Ten years ago, a visitor didn’t have much to do in the city, but Nowa Huta has learned to take advantage of its communist heritage. The city offers foreigners and Poles alike a quick glimpse into communism as it once was. “small [Poles] Nowadays I have no idea what it was like,” said Marcocki. Entering parts of Nowa Huta is like entering the worlds of their fathers and grandfathers: from the completely renovated People’s Theater with its Egyptian-inspired Socialist Realist style and bright neon sign, to the memorials of the movement’s movement Solidarity, which would bring down communism across Poland in 1989, and some 250 nuclear bunkers located under the city, relics from a time when people worried about a nuclear apocalypse.
Besides its history, which can be explored at the Nowa Huta Museum, which opened in 2019 on the site of the old movie theater, the main draw for tourists today is Nowa Huta’s remaining socialist realist architecture. As one of only two socialist realist planned and built settlements in the world, along with Magnitogorsk deep within Russia’s interior, Nowa Huta is something different from the bland, savage gray modernism usually associated with Eastern European socialism. Examples of buildings in Central Square – renamed in honor of Ronald Reagan in 2004 – Socialist Realism style can also be seen inside the few original Nowa Huta stores. For example, the highly ornate interior of the Cepelix folk art store, located on the northeastern side of the city, was designed by the best Polish interior designers of the time.
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But the jewel of Nowa Huta’s Socialist Realist architecture is found in the former Steelworks administration building, whose grandiose exterior and sumptuous Renaissance interior still display the perfect style. Although the Nowa Huta Foundation is technically closed, it does offer tours of the building, with Marchocki describing it as “the most famous building in Nowa Huta.” In all its pomp, it is a testament to the utopian ambitions that gave birth to the city – ambitions that workers themselves will challenge.
In 1980, when the country was rocked by strikes called by the Solidarity trade union, Vladimir Lenin’s Nowa Huta steelworks had the largest labor chapter in the union, with a membership of 97%. The Catholic Church firmly supported the union and the protests, forcing the ruling communists to take the very embarrassing position of standing up to the workers they were meant to represent.