Kraków during the Pandemic EDyta GAwron

Nobody expected it to happen, but in the space of just a few days in March 2020 we found ourselves displaced and working from home, then experiencing the lockdown and struggling with fear. Most of the plans we had in place suddenly had to be cancelled. For Krakow it has been a sad and shocking time – the crowded city, with millions of tourists, suddenly became deserted. Within a few days Market Square and Kazimierz resembled a ghost town. Suddenly, the tourists were gone, the locals had to comply with strict lockdown protocols – life was drained of color and imagery. All public activities and events were cancelled. A quiet eeriness enveloped the streets of Krakow. From time to time, a lone voice boomed from the loudspeakers installed on police cars reminding inhabitants to stay at home – „Zostań w domu!”

Three months later, the city began to awaken… While some rules of the lockdown remain, people – both locals and visitors – try to resume what is considered a „normal life.” In fact – nothing is like it used to be, we are witnessing a new reality.

Here are some snapshots taken during the pandemic in Krakow, spontaneous documentation of a time to remember.

#corona #pandemic2020 #covid19 #Krakow

Photos by Edyta Gawron / Concept for online exhibition by the San Francisco-Krakow Sister Cities Association / Hosting institution: Galicia Jewish Museum

As soon as the first news about the coronavirus in Poland was spread – somebody placed posters in the Planty (the park encircling Old Town) – with a note “Panic is coming on”.
The government announced restrictions limiting the numbers of people that could gather in public places. Soon after the borders were closed and the lockdown announced. Within a few days, the streets were hauntingly devoid of any trace of human activity. This extended to Old Town in Krakow…
… the Planty
… and the narrow streets of Kazimierz.
The March of Remembrance, scheduled on March 16 – the anniversary of the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto – was also cancelled.
A new reality was introduced, led by the slogan “stay at home”, which became one of the most popular hashtags. Its presence in public spaces was accompanied by lists of new rules and recommendations, including the obligatory use of disinfectant liquid.
Staying at home most of the time, people were eager to use their windows or balconies as substitutes for the outside world.
Suddenly, in the evenings many windows in the residential areas were bright, showing the presence of the residents. In contrast the windows of hotels and apartments for rent remained completely dark.
Tourist attractions, restaurants, and cafes appeared abandoned; their emptiness carried a sadness that was in some way scary…
Even during national holidays at the beginning of May, most institutions were closed and only white and red flags marked the national anniversaries.
Kazimierz, usually full of tourists, was empty. This vibrant district, a symbol of social and cultural life, was hauntingly silent.
Local artists and activists searched for some way of dealing with the pandemic. A series of graphic images was produced around the city, including the graffiti patterns with inscriptions such as “It’s not supposed to be fun. I am a disease”.
Like many other people I missed being outdoors, missed physical training. The only way to have some workout was to travel to the green area outside of the city. Long distance biking had become both sport and ritual. Walking one’s dog was never as popular nor attended to with such glee as during the lockdown.
When biking along the river I admired the city I live in.
So many beautiful locations, now somehow less available and hence more visible.
Empty carousel reminding me of the loud cohort of visitors there no longer.
For about two weeks during the lockdown, national parks and forests were closed and entering them was forbidden by the authorities. For the residents of Krakow, especially those making their home in the city center it was one of the most illogical and therefore difficult restrictions to obey.
As soon as the parks were reopened, local residents immediately used them as recreation spaces, enjoyable locations especially during sunny days. This group of artists practices "physical distancing" with long sticks.
Plac Nowy, known among Cracovians as Jewish Square, did not offer any cultural attractions, trade, or food for many weeks. It looked deserted and gray. Even when restrictions were eased it took a while to see visitors here. And no business was as it had been.
The time of pandemic might have seemed the best occasion to renovate buildings, especially hotels. The plastic cover of Grand Hotel, which appeared on the front of the building at the beginning of 2020, resembled the antivirus protection used in hospitals. Its side wooden protection banners become ideal platforms for street art.
Series of graffiti around the city marked artists’ responses to the pandemic – like those signed by “K”. Here: “We should help each other”
Just before Easter holidays, still during the lockdown, a line of people waited to get some food packages from a local charity organization by the Catholic convent. During the time of pandemic, the queues were much longer than usual.
Walking along the streets of Krakow during the lockdown one could see more and more shops permanently closed. The owners of souvenir shops and tourist agencies realized quickly it would be impossible for them to survive without international visitors.
The shop owners closed their businesses hoping to reopen soon. Removing some items from the windows was considered a temporary solution to protect possessions.
Jozefa Street in Kazimierz is normally busy, with music heard around the Cheder Café and High Synagogue. During the lockdown this part of Kazimierz also became not just empty but amazingly quiet.
St. Anna’s Street leads to the Main Market Square and is one of the main paths for walkers and bikers. Now – empty.
The courts as well as most state and public institutions were closed, with access to the buildings restricted to the most "essential" workers. Some services moved on-line, some were postponed.
The Botanical Garden was closed, but passing by it and seeing the palms and exotic plants brought nostalgia for summer holidays and thoughts of distant travel.
During the lockdown most basic shopping was done locally, in smaller food stores, or on-line. Once the shopping centers finally opened, physical distancing became crucial and new signs were visible everywhere. Keep your distance, wear a mask, disinfect your hands – our new mantra was instituted.
Following the decision by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, all the museums and cultural institutions were closed down on March 12, 2020. They remained unavailable for the next three months…
While all the pre-pandemic advertisements were on display, now they had new meaning… like the poster recommending “Creepy Krakow tour”.
"Women’s hell" [during the mass protests against the expansion of the anti-abortion law in Poland]
During the lockdown all mass gatherings and meetings were forbidden. People who protested against the new anti-abortion law used the queues in front of the food stores for protests. The most spectacular one was located in the Main Market Square of Krakow.
Women and men with banners, posters, umbrellas, bags – all included meaningful symbols and slogans.
On May 10, 2020 the presidential election was planned in Poland. Due to the situation caused by the pandemic and some protests it was postponed at the last minute. However the anti-governmental opposition group organized an outdoor event where citizens could share their opinions.
As most of the small business venues were closed, some of their owners tried to share their hope for a better future. Some cafes and restaurants, although closed for regular business (some offered take-away meals) shared their hope for better times – "It’s gonna be all right!" (seen in the district of Kazimierz)
As all universities in Krakow were closed starting mid March to on-site lectures and seminars, most classes were offered on-line. Thousands of foreign students in Krakow faced the dilemma – should we stay or should we travel back home? Some of them decided to remain in Krakow or did not manage to leave the country before the borders were closed (March 15). To deal with the lockdown and feelings of homesickness – they organized activities at home (or in the courtyard), like boxing training.
As parks and green areas along the Vistula riverbank were reopened for residents, some of the students went outside to study and hang out.
Larger gatherings were still not permitted.
"Beautiful days will be back!"
In May the situation improved and the government eased some restrictions. Outdoor cafes and restaurants were slowly reopening, which in some locations, such as the Main Square, was a symbolic change.
Social life was returning.
While shops and cafes were opening, there were still locations where it took much longer.
Some shops and companies went out of business. This prime location in Grodzka Street was for rent soon after the photo was taken.
"Support locally"
Open-air food markets, such as Kleparz, reopened fully. Some local activists started campaigns supporting local food providers and local businesses in general.
The opening of museums was carefully prepared and some significant changes for visitors and staff were introduced. The iconic painting “Lady with an Ermine”, among other precious art objects, could be seen only when wearing a mask. The posters at the front door of Czartoryski Museum provide information on the new rules: “Coronavirus – don't risk it! Protect yourself and others"


Edyta Gawron is a historian, Assistant Professor at Jagiellonian University, Institute of Jewish Studies. She serves as the President of the Managment Board of Galicia Jewish Heritage Institute Foundation (Galicia Jewish Museum). A curator and co-author of several exhibitions, she loves photography and cycling.


We invite you to upload your photos of daily life in your neighborhoods and surrounding environs during these pandemic times onto our Facebook pages for the Galicia Jewish Museum and the San Francisco-Krakow Sister Cities Association. And stay tuned for news about an online conversation with the exhibit's photographer and curator in early September.

Created By
Edyta Gawron


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