First day – on the way to Krakau
As we decided to travel by plane, our class met at the Frankfurt airport early in the morning with enough spare time. Everybody was on time and so we could check in relaxed and everything went smoothly and without any problems. Lufthansa brought us safe to Krakau airport, where a shuttle bus waited for us to pick us up and drive us just in front of the hotel, we stayed in.
Of course, our project management was on point and
the check-in into the hotel was going smoothly as well. Just not all
of the apartments were ready at the point we arrived.
We decided that everyone gets some free time, before we meet up as a group and have a little guided tour by one of our teachers, Mr. Drage, who already has been in Krakau a couple of times and knew his way around and a lot of historical facts about the city.
In this time our class split up into a few smaller groups. All the groups went to have a look around the city and had something to eat. We, for example, got to a little restaurant near the hotel and grabbed some snacks and had a few beers. The prices were even in the more touristic places pretty low, compared to Germany. This little break was great to relax from the journey and to arrive in the city.
After about two hours we met up back in the hotel and moved in. There was a little meeting to organise how everything went down and then we headed out to the previously mentioned guided tour with Mr. Drage.
It was really amazing how much he knew about the city and we walked about 90 minutes around the marketplace and along the Wavel. I can’t really recall any historical facts about the city, and I don’t think anybody would be really bothered about that. The tour itself kind of split the whole group apart a little bit. The pace, Mr. Drage has expected from us was a bit too fast for the most of us and we never really moved as a complete group. The tour was planned to be longer, but due to the exhaustion caused by the journey, we decided to end it a bit earlier and got back to the hotel.
After that, the rest of the day was free for everybody and from there it’s hard to say what everybody did with their spare time. I guess there was a lot of beer drinking.
We, Michael and Alex, would like to tell you what we did on the second day in Krakow and what we organised for the class. Right in the beginning we decided to plan something spectacular and exciting besides the town visiting and annoying castle tours. As a riddle for you,we will just skate around it and you can guess what we did. If you are insecure, feel free to ask us. But let ́s start in the morning. Our mysterious adventure didn ́t start before the afternoon so we had some timefor ourselves. We decided to go geocaching in a group of four students. You don ́t know geocaching? An simpledescription is “finding Tupperware in a forest”. Given are some coordinates on which position you have to find hidden boxes or film reels. In these boxesare logbooks where you can add your name and the date. Sounds boring, but it ́s a lot of fun. Trust us. If you do it for the first time it can be frustrating because some hideouts are very tricky and you have to seekfor ages. You can geocache all around the world. In every city, town and even in the abandoned areas are these “caches”. It ́s a challenge to find caches in different countries and write themin your digital logbook. If someone asks us “Have you been to Krakow?” we can answer: “Yes, and wefounda cache there”. However, we guided our geocaching-rookies to the position where the cache should be and let them seek. Surprisingly,they found it after some minutes (even though Sarah was disgusted by spider webs). They found a film reel hidden under a map board. After Patrick unboxed the reel, Sarah perpetuated the FS3V in the logbook and we put the cache back in its old position for the next geocacher. Finally, they said it was a new and interesting experience. It wasa welcomedchance to spendsome time, takefresh air and visit unknown places. By the way, there is a cache just 400 meters away from the HEMS! Try your luck ;)Our next stop was the mysterious adventure: an optoelectronic excursion.We met at our hotel and went to the tram station. By tram it took a few stops until we gotout of the city center. After we arrived in an industrial area and crossed a strange path, we found our destination.But how can you imagine the optoelectronic excursion? Well, there are 16 adults who are divided into two teams. The teams hunt each other in a completelydark labyrinth. In the background plays very loud James Bond film music, including titles like „Goldfinger“ or „Skyfall“. The goal is to find as many team members of the other team as possible and mark them with an optoelectronic signal.It was a lot of fun for everyone and we decided to repeat this activity in Germany. Like same teams, different place!Afterthe optoelectronic excursion our daily responsibility has finished and everyone had some free time to visit Krakow. We splitted into small groups and discovered Krakow on our own till the evening. After lunch, we were lucky to be in the apartment and liedown after this long, sporty day.
The vast majority of European Jews who perished in the Holocaust where Polish. It is estimated that of the 3.460.000 Jewish Poles only 300.000 – 500.000 survived. At least 1.100.000 of them were killed in Auschwitz together with other Poles, Sinti and Roma and Russian POW’s.
Because of its importance in European history, the responsibility of Germany and ours as German citizens to live up to this dark part of our history we found it vital to visit Auschwitz in remembrance of the Holocaust.
Our Day began with a meeting at 9:30 am at Robins, Yanniks and Max’s Apartment. There we discussed how we planned the day and gave feedback to the group responsible for the day before. After a bit of free time we met at the entrance of our hotel at 12:35 pm and walked about 800 meters to the bus stop from where our bus would pick us up. Because we planned with a substantial time buffer we had to wait quite a bit till the bus arrived. Luckily for us there were other people waiting for the bus as well, so at least we could be sure to be waiting at the right place.
During the bus ride our English-speaking tour guide talked about organizational things, like which bags you could bring into the premises and what kind of objects aren’t allowed in. Some bags that were too big and our food could be left in the bus during our tour.
After about one hour and 20 minutes we arrived at Auschwitz 1, which is the oldest part of the concentration camp complex. The complex has two other parts: Auschwitz II, known as the Birkenau death camp and Auschwitz III, a work camp adjacent to a former IG Farben factory.
We had a 20 minutes break while our tour guide signed us in and got us our German speaking guide for our tour through Auschwitz.
Auschwitz I was formerly used as barracks and the Germans expanded the buildings to a second floor. It was mainly used as a work camp for surrounding factories. The only preserved gas chamber of the complex is there. Since it was close to the prisoners the SS guards would run the truck engines so the screams of the dying could not be heard. Throughout the barracks there are pictures of prisoners and displays of their belongings. Whole rooms filled up to the ceiling with shoes or hair, which the German navy used for insulation in submarines, for example.
After a break we went on to Auschwitz II Birkenau which is about 20 times bigger than Auschwitz I and was built to hold 200.000 prisoners. We entered the camp through the main entrance where the trains would arrive. To both sides are vast areas where the prisoner shanties stood. The ones build out of stone to the left are still standing. But of the wooden ones to the right only the fireplaces and chimneys remain, desolately standing around the area for hundreds of meters like tombstones.
We walked along the railway tracks where the prisoners would arrive and be separated in those who could work and those who would be marked for death. Sometimes whole trainloads of people would be driven to the gas chambers. The remains of two of those stand at the end of the railway tracks. In order to destroy direct evidence about the Holocaust the SS blew up the gas chambers and crematoria before the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.
From there we walked back towards the entrance and into one of the shanties. This particular one was for the people too sick to work. Most of them never recovered.
With that our tour in Auschwitz finished and we went back to our bus.
After the bus ride we had a dinner together at the end of the evening to exchange our thoughts about the day. That benefited us all.
PS: We did not take pictures on site because we felt it was inappropriate. There are several pictures of Auschwitz and Birkenau on the internet.
Today there should be a separate program for us, while one group of students went to Auschwitz, we did a tour through the history of Krakow. The locations were mainly those that were shown in Schindler’s list. We were free to choose which program we wanted to participate in.
Our tour guide was by chance also our teacher Mr. Drage, who had planned everything very well. We started at our hotel. By foot we sped to our first small stop, the former city wall of Krakow, where today only the foundation can be seen.
Next, we went to the first place that had something to do with Schindler’s list. A famous film location. Once upon a time a memorable scene, in which a German boy hid a Jewess and her child, was filmed there.
The next place we visited was not very historic, we visited the Plaza Nueva, that is a round building on a large square. Here you can eat a lot of different Polish fast food.
Shortly afterwards, we arrived at the former city wall of Kazimierz, which today belongs to Krakow. There is an old synagogue right next to this city wall. From now on, we were in the Jewish Neighbourhood.
In the Jewish Neighbourhood we were opportunistic and ate something very delicious, but it had nothing to do with Poland or Jews, it was a Thai specialty. This is rolled up ice cream with self-determined ingredients.
Deeper in the centre of the Jewish Neighbourhood we saw another synagogue which was also seen in the film. Unfortunately, it was very crowded there, that we could only take a photo from outside. There were a lot of Jewish symbols around, so we always knew we were in a Jewish Neighbourhood. There were also some Jewish restaurants.
A few days later I was there again with my roommates to try Jewish food. What can I say about Jewish delicacies? It was just extraordinary tasty.
Nearby there is the main synagogue.
After we visited the Jewish neighbourhood, we crossed the river Vistula (Weichsel in German) and came to a place which was once known as the ghetto. This spot is a memorial of the ghetto heroes. In the time of the National Socialism Jewish inhabitants were gathered up in concentration camps.
On the opposite side of the memorial is a pharmacy museum, which was the ghetto pharmacy in 1941. Unfortunately, we could not visit it. However, we learned that the ghetto pharmacy supported the ghetto inhabitants, although this was strictly forbidden and therefore life-threatening. The pharmacy owner at the time, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, succeeded in doing this by paying bribes to the Germans.
Not far from the memorial and the ghetto pharmacy is the enamel factory of Oskar Schindler, which we visited next.
From 1939 to 1943 several dozens of Poles and Jews worked in this factory. At that time tin ware and ammunition were produced. Thus, the factory was classified as an armament’s factory, which enabled Schindler to hire additional Jewish workers. In order to protect his workers from the extermination camps, Schindler justified this with the fact that the workers were indispensable because they were working on orders important to the war. In 1944, the inhabitants of the ghetto were taken to extermination camps. Instead of running off with his money, Schindler moved the factory and its workers to Brno. Schindler thus saved more than 1200 Jews from certain death.
From the factory we then walked to Plaszow where Amon Göth’s villa was located, he was an SS-leader and commander of the Plaszow concentration camp. Today the villa is privately owned and cannot be visited.
The villa was located directly on the grounds of the concentration camp. From the veranda of his villa, Amon Göth shot several of the forced workers just for fun.
The sadistic concentration camp leader, Amon Göth, is known as the “Butcher of Plaszow”.
Afterwards we visited the remains of this concentration camp. There are many information boards on which the events from 1943 to 1944 are documented. We have read some of the information boards, from which the crimes that happened at that time clearly emerged. Between 5000 and 8000 people were murdered on the grounds of the concentration camp, and mass transports to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp also took place.
Also, under the eyes of the Jewish inmates, their prayer hall was destroyed just to torture them even further. Only the remains can still be seen.
Afterwards we walked to a nearby tram stop. When we got on our tram and wanted to buy tickets, the machine rejected all of our money and we didn’t receive any tickets. Then we drove some stops without a ticket, but also got off earlier to walk the rest. Here we divided the group, some went with Mr. Drage and others went off with the public e-scooters towards the housing.
Since most of what we learned was already shown in the movie “Schindler’s List”, we didn’t learn anything new. But at the visited places we were reminded how structured, planned and cruel the Nazis were. Due to the personal experience we had, we were very thoughtful and partly shocked during the day. We asked ourselves how and why this happened, what must have happened in the people who were involved and who they were. At the end of the tour we reviewed the day and talked extensively about what we had seen.
Wednesday promised to be a busy day. Like every morning we met in apartment 29 to talk about the last day, give feedback and plan the upcoming trips. Since our guided Wawel tour was supposed to start at 10:30 am and we expected a walk of about 15 minutes, we set the meeting time for 9:30 am. Everyone came prepared so that we could head out immediately.
Since the day before was the day where apart of the class went to Auschwitz and the
other part went to Plaszow, following the tracks of “Schindler’s Jews”, everyone’s mood was still somewhat down. After talking about the last day and giving feedback, we brought everyone up to date on what we had planned for today and when we had to be at what location. At around 10 am we were ready to set out and had everyone gather at the entrance of our hotel.
As always Mr Drage made sure no one would slack off and we would arrive on time by setting a brisk pace.
When we arrived, we still had a few minutes to spare and wanted to use the time to take a nice group picture in front of the John Paul II (Johannes Paul II.) statue. After some messing around with different angles and different people talking pictures, we noticed a lady walking over. People loudly suggested asking her to take a picture assuming that she wouldn’t understand German. What we didn’t expect was that, after we asked her to take a picture in English, not only did she ask us if we were a group of 16 but did so in very good German. Turns out she was our guide for the day.
Our tour then started in the Wawel Cathedral. It is more than 900 years old and served as the coronation site of polish monarchs and also serves as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Krakow to this day. Many kings, national heroes, generals and revolutionaries are buried here. Sadly, you aren’t allowed to take any pictures inside most buildings in Wawel. The inside of the Cathedral is very impressive and awe-inspiring. Countless chapels have been added to it over the years.
Following that, we made our way inside a big courtyard, which was surrounded by the royal chambers. Before we could enter, though, we had to leave our bags behind. The security inside was very tight and everyone had to go through a metal detector. But it was well worth the trouble. The state rooms were extremely impressive and filled with old furniture, artifacts and large tapestries. Our guide could tell us many stories about the different rooms and items.
After two hours of interesting history and imposing architecture we made our way into the gardens where our tour ended. Before our guide said her goodbye, she took another group photo of us.
Since at this point it was only half past 12 pm and the food tour wouldn’t start for another one and a half hours, we told everyone to meet again at 13:45 pm in front of the hotel. Some of us used the time to give their feet a break and made their way back to their apartments, while others used the time to meet the Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski).
The salt mine Wieliczka
We visited the Wieliczka salt mine on the 12th of September 2019.
This destination was recommended to us before and in class we decided to go there.
We took public transport because our budget was used up and the connection was very good. The buses were very crowded, but very inexpensive and the display inside which shows the next stops was large and clearly arranged.
The system of tickets was very interesting too, on the one hand the standard tickets were limited in time and were valid from the moment they were stamped on the bus and on the other hand our group ticket was valid after stamping for a trip, no matter how long.
We took the guided tourist route of the salt mine. Our guide was from Swabia and also made fun of his German dialect.
The tour went over three levels and 135 meters into the depth and through 3 kilometers long corridors.
We could see many figures which were sculptured out of the rock salt and so were also mythical figures such as dwarfs, historical events and monuments. Even a statue of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was present there because he once visited the mine. In addition, there were several chapels and even an active church in the salt mine.
Salt is no longer directly mined, but is extracted by water that squeezes through the rock.
We also learned a lot about the miners and the tools they had. They had a dangerous job. Women were prohibited and they showed that to us with sculptures of Snow White und the seven dwarfs. Snow White was a dwarf too.
A suprise was also the church, which is located 135 meters underground ans is still used today. It is also possible to marry there.
Unfortunatly, we had a few problems while buying the tickets for the bus, because we did not figure out which ticket we had to buy. Luckily, the reception of our hotel could help us with that.
We also started earlier than planned, and the bus line to the salt mine went every 10 minutes. Because of this we were at the mine an hour earlier. Some of us were a little impatient, but we wanted to plan enough time.
The tour in the salt mine was great, but we had a problem with the return bus tickets.
The payment did not work and because everything displayed in Polish, the note that came out of the ticket machine was mistakenly considered as ticket.
During the trip we noticed that and left the bus as early as possible.
Mostly recovered and with an appropriate amount of hunger we made our way to our second event for the day. This time we only had to walk around the corner and down the street. This tour wasn’t exclusive to us and we had two more people joining us. Once everyone arrived our guide didn’t waste much time and already handed us some Obwarzanek Krakowski. It kind of looks like an oversized bagel and the name translates into Krakow bagel, but according to our guide it totally isn’t a bagel. Well, it definitely
was a good bagel and they can be bought at basically every street corner in Krakow for little money. Next our guide promised us that, just like Polish grandmothers like to feed their family generous amounts of delicious food, the portions we were to receive that day wouldn’t be just tiny taste samples but proper portions. Everyone certainly was delighted to hear that.
All in all, the tour lasted about three hours and we had to walk a considerable distance. But it was well worth it. Our first stop was at a tiny place that sold Oscypek. Oscypek is smoked cheese made of sheep milk. The cheese is then grilled and served with either bacon or cranberries.
Next, we got to try some Zapiekanka which is half a baguette topped with different ingredients and then covered with cheese and then toasted. In our case we had a simple mushroom topping. Very tasty.
After that we went to visit a market well outside the city centre which is mostly used by locals. The market offered an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits and traditional Polish food.
We got to try a selection of sausages, one of which was made from horse meat. This time we had to be fast. The locals walking through the market saw the big wooden tablet held by our guide in front of the butcher’s shop and mistook it as an invitation to try some themselves.
Another culinary specialty we found at the market was Ogórek Konserwowy. A kind of pickled
that is different from the kind we know in Germany. It is less
intense in taste and sweeter. Next, our tour led us inside a nice
which walls were covered in old guild crests.
Everyone got a bowl of Bigos and then a serving of
Pierogi. Bigos is a stew made by combining chopped meat, sauerkraut and shredded fresh cabbage. Pierogi are polish dumplings and there is a wide range of fillings available. An example would be Ruskie (cheese, potato and onion). Of course, there are several types with meat and fish and even some sweet varieties.
At this point we were basically all full, but the tour wasn’t over yet. It was time for some desert. For that we entered a bakery. Plates full of poppy cake and Pączki were distributed. Pączki looks like Kreppel/Berliner and tastes like it, too. Our Polish guide then tried to convince us that Kreppel was invented in Poland. Ridiculous! We, of course, destroyed all the evidence, until the last bite and left to the last stop of our tour. What is it you think of when you hear Polish food? Of course, Vodka. So, we finished our tour inside a bar, and everyone got one free shot of Vodka to help with digestion.
This concludes our Wednesday in Krakow. Both our guides were extremely nice and knowledgeable. Even though the food tour was in English we had a lot of fun. What we would do differently next time, is to do the food tour at the beginning of the week. That way we would have known about all these delicious places from the beginning. Another point of criticism was the amount of walking we did in a single day. It may have been smart to split the more athletic activities over different days.
On our last day in Krakow we were asked to get up in time.
We had to be ready to leave the hotel not later than 9:30 am. Fortunately, the check out procedure didn’t take too much time
The pre-ordered minibus was on time, too. It turned out to be a good decision to travel by minibus instead of the public transport service.
arriving at the airport, we succeeded to get through the check-in
Luckily, we went through the security check procedure without any problems, too.
Now we had enough time to take a rest in the transit area. Some of us used it for smoking, to drink a delicious cappuccino or just relax.
After that we had our last daily morning-evaluation at the airport. It helped us to get feedback from our classmates and teachers. The students being responsible for the daygave a report of a short self-reflexion.
Fortunately, our flight was on time. We had a gentle flight with a modern A320 airplane. We arrived at Frankfort airport in time.
In my opinion, everybody had an impressive holiday in Poland. Some of us might come back one day. In case of the thorough pre-planning the day went well like the previous ones.