Servas in Krakow and the Communist Era

Several of the *Servas Hosts I had the pleasure of meeting during my visit in Krakow I would describe as minimalists, in the best sense of the word. They all lived in Poland during the communist era following WWII when the doctrine of socialist realism was in force (1949 to 1956). The idea was to build as much housing as possible in the least amount of time for the least price possible. Concrete block housing containing small flats became the norm in Poland.

One evening while I was dining with Servas Hosts Andrzej and his wife Ewa in their three room flat in a ten-story housing block in Krakow, Andrzej proudly proclaimed that he was a minimalist. They raised two children here. They both said this flat, which they own, suits them perfectly; they wouldn’t want want anything larger. I loved their frankness.

Krystyn, a single Servas Host with whom I stayed two days, lives in a small flat in a similar housing block in Krakow. She has been teaching free-lance English there for years. In the evenings we strolled the major pedestrian street in the Old Town and dined in interesting establishments.

I will never forget the evening she introduced me to a milk bar (“bar meleczny”). A hold-over from the communist era, milk bars are no-frills, self-serve, cafeteria-style dining. They have good food at a great price, my favorite being pierogi, traditional Polish dumplings. People from all walks of Polish life dine in these places along with tourists looking for a genuine Polish experience. The norm is for menus to be posted boldly on a wall in Polish and the food hidden from view in the kitchen. Finding milk bars and learning how to order in Polish became an intriguing part of my current travel adventure from that day on.

It was cozy staying in Krystyn’s small flat. She once lived with her Mother in the planned socialist community in the outskirts of Krakow known as Nowa Huta.

I decided to visit historic Nova Huta, curious about what a planned utopian city built by the communists was like.

Nowa Huta (literally The New Steel Mill) which houses about 200,000 people, was a planned a utopian city, built in the early 1950’s by the communists. The atmosphere around the stone grey block buildings which lined the broad avenues felt very heavy and austere. A couple of restaurants and a few shops broke up the monotony of the main square where Lenin’s giant bronze statue once stood.

Another Servas Host I met named Anna had also lived in Nova Huta at one time. Her elderly Mother whom she cares for still lives there. Anna lives in a small flat with her husband in another part of town. 

Anna teaches business English at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, the oldest university in the country, dating from 1364. On day she invited me to speak in one of her classes about how I developed my guesthouse business in America.  Eventually a discussion ensued in English about the hopes and dreams of the students in the area of business. We discussed Poland’s recent entry into the Economic Community (EU) and how their knowledge of English will help them take advantage of the opportunity that is on their doorstep. Their enthusiasm was heartwarming.

The Servas Hosts I met in Krakow were sincere, gracious people.  I found it moving how content they were with their unique, minimal housing situation as described above. Apparently the huge apartment buildings the communists built following WWII are still serving the needs of people today.


* Servas is a non-profit international organization of hosts and travelers

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4 thoughts on “Servas in Krakow and the Communist Era

  1. Hi Merrilee, thank you so much for sharing your stories from freezing Krakow. You have taught me a lot more about Poland and this city than I learnt when I visited Krakow some years ago. I was particularly interested in your meetings with your wonderful Servas hosts. The details you gave of their daily life are fascinating for me. The photographs are great and bring everything to life. After reading your blog, I am thinking that I really need to re-visit Krakow, if only to visit one of the Polish milk bars! (I missed them when I visited Krakow). Looking forward to your next posts!

  2. Beautifully written, my daughter and her husband spent some time in Poland over a year ago to visit where his mom grew up. Interesting to be re-living history. Such dire circumstances the Poles lived through. Good to see the reconstruction.

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