Nowa Huta: The city that went from communism to capitalism

Ten years ago a visitor would have had little to do in the city, but Nowa Huta has learned to capitalize on its communist heritage. The city offers both foreigners and Poles a glimpse of communism as it once was. “Young [Poles] today I have no idea what it was,” Marchocki said. Stepping into parts of Nowa Huta is like stepping into the world of their parents and grandparents: from the completely renovated People’s Theater with its Egyptian-inspired socialist realist style and neon-lit sign, to the monuments of Solidarity movement, which would bring down communism across Poland in 1989, and the approximately 250 nuclear bunkers that lie beneath the city, remnants of a time when people worried about the nuclear apocalypse.

Besides its history, which can be explored at the Nowa Huta Museum, opened in 2019 on the site of the former cinema, the main draw for tourists today is the remaining socialist realist architecture of Nowa Huta. As one of only two socialist realist colonies planned and built in the world, besides Magnitogorsk deep inside Russia, Nowa Huta is something different from the bland modernism and gray brutalism usually associated with socialism. from Eastern Europe. Illustrated by the buildings in Central Square – ironically renamed in honor of Ronald Reagan in 2004 – the socialist realist style can also be seen inside Nowa Huta’s few quirky shops. For example, the highly decorative interior of the folk art shop Cepelix, located in the northeast of the city, 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 old steelworks administration building, whose imitation Renaissance exterior and luxurious interior still display the ideal of style. Although technically closed to the public, the Promoting the Nowa Huta Foundation offers tours of the building, with Marchocki describing it as “Nowa Huta’s most iconic building”. With all its pomp, it is a testament to the utopian ambitions that gave birth to the city – ambitions that the workers themselves would challenge.

In 1980, when the country was rocked by strikes called by the Solidarity union, the Vladimir Lenin steelworks in Nowa Huta boasted of having the largest trade union branch of the union, with a membership rate of 97%. The Catholic Church staunchly backed the union and the protests, forcing the ruling Communists into the incredibly delicate position of opposing the workers they were meant to represent.