As part of my third year I choose an optional module called Dark Tourism and Thana-events, throughout the module we learnt about death and disaster from a tourism management perspective taking into account ethical and moral issues, interpretation of dark tourism sites, the media, political portrayal amongst other issues.
This module also included the opportunity to visit Krakow and Auschwitz, a 3 day whistle stop visit to Krakow city centre, Schindler’s factory, Auschwitz and Birkenau.
We arrived in Krakow and straight away went to visit Oskar Schindler’s factory, what was Schindler’s factory has now been converted into a museum Oskar Schindler’s Factory of Enameled Vessels ‘Emalia’. This museum showcases an exhibition of Krakow during the five year Nazi occupation from 1939 – 1945. We had a fantastic guided tour through the exhibition which was very informative, showing the history of the city rather than of the factory. Although the museum is located within Oskar Schindler’s factory the museum is not dedicated to him, however the tour guide did relate back to him throughout. Learning more about Krakow and the Ghetto’s before visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau the day after gave a good perspective of the life during World War 2 in Krakow.
In the evening, we were left to our own devices to explore the city, our hotel was 10 minutes walk from Krakow Main Square, which I believe is the second largest medieval square in Europe. The square hosts plenty of restaurants and bars as well as Cloth Hall situated in the middle of the square with lots of souvenir shops. The Town Hall Tower was lit by the ‘still standing’ Christmas Tree in the main sqaure, an antique tower which was once a city prison. We decided to eat in one of the restaurants in the sqaure which offered an Italian and Polish menu, having lots of Polish friends at home I already had a list of foods I was to try. I decided to order Pierogi ‘Polish dumpings’ however these are not dumplings like in England, I would describe it more like large ravioli filled with cottage cheese with a side of soured cream.
The next day we set off early, as it was an hour drive from Krakow to Auschwitz concentration camp. Before visiting the former concentration camp I imagined it would be in an isolated location in the middle of nowhere however I was surprised to see that it was located within an industrial area with restaurants and factories close by. We had another fantastic tour around Auschwitz, the tour guide was very informative taking us in different block. We were exposed to human hair, shoes, luggage, prosthetic legs and glasses which demonstrated the sheer enormity of the lives killed during the Nazi reign. Even though it was mid January it was busy with large school groups and tours. During my degree I have learnt about expectations and perception, comparing my expectations and perceptions of Auschwitz, it compared very differently. From a tourism management prospective I believe although Auschwitz is a place of mass death and is now a memorial to all those died it was been turned into a mass tourism attraction. As the tour guide explained a lot of the original buildings including the gas chamber had been destroyed by SS soldiers in order to hide evidence of the on goings. Therefore a lot of buildings had been rebuilt after the war and many of the buildings have been adapted to accommodate tourists with heating, radiators and large information boards.
However we then proceeded to visit Birkenau located 3 km from the main camp this concentration camp was on a much larger scale and much more isolated, Birkenau covers approximately 425 acres with 300 buildings. Again this camp was also busy with groups and a lot of building work was going on around the iconic death gate which was disappointingly covered by a huge white tent so we could not see it at all. This camp had a different atmosphere from Auschwitz and had more original structures and the ruins of one gas chamber. I’m definitely glad I visited both concentration camps and believe I gained a lot of information however I would not like to visit again.
On the last day we had a few hours before leaving for the airport so decided to visit Wawel Castle which was about 10 minutes walk from our hotel, it was a lovely Gothic Castle with views over the city. We didn’t go inside the Castle but admired from outside and within the courtyard.
I will definitely be returning to Krakow, possibly in the summer months and would recommend at least visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau once in your life.