Kazimierz never sleeps

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Join Radio Polonia's Gabriel Stille for a trip to Kazimierz - the old Jewish district of Krakow, boasting a rich heritage as well as vibrant nightlife

Once an indepentent city - it merged with Krakow only in the end of the 19th century - founded by king Casimir the Great in 1335, Kazimierz was for many centuries a center for Jewish cultural life. It was also a place of relative tolerance and coexistence between Jews and gentiles. In 1939, the Nazi invasion swept away the Jewish Krakow.

Today, the remnants of synagogues, Jewish cemetaries and other sites are being carefully restored. The old synagoge, dating from the 15th century, at Szeroka street today houses the Judaic collection of the Krakow Historical Museum. Jews from all over the world come here to visit the home of their ancestors. Esti Klein Ofer comes here from Israel:

I heard many stories from my father about this district, and I was in the house my father was born, I saw it yesterday, and here we have also Menachem Stern. His grandfather was a neighbour of my grandfather - the same house, and we got to know each other only yesterday! It was in Jakuba Street, where also Mordechai Gebirtig, the famous jiddischer composer lived ... I was always afraid of coming here to Cracow, i thought it was something of the past, of the dead people. But here, you know, I'm still alive. I have five children, I'm bringing them up in Israel, and here I see the continuity of life.

Although parts of Kazimierz are being renovated, most notably public buildings such as synagogues, churches and museums, most of the district is still sporting a darker, more dilapidated feel - the shiny facades of the Krakow old town are still a few years in the future. Maybe all the better for the in crowd - Kazimierz has become a favourite hangout for the young and bohemian.

So, what better place to make up plans for the evening than a dark, smokey cafe, with old photos all over the walls and grandma-style furniture. Mleczarnia, or the Dairy, at Meiselsa street is just the place. Here I meet a German student:

My name is Melanie, I'm from Germany, from Berlin, and I'm living here in Kazimierz for two weeks. We are spending this time in Krakow because we are having a working experience. I like the atmosphere of the different cafes here. Yesterday we visited a special cafe, it was a kind of a gallery. This cafe is more extravagant, it is the old style we like.

Again, this is just the right place. And, if you haven't found a place to stay, now is the time to find a hotel or - for the one still young at heart or wallet - hostel. There is lots of them all over Krakow, and the distances is generally nothing to worry about. But I choose one right in the center of Kazimierz of course - at Miodowa street, right next to a bar called Absynt - where you can get all kinds of varieties of the green liquor - though not as strong as in Prague of course. But what about a "Soul kiss" absint, becherovka, passoa, orange juice and sprite?

So, now we are out about town. There is loads of pubs, bars and cafes everywhere, and if you start around from the New Square, Plac Nowy, with its intriquing twelwe-angeled market hall in the middle - nothing can go wrong. Now I'm at the Alchemia, right at the square, a dark, brooding place bustling with people and with popular concerts and exhibitions going on downstairs. This is supposed to be one of the hip places, but rembember to ask the locals:

It is just an occasion to meet friends. This is not the best place in Krakow. The best place is where the friends are. Where the friends are, I'm going. Were the barmans are friendly.

Still very true. If you grow weary of the dark, black magic kind of places were everyone is bohemian, forgive me, Cracovian like you, there is more mundane bars as well. Such as this one, le Scandale, with a huge selection of coctails. And from this point - only your guts and possible commitments tomorrow morning can stop you from exploring all the places all around Kazimierz all night long.

After a long night, its good to wake up to a nice hostel breakfast - maybe to see the rest of Cracow or to have a closer look to some of the more cultural sites. Anyway, any traveller will find it true that Kazimierz is well worth the visit.