Chasing Lenin in Krakow

While in exile Lenin lived in Krakow a little while, and it is always our tradition to try and find the haunts of radicals and revolutionaries while visiting a city (like the Parisian cafe where he played chess with Trotsky and etc). For some context, I give you Israel Joshua Singer’s description of Lenin from The Brothers Ashkenazi (which you can read about as it relates the anti-Jewish sentiments to Marxist theory here):

…the squat man with the naked skull and Tatar features didn’t wax sentimental upon the occasion….He gazed ironically at the forest of red flags, his bald pate reflecting the gleam of the military trumpets blaring the “Marseillaise” in his honor, and narrowed his slanted eyes at the hordes of welcomers…Their speeches left him unmoved. A narrow smile played at the corners of his sly slit eyes as he patiently listened to their cultured voices and waited to douse their rhetoric with cold, sobering logic.

That cold, calculating logic wins the day, but Singer is unconvinced that is a good thing. Still, I could not get this description out of my head while staring at pictures of the statue of Lenin erected in the Stalinist workers’ housing development of Nova Huta — and still standing after attempts to blow it up, blow off its head, make of it a monument covered in cat piss, and etc.

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Only to be taken down in 1989 and sold to a Swedish theme park. This reminded me of similar remnants of Lenin’s legacy in Prague, particularly the absurd Museum of Communism.

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The fact that it was the workers of Nova Huta themselves, facing down immense state violence, who helped bring down the ‘communist’ regime shows just how far the USSR had moved from early ideals of all-power-to-the-soviets and its dream of a workers state. Lenin can’t, of course, be blamed entirely for that, but I personally feel he sowed a few of those seeds.

On a lighter note…this is  an alternative view of Lenin, and his time in Krakow from a site more geared to the promotion of tourism:

Lenin arrived in Kraków on June 22, 1912 on the overnight train from Vienna, wife and mother-in-law in tow. Working as a freelance journalist for Russian papers like Pravda he took rented lodgings first on Krolowej Jadwigi, behind the Salwator tram terminus, and then at ul. Lubomirskiego 47. His favoured hangout was apparently Noworolski Café (Rynek Główny 1), a spot he used to entertain both wife and lover. One of Lenin’s great passions was ice skating, and he’d often be seen spinning deft moves on an ice rink which once stood close to the Botanical Gardens. In warmer months he’d pass time cycling in Wolski Forest as well as taking romantic walks through the Błonia Meadow.

Summers were spent in Poronin, just outside Zakopane, where he would play chess and hang out with Polish heavyweight writers like Witkiewicz and Żeromski. His reputation as a good-for-nothing finally caught up with him however, and on August 8th, 1914 he was arrested as an enemy of the state and imprisoned in Nowy Targ. Released days later he returned to Kraków to pack his bags and fled to Switzerland.

I laughed out loud at reading ‘His reputation as a good-for-nothing’ I confess. Another site mentions that his wife believed Krakow had mellowed him, and he was a fan of its zurek soup (rye soup) and hard liquor. Combine that with ice skating, and I can understand mellow. It also notes that Krakow was only six miles from the Russian border at the time, and a zone for smuggling of currency, goods and people. It also notes the move to ul. Lubomirskiego was made so Lenin could be closer to the post office.

Our trip to the Naworolski Cafe — its interior designed by Joseph Mehoffer, one of the artists of the Young Poland movement whose house was also well worth our visit.

Noworolski

Noworolski

Noworolski

The service was terribly slow, so we had lots of time to think about Lenin as ladies’ man and early-morning-paper-reader, hope that the coffee was better back in those days, and enjoy the view across Krakow’s main square:

Noworolski
Then there’s the Propaganda Cafe in Kazimierz, which was never a haunt of Lenin’s, but did contain a lot of awesome old stuff from communist days, including this picture. Also, the Gin and Tonics were exactly what we needed on a day whose heat almost killed Mark…

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We were in the area of his first place of residence – Krolowej Jadwigi, behind the Salwator tram terminus. This is the tram station closest to the Kościuszko Mound which we visited. Here we walked through Las Wolski — a welcome escape for those who live in the city.

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Another day we set off for ul. Lubomirskiego 47 on the way to the Botanic Garden, an area unlike any we had visited yet

Krakow

Krakow

Krakow

We found ul. Lubomirskiego to be a rather interesting street:

Krakow

We passed apartments like this, surely it would be like this we thought:

Krakow

But no, the one shiny newly-painted building on the block was Lenin’s — a pale beigey yellow. I don’t know why my heart demanded Lenin’s old digs to be of faded splendour, but so it was.

Krakow

Across the street, Krakow marching into modernity.

Krakow

I think part of why I enjoy hunting down these places is how it helps you step outside the role of visitor a little, get a feel for more of the city.

That was all…but I think this will be my last Krakow post — too much to do: too many blogs that are hopefully working through material for my article on social movement, too many applications to write, too much work on Whispering Truth stories, too many more days of failing to finish my book rewrites and get this review done for City and these other articles wrapped up and submitted. I am looking forward to all of that work so little that I have managed to exercise every day despite the heat and have submitted three short stories to magazines and my book to another agent.

I hate that shit, but not as much as working on articles apparently.

But there is always Krakow.

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