Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Krakow Poland, July 30, 2009, Part II

Krakow, Part II, 29-30 July, Michael reporting...

One thing we were sure of in Krakow, it was that we were not on, nor were we interested in, nor do we ethically, morally, or florally support what this gentleman was advertising.

¡Viva Irregularity!

We also saw this small group of musicians, and a couple enjoying the music…

And then there was this… not only have we seen a rash of Michael Jackson biographies in bookstores throughout Europe, but even the puppeteers are getting into the spirit:

One notable event which we were happy to see was a long-standing Krakow tradition. Every hour, a trumpeter opens a window in the tower of the Basilica of the Virgin Mary and plays a melody, the same one since the Middle Ages. The trumpeter stops abruptly, to commemorate when a bugler was shot in the throat during the Mongol invasion of 1241. This same melody, by the way, was played on Radio Free Europe at the beginning of every broadcast.

After our meeting with Monica, we had a little time so headed to the south side of Krakow, to the old Jewish quarter. In a sadly familiar pattern, the Jews were kicked out of Krakow proper in the fifteenth century and forced to live in the Kazimierz section, a far less grand area. By the early twentieth century, however, Krakow had become a thriving center for Jewish cultural and spiritual life, where they were even given their own house of parliament. When the Nazis occupied Poland, they also forced the Jews out of the city and into a ghetto, this time on the other side of the river, but then of course most were sent to the worst of the death camps, which happen to be close to Krakow: Auschwitz and Birkenau. Oscar Schindler's factory is near the Nazi Jewish ghetto. Kazimierz, which now holds very few actual Jews, is now a quaint and fashionable area with comfortably dilapidated buildings, large leafy courtyards, and an obvious cashing-in on the Jewish past. We walked around, exploring the small streets, noting that many of the cafes and shops had Jewish names, displayed in huge letters on the storefronts. A few of the grand old synagogues still stand, where a tiny population of Jews still worship. We skirted the edge of the Jewish cemetery, but could not find a way past the high walls, so high we could not even see inside. Our problem was solved when Kevin cleverly spotted a bar/café bordering the cemetery that had a terrace section on the roof. We promptly went inside and up, planting ourselves at a table high above the street allowing us to see down fully into the cemetery. The tombstones were all inscribed in Hebrew, and many of them had metal “hats” that allowed visitors to deposit the customary rocks (out of respect, for you non-Jews out there) without damaging the tombstones. The graves were quite crowded together, particularly in some sections, reminding me a little of the Prague Jewish cemetery, where the bodies are stacked fourteen deep and tombstones crowd the hillocked earth so tightly that earth is barely visible. For some reason, though, in Krakow the area in the center of the cemetery is just a blank green hill… perhaps an area where the stones had been removed or destroyed (it is amazing the Nazis left anything standing here at all), but judging from the crowdedness of the rest, it is probably still an area with many souls.

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