Forewarned that the transport for Crazy Guides Communist tour (a vintage Trabant) is prone to breakdown, we hoped this wouldn’t happen on the way to picking us up. We needn’t have worried.
Our daughter having recently experienced the Crazy Guides tour had suggested that “if there’s only one tour you do in Krakow, you must do this one”. Now we waited outside our central Krakow accommodation, wondering what to expect.
Meeting Our Crazy Guide
Right on time, the tiny grey car pulled up outside our accommodation and squeezed into a tight parking spot. Jo, our guide, climbed out and greeted us in perfect English.
A Vintage Trabant
Pushing the front seat forward, I bent my head down and almost crawled through the passenger side door to my seat in the back, leaving the ever so slightly more spacious front seat for my tall husband.
Jo turned the key and juggled the gear stick into place, coaxing the car into the early morning traffic. At times she seemed to talk to the car to encourage it to perform.
Already, I felt as if the tour had paid for itself. The experience of being driven in a vintage Trabant between the modern vehicles surrounding us was a real treat. People pointed, many smiled, and others pretended to hitch a ride. I felt like a celebrity. The only time I’m likely to have that feeling.
Windows down in an attempt to escape the fumes (par for the course when driving in a Trabant), Jo chatted about our destination, Nowa Huta, a short drive to the outskirts of Krakow.
Nowa Huta – a Planned City
In response to Stalin’s requirement that Poland increase steel production, a vast new steelworks was built in Nowa Huta in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Farmers had to move and give up their land with little or no compensation.
Meaning “New Foundry”, Nowa Huta is a planned city with Social Realism architecture, constructed to accommodate workers from the steelworks. Built in the form of a triangle, the Central Square serves as a focal point.
Tree lined boulevards connect neighbourhoods which each have their own schools, parks shops and other facilities thus encouraging people to live and play in the area and promoting a strong sense of community.
Jo pulled up near the Central square and we climbed out our little Trabant, pleased to stretch our legs and look around while being shown the features of surrounding buildings.
We popped into a shop, essentially the same as it was almost 70 years ago. The original wooden counter and shelving display Polish Folk Craft. Hand-painted dishes decorate the ceiling. I bought a few hand painted cards for friends.
Next, we drove along treed boulevards to the Steelworks. On one side of the imposing sign at the Steelworks Administrative Centre Gate a large building once housed the administrative centre while building on the other side was for the workers.
Parking almost underneath the entry sign, Jo explained that this was the best place to photograph the Trabant.
She opened the bonnet to point out a few technical features. They went right over my head, but prompted more questions from my husband. What fascinated me is the material the car body is made from.
Flimsy to say the least, the bonnet bends with the slightest of pressure. Made from duroplast, it’s similar to Formica and Bakelite, with the resin plastic reinforced with fibre usually from either cotton or wool.
Before leaving, we peeked into the Administrative Building. There photographs of international figures graced the entry hall. Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro and even Emperor Haile Selassie all visited the Steelworks at some time.
Ending the Tour with Coffee
Our last stop for the morning (and for a welcome coffee) was the Łaźnia Nowa (meaning the New Baths). This theatre occupies part of a former Technical School. Again, the Trabant squeezed into what seemed to be an impossibly small parking place.
Although the theatre café (Klub Kombinator) was full of students taking a break from their visit to the theatre, we managed to find a seat. While waiting for our coffee we looked around at the décor with its 60s furniture and lighting and old photographs lining the walls.
Life Under Communist Rule
Jo then opened her album of photographs to show us more of life during communist era and answer our many questions. Remembering her childhood, she explained how life was actually better in the 1970s than in the 1980s when there were shortages, ration cards and long queues.
Then, sadly it was time for one last drive in the little car, back to central Krakow. I kind of wished I’d booked the longer Deluxe tour as there was so much more to see.
My Take on the Crazy Guides Tour
I can’t recommend a Communist Tour with Crazy Guides highly enough. Learning about life in Communist Poland from a local, exploring Nowa Huta and the crazy experience of driving in the Trabant was a highlight of my time in Poland.