Adjacent to Kraków sits Nowa Huta, an in-your-face proletarian antithesis to the medieval and Renaissance architecture found in Poland’s hub of intellectual and artistic expression. Begun in 1947, and funded by the Soviet Union, Nowa Huta is considered one of the finest examples of deliberate social engineering in the world. This model socialist realist city for 100,000 people was carefully planned to impress and control. Parks and lakes provided nearby recreation after long workdays at the Lenin Steelworks. The wide, tree-lined avenues would prevent the spread of fire and the profusion of trees would easily soak up a nuclear blast, while the layout was such that the city could easily be turned into a fortress if it came under attack. Nowa Huta did provide better housing and quality of life for some, but workers’ uprisings developed along with the Solidarity movement and today, Nowa Huta, has paradoxically become something of a bohemian centre for avant-garde artists and theatre, showing what often happens to the best-laid plans.
Was Nowa Huta an Orwellian dystopia or a well-planned community fostering a high quality of life? Even though we will visit Nowa Huta this June as part of our exploration of how the arts respond to and influence historical upheavals in Poland, it is hard to tell what life was like for those who lived there. I stumbled on a terrific documentary featuring the original architect for the city and a number of its early inhabitants, reflecting on the their experiences over the decades. It is about a half hour and is subtitled. If you have an interest in the nuances and complexities of history, which is never black or white, you will enjoy this film.
We still have a few spots available. Come join us for Kraków: Face to Face with Poland’s Creative Artists.