Wonderland, where are you?: Exploring Podgórze

Podgórze is the working class suburb of Kraków, south of the main tourist areas but still deserving of a look. It was here that Jews worked in a concentration camp, where churches sit still and quiet, not open to the public, and where a mysterious mound of earth affords a 360 view of the city.

In the Lonely Plant: Pocket Krakow guide, there is a walking map of Podgórze, nicely titled “Podgórze’s Quirkier Side”. This intrigued me, and since I was done with the major location visits for the day, I decided to take this walk.

Let me start out by saying that I never considered myself an adventurous person until I moved overseas. The thought of taking a different route to work freaked me out, and here I was, picked up a walking map in a foreign country, determined to see the sites in a lesser-frequented area. I have to say, I had my doubts, given my distinct lack of directional awareness, but once I’m on a mission, not much deters me from it.

I walked south from the factory and Vistula River along Limanowskiego and Wielicka roads, trying to figure out, given the vague geographical clues in the written section of the walking guide, where I could find the Plaszów Labour Camp. At its highest population, around 25,000 people were interred there to work ceaselessly, lorded over by the cruel and merciless Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes in the film). It took awhile to find the ruins, tucked behind small trees and in a grassy area. They look like gravestones now, half-covered over and scattered here and there. But the memories are still there, lingering just in the trees and the ground.

From there, I began a walk up the hill, coming into the woods without anyone around. I was looking for the Liban Quarry, the once-movie set for Schindler’s List. It became the Plaszów Labour Camp in the film, and there are still pieces of the set there. A few people, mostly teenagers hiding from parents, hung out by the quarry’s edge, a rather steep drop down into trees, rocks, and water. The view opened up suddenly, and the sun drenched the walls of the quarry, as it was later in the afternoon. It was blindingly beautiful, the movie props looking like abandoned worlds deep in the quarry.

The key was, if I thought I was lost because the path didn’t look very well-traveled, I was going the right way. I kept plowing through brush, trees, and weeds, hoping that the sun was not going to set quickly as I was on the verge of getting lost. In the woods. In a place I didn’t know, with a map that seemed to be leading me which way to Sunday.

Winding around the edge of the quarry, Krakus Mound became easily visible – a lime green mound of grass at the top of the hill. Now I knew I was on the right path!

 

It was an easy uphill stroll to the top of the mound to see the entire city of Kraków. There are some rumors as to whom is buried there, and some believe it’s Prince Krak, but at least the grassy mound is a fun place to picnic and to see the cityscape below.

Down from the mound, and back into the city, it’s a bit of a stretch to find the Old Podgórze Cemetery, a once-Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Germans. Down near a ravine and behind trees, I had to jump through some thorny stems to find the gravestones that were still left.

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Old Podgorze Cemetery

St. Benedict Fort and the accompanying church are both silent. The fort is abandoned and has been that way for awhile. The church is quite a mysterious thing, as it only opens once a year on the Tuesday after Easter. Since it was Friday after Easter, I missed it by three days. I suppose I will never know what the inside looks like!

Finally, I ended up at Rynek Podgórsk, under the shadow of the massive Church of St. Joseph. I finally sat down here, resting my feet and figuring out really quickly that I was very hungry and hadn’t eaten in donkey’s years. It was time to finally head back to the Jewish Quarter and on to dinner at a local pierogi joint.

A walk into the past is a difficult one indeed.

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