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Unwanted Capital:

Architecture and Urban Planning in Kraków during the German Occu pation of 1939–1945

Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury
March 05,2022 - June 05,2022
Plan of development along Błonia (the city common), March 1942, Georg Stahl, paper, pencil, coloured pencil, tracing paper, National Archives in Krakow

March 5, 2022 June 5, 2022

The exhibition at the International Cultural Centre Gallery addresses one of the most tragic but  largely unexplored chapters in the history of the city. By the decision of Adolf Hitler, the spiritual  capital of the Polish nation was designated as the capital of the General Government and recast  as an ancient German city. As the easternmost bridgehead of the imagined geography of the  Thousand-Year Reich, much like Berlin, Munich or Nuremberg, Krakow was to receive a new  urban design. For many post-war decades, this story remained untold; during the communist  era it was a topic ignored by researchers and forbidden by censorship.

Significantly, architecture was also used as a tool of the policy designed to deprive Krakow  of its Polishness, involving the use of bloody terror, the destruction of Polish elites as well as  cultural and scientific institutions, and the looting of works of art. Monuments and Polish na tional symbols were removed from public space, while the names of squares and streets were  changed to German ones. 

The exhibition is an attempt to look at the experiment that Krakow was subjected to, which  had no precedent in the complicated history of Central Europe. – We need to remember that  during the 1961 days of its functioning as a forced capital city Krakow was subjected to brutal  terror, and its venerable walls were the victims of an unparalleled attempt at disinheritance.  Today, several existing buildings from that era represent a wide range of conflicts of memory  and oblivion. Krakow – although fortunately retaining its physiognomy – is also an exceptionally  strong example of a victim of ideology, which, however, defended its identity – explains Professor Jacek Purchla, the author and one of the curators of the exhibition. 

The International Cultural Centre has been interested in the problem of difficult heritage, in cluding the legacy of the Third Reich, for several decades. Starting with a 1994 book, The Art of  the Third Reich, by Piotr Krakowski, published together with the IRSA Press, the ICC continued  its pioneering research for the following twenty-five years, which culminated in an international  conference and publication of the book Dissonant Heritage? The architecture of the Third Reich  in Poland (2020).  The aim of the exhibition at the ICC Gallery is not only to present an inventory of German vi sions of Krakow as the Nuremberg of the East – visions that remained primarily on paper. Its  intention is to encourage reflection on the contemporary attitude to the difficult heritage of  the Third Reich, which has become an integral albeit largely invisible part of the city’s cultural  landscape. – We want to look at the transformations and changes that Krakow underwent in  the period when it functioned as a forced capital of an occupied territory, as well as the con sequences of these events that are still experienced today, often unconsciously – says Agata  Wąsowska-Pawlik, director of the ICC.

The conceptual axis of the exhibition consists of urban and infrastructural plans, including the  most important architectural designs and their implementations, which were supposed to com pletely transform Krakow into a model German city. One of the actions taken by the Nazis was  the administrative extension of Krakow’s borders. Due to the war needs, the communication  system was rebuilt and modernised. Investments were made in the expansion of railways and  roads, and in the city itself, the streets were paved. To adapt Krakow to the role of the capital of  the General Government, plans were made for a German government district in Dębniki, with  its spectacular design drafted in 1941 by Hubert Ritter. There were also plans for a German  administrative district in Błonia Park, which would require the demolition of the Kościuszko  Mound. Large capital investments were allocated to new housing developments in the west ern part of the city, where a German residential district was established. A new housing estate  was built in Królewska Street for the families of members of the military and officials. Several  changes in the urban fabric were introduced to organise and modernise public transport in  the city. Significant changes affected the historic centre, especially the Wawel Royal Castle and  its surroundings.

The complete appropriation of city space by the Nazis was related to aspects other than a new  urban design as well. Notably, architecture also played an important role in the execution of  the Shoah. To this day, Krakow remains the only city in the world where the Nazis located a  concentration camp – KL Plaszow. Deliberately situated on the site of two Jewish cemeteries,  it was only several kilometres away from the centre modernised by the occupation authorities,  where elegant hotels, restaurants, casinos, recreational and sports areas were created for the  German community to make them feel “at home.” 

The structure of the exhibition is based on two layers: the primary one, which consists of the  archival, historical, and iconographic documentation related to the leading themes, and the  complementary one – in special drawers, an inquisitive viewer will find materials that broaden  the context of the narrative. The exhibition is enclosed in the total blackness of the gallery  space, while the designs, models, and plans are only illuminated with backlights. This cold and  minimalist arrangement introduces a sense of detachment from an emotional evaluation of  this extremely difficult topic. 

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive, over 350-page catalogue, which is the first  comprehensive study of the dissonant heritage of the Third Reich in Krakow. The collected  material is the result of many years of archival and field research conducted in Krakow, as well  as in the archives and collections of Berlin, Munich, Warsaw, Vienna, and Wrocław, by the ICC  research team under the supervision of Professor Jacek Purchla and by experts from other  Krakow institutions. Equally noteworthy are the opening essays that explain the phenomenon  of unwanted capital, discuss the activities of the Nazis in the city space, and address the everyday life in occupied Krakow. 

The exhibition was organised in cooperation with the National Archives in Krakow, which  provided most of exhibited documents, as well as with the National Digital Archives, the KL  Plaszow Memorial Museum and Duke University (USA). The exhibits on display come from the  collections of the Wawel Royal Castle, the National Museum in Krakow, the Krakow Museum,  the Museum of Architecture in Wrocław and the Architekturzentrum Wien, Architekturmuseum  der Technischen Universität München and the Bundesarchiv.