Unwanted capital. New exhibition at ICC

The International Cultural Center on March opened of the exhibition “Unwanted capital. Architecture and urban planning in Krakow during the German occupation of 1939–1945”. - While preparing this exhibition, no one at the ICC would have imagined that they would have to open it when people were dying on the eastern border. Russia's unprecedented attack on Ukraine affects all of us. The exhibition on the war architecture of Krakow was supposed to be historical, but it becomes a warning. We did not think that we would talk about war during the war, says Agata Wąsowska-Pawlik, director of the ICC.



When, by Adolf Hitler's decision, Krakow was designated the capital of the General Government and recognised as an ancient German city, it became the site of a unique experiment involving reconstruction and symbolic appropriation of space. This is one of the tragic and little-researched chapters in the history of the city. For many years, this story remained untold – in the times of the Polish People's Republic, the subject was ignored by researchers and banned by censorship.


The exhibition showcases urban and infrastructural plans, including the most important architectural designs and their implementations, which were to change the pre-war Polish city into a model Stadt Krakau. Krakow was to become the easternmost bridgehead of the Thousand-Year Reich and, as the capital of the General Government, it was to receive a new urban design. Architecture was also used as a tool of brutal and bloody policies aimed at the city and its inhabitants. Polish elites, cultural and scientific institutions were crushed, and works of art were plundered. Monuments and Polish national symbols were destroyed, and the names of squares and streets were changed to German ones. The swastikas were omnipresent in the public space, and Nazi propaganda was streaming from the street loudspeakers.

The Nazis expanded the city's area, rebuilt and modernised the communication system, railroads, and streets. The role of the capital of this first eastern colony required creating a place for a new German administration – there were plans for a government district in Dębniki or an administrative district in Błonia, which would require the demolition of the Kościuszko Mound. A German residential district was established in the western part of the city, and a new housing estate was built in Królewska Street for the families of members of the military and officials. Major changes also affected the Wawel Royal Castle and the historic centre of Krakow, where elegant hotels, restaurants, casinos, recreational and sports areas were created for the German inhabitants, primarily for the great number of officials in uniform.

Architecture played an important role in the execution of the Shoah as well. Krakow is the only city in the world where the Nazis set up a concentration camp – KL Plaszow. It was deliberately located on the site of two Jewish cemeteries, just several kilometres from the centre modernised by the occupation authorities.

The exhibition is accompanied by a large catalogue, a compendium of current knowledge about the heritage of the Third Reich in Krakow. The material collected here is the result of archival and field research conducted by the ICC research team under the supervision of prof. Jacek Purchla and experts from other institutions from Krakow, but also from Berlin, Munich, Warsaw, Vienna and Wrocław, among others.

The exhibition was organised in cooperation with the National Archives in Krakow, 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 Wroclaw and the Architekturzentrum Wien, Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität München and the Bundesarchiv.

The aim of the exhibition, which will be on display at the ICC Gallery until June 5, 2022, is not only to present attempts to rebuild Krakow during World War II, but above all to encourage reflection on the contemporary attitude to unwanted heritage.
added to cart:

continue shopping go to cart