With only a few days left till Christmas 2020 (in its Covid-19 edition), mixed messages abound,  especially when it comes to speculations around where 2021 might take us. At this time of the year, Kraków is one of many big cities preoccupied with gathering statistics and putting together annual reports, if only to reach some long-term conclusions. Among the usual goals of this exercise, one stands out above all other this year: to understand the real impact of 2020 on Kraków’s key pillars of growth (and reputation), starting from tourism, all the way to the daily operation of the city’s leading institutions, incl. museums, universities, public administration and other. Kraków’s local and international business landscape is an altogether different topic, one that will require tailored solutions and business-friendly policies. If the coronavirus pandemic continues to take us from lockdown to lockdown, that is.

Before 2020 says its last word

Only two days ago, the Polish government announced a new set of measures and restrictions aimed at preventing yet another wave of coronavirus infections. Given the Polish traditions of celebrating Christmas in large family gatherings (for hours and days), no wonder it makes many a doctor and hospital administrator quite worried about the prospects for the upcoming few weeks. To make matters worse, Poles are known for their Christmas hospitality and hosting joyful family dinners, often set for 12+ relatives. Many will travel across the country to meet at a single table.

Gift-buying frenzy

Yesterday was one of the last days before the end of 2020 when shopping centres across the country remained fully open. Quite predictably, rivers of shoppers set out on their Friday-afternoon shopping sprees, to make sure their loved ones were not left empty-handed (aka without a gift), as and when the time comes.


Kraków, Main Market Square (Dec 2020)
Kraków, Main Market Square (Dec 2020)

Last Thursday’s government announcement about the new restrictions coming into force on 28 December only made the whole shopping experience feel more urgent (see the photo below).

Among the new rules (28 December – 17 January), the following are especially worth mentioning:

    • a curfew on New Year’s Eve (between 7 pm and 6 am). Even using this word feels surreal enough in a 2020 Poland, let alone having it apply to a date as symbolic as 31 December.
    • a list of restrictions on shopping centres (only the shops that are deemed essential will remain open)
    • heavy restrictions on the operation of hotels and tourist accommodation (in effect, you will not be able to stay overnight in your favourite mountain resort, unless you have your private little cottage to visit)
    • sports infrastructure will not be available (swimming pools, fitness centres, gyms, skiing resorts, etc.)
    • mandatory quarantine (of 10 days) for travelers coming (back) to Poland during this period (via organized transport).
    • restrictions on public transport (capacity percentage)
    • churches (max. 1 person per 15 square metres)
    • other shops/groceries (max. 1 person per 15 square metres)
    • special shopping hours for seniors (Mon-Fri, 10-12)
    • no wedding receptions
    • only take-away meals in restaurants.
    • nursuries and kindergartens will remain open
    • hairdressers and beauticians will also remain open (in compliance with strict sanitary measures)
Kraków, an ice rink near Galeria Krakowska (shopping centre), next to Kraków’s Railway Station, 18 Dec 2020

The impact on culture

Here’s some good news, for a change. Among the many structural changes in preparation (and already announced) for Kraków’s cultural future, the city may have already created the very first cultural city VOD platform in Poland. The practical implications of this decision are not as simple as they might seem on the surface. At a time when just about every form of a cultural group activity in an “offline world” has either been banned or forced to decimate its hard-earned audiences (incl. concerts, festivals, museums, theatres and cinemas), innovation and creativity remain the only alleys to follow, at least until things become a little less vague. Hopefully before next Christmas, that is.

So why is PLAY KRAKOW so important? First of all, it’s a breakthrough step towards building a “cultural Netflix”, a city platform for creators and event organizers keen to reach out to wider audiences with their content, while promoting culture and cultural education in the process. In the past, large concerts and big, expensive cultural productions were largely exclusive, one-time experiences staged at the city’s popular concert venues, such as ICE Kraków Congress Centre, Tauron Arena Kraków, Kraków’s Opera House, Philharmonic or the Juliusz Slowacki Theatre. Once their premieres and pre-scheduled concert nights were over, terabytes of raw video footage was archived on hard drives, put on shelves and started collecting dust.

With a platform like PLAY KRAKÓW the city has created a genuine incentive for its creators and cultural institutions to aggregate some of its best content and put it on display, not only for local VOD enthusiasts but cultural institutions around the world, including universities, culture-centric agencies and government bodies. So yes, it’s a step in the right direction. However, a lot of smart, creative effort will need to be part of the equation to make it a long term success.

An Online Christmas with Divine Prospects

With the New Year celebration plans (in their outdoor formula) recently cancelled in hundreds of cities and towns across Poland, following the government decisions announced last Thursday, Kraków already feels a step ahead of many other cities, with its look-beyond-now approach. Creating as much structural resilience as possible seems to be among the leading strategies (and natural instincts).

For this Christmas Season, Kraków has  already prepared an ambitious programme of online concerts and special events. Here’s a snapshot from Kraków Play:

source: www.playkrakow.com (screenshot)

Boska Komedia

The Divine Comedy is one of Kraków’s most successful festivals, already in its 13th edition this year. According to Bartosz Szydłowski, festival director, this year’s online programme attracted a record number of about 35,000 viewers in total. An impressive figure, no doubt.

Without resorting to superstitions, it’s the city’s second big festival in its 13th edition forced to migrate online. In both cases, organizers have proved innovative in looking for ways and means to not only retain their captive audiences but reach out to a much wider group of prospective theatre and film-music lovers, respectively. Boska Komedia (Divine Comedy) was also streamed live on PLAY KRAKÓW.

Looking to the future

In tomorrow’s special season-closing article, I will focus on some of the key facts & figures premiered during Forum Turystyki (Tourism Forum), in its online edition, of course. While some of the statistics revealed may sound alarming at first, I personally believe there are many untapped potentials, waiting to be discovered, for which the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is a powerful catalyst. Without it, cultural innovation would have taken decades to evolve to the point where making culture truly more accessible (and available) for the benefit of much wider audiences is not only a declarative vision statement but an everyday reality.