Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Auschwitz and Birkenau

Anti-gay Posters
Woke up early again and wandered through the Florian Gate to find some breakfast. We found a VERY yummy pastry shop on ul Florianska where we bought three pastries for less than $2! Ambled back to the bus station to find the bus to Auschwitz. Even though Auschwitz is only 60Km from Krakow, the bus ride is almost 2 hours! The Polish transit systems are such a mess, everything is slow and very bumpy. I'm glad Steph had her motion sickness bracelet on, otherwise I would have had a very car sick wife.

Arbeit Macht Frei
Work Will Set You Free
At Auschwitz we decided to explore on our own, we didn't want to be crammed in with a group so we could tour the grounds on our own terms. Both of us were concerned that it might become overwhelming, it would be much harder for us to leave in the middle of a tour. However, the tour seemed to be the best option once we found more information. We're both glad we did the tour, since the guide provided a lot of additional information not found in the guide book to Auschwitz and Birkenau.

It was a cold and rainy day, quite appropriate for the somber sights which we were experiencing. The guide was excellent. What more can I say? It was an experience I will never forget, looking over our pictures from the day and writing these words bring tears to my eyes. Steph spotted a quote on one of the walls in the museum which we both liked "Information is defense." Unfortunately, we have both forgotten the original source of the quote.

Victims Shoes
The most shocking event of the day, however, is the poster we saw just 100 meters outside the entrance the the museum at Auschwitz. I'm not sure what it means — I think it equates homosexuality to pedophilia — however, it disturbed me to see such hatred and intolerance so close to the greatest example of intolerance and hatred in the 20th century. Of course I took some pictures, my eagle-eyed wife spotted more of these on the road between Auschwitz and Birkenau. Highly disturbing. (Upon returning home, I asked for some help from the folks at BoingBoing to figure out what the poster said. Apparently its Polish slang for "Gayness Prohibited. Healty, normal family guarantees our future." The authors are a far right-wing Neo-Nazi group in Poland. You can see the original post and comments at BoingBoing here.)

Victims Hairbrushes & Toothbrushes
Back to Krakow. We both passed out on the minibus on the way, after a highly emotionally charged day we both needed the rest. After returning to Krakow we headed out to a brewpub I read about on Beer Advocate called C.K. Brower. We tried all four of their beers, the dunkel was by far the best so we had a few pints along with a plate with three kinds of herring: pickled, creamed and in a paprika based sauce. YUMMY!

A few oddities about Krakow:
  • In Krakow, they serve a woman a straw with her beer. Men never get a straw
  • Polish napkins are something that closely approximates single serving deli papers/wax paper. Not terribly absorbent! I guess Poles are not as messy at the dinner table as us sloppy Americans.
  • Krakow doesn't believe in crosswalks. You take your life in your hands crossing the street in many locations.
  • Krakow is not nearly as well maintained or clean as Prague or Plzen.
  • Krakow is much more credit card friendly than Prague. This is good, since the exchange rate on credit cards is often better than any other means.

Guard Tower at Auschwitz
This day was mentally exhausting, so we're headed back to the hotel for an early night...

(As I am transcribing this at the Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago I hear two guys speaking what sounds an awful lot like Polish. Turns out they are both from Poland and we had a short conversation about our trip. They were impressed by my knowledge of how to say "Thank you" and "Do you speak English?" in Polish!)




Remnants of Prison Camp

Railway platform where
prisoners met their fate



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