The City Hall in Kazimierz district of Krakow //© 2013 Jakub Hałun
Once forlorn and neglected, Kazimierz, Krakow’s former Jewish Ghetto, has been resurrected thanks to a new generation — from America and Israel — eager to reclaim it. Kazimierz, which housed Jews for 800 years, has a history that goes back to 1335, when it was founded as an island town by King Kazimierz the Great. Jews were expelled from Krakow proper in 1495 and have been associated with the Kazimierz neighborhood ever since.
During my first visit in 1989, it was unwise to step into Kazimierz alone; the area was edgy, abandoned and just plain dangerous. By the 1990s, however, the district had been rediscovered, and has been booming ever since. Boutiques, inns, spas, bookstores, cafes and around-the-clock nightlife have transformed the stretch from Miodowa ulica (street) to Szeroka into one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city. It is also the site of the 40th Summer Jazz Festival through the end of July, the Festival of Jewish Culture, The Judaica Foundation Center for Jewish Culture and the Jewish Community Center (JCC), headed by Jonathan Ornstein, should travelers be seeking a Shabbat dinner or schmooze.
“Jewish visitors come to Krakow primarily to see Auschwitz but, by visiting the JCC, they are exposed not to the tragedy of the Holocaust, but rather how life can be rebuilt in its wake,” said Ornstein.
Among the first new businesses to arrive was Ariel Restaurant, which became Steven Spielberg’s hangout during the filming of “Schindler’s List” in 1993. If you like its dusky paintings, evocative surroundings and antiques, visit Singer, one of the first bars to have opened in the area. Around the same time, Jarden, a Jewish-themed bookstore debuted. Next door at Szeroka 6, now the Klezmer Hois hotel and restaurant, the local Great Mikvah, a ritual bathhouse once stood. Do visit 12 Szeroka, or Rubinstein, named for the Queen of Cosmetics, Helena Rubinstein, who was actually born at 14 Szeroka.
The legendary Remuh Synagogue is now a museum, though its cemetery remains plaintive. On the day I visited, the ticket taker was a man whose mother was saved by Oskar Schindler. On the rim of the neighborhood is Oskar Schindler’s fabled enamel factory, which is now a dramatically-designed museum at 4 Lipowa Street.
No matter what, take a walk through Remuh cemetery — the Nazis defiled it by ripping out the tombstones and using them as sidewalks, and now the tombstones tell endless stories as they line a wall from top to bottom.
Where to Stay
The 27-room Eden Hotel and Restaurant occupies a carefully restored 15th century building that once was home to Isaac Jakubowicz, founder of the Isaac Synagogue. Among the trendiest pubs and nightspots are the Alchemia od Kuchni and Le Scandale for cocktails.
Agents may recall the Orbis Hotels’ properties, some of which have been refurbished as three-star properties in the best parts of town, such as the Hotel Wyspansky facing Planty Park in Krakow, a five-minute walk to Rynek Glowny.
Where to Eat
For a taste of Polish cuisine in a medieval setting, consider the restaurant Pod Aniolami, which translates to “under the angels.”
Kogel Mogel, named after a simple, homemade dessert, elevates Polish food to restaurant status.