to spend in Krakow if you’re looking to get an in-depth, nuanced look at this charming city in a country with a complicated Jewish past. The kid sister to storied tourist sites like Prague, Budapest, and Berlin–all mentioned in the very first paragraph of the Times piece–Krakow comes with its own baggage and a unique Jewish legacy that institutions like the Krakow JCC, Galicia Jewish Museum, and the annual Jewish Culture Festival are working to not only preserve but also renew. It takes time to see the many layers of Jewish life, both past and present, that linger in the streets of Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter that has since been revived as a tourist destination and even more recently has developed its own newfangled form of Jewish identity.

While according to the Times, which cited the city’s many art museums and hip hangouts, “All this means that Krakow may soon be the cool, post-Communist enclave with which Europe’s next crop of emerging cities is compared,” for this daily Jewish life publication there is more at stake. Namely, how to enjoy a city once home to so many Jews that, demographically speaking, can never be recreated. I still am not entirely able to reconcile this reality. But that’s the beauty of Krakow, a city that challenges its Jewish visitors to reconsider broad-sweeping notions of Poland both in its aesthetic appeal and its commitment to addressing its Jewish past and embracing a future in which Jewish life remains alive. You just have to look for it.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.