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Monday, July 22: Day 91 – Nowa Huta in a Trabant

Nova Huta is one of only two entirely pre-planned socialist realism cities built by Communistic Russia. The other is Magnitogorsk in Russia’s Ural Mountains. It is one of the finest examples of deliberate social engineering in the world. Sadly, this sprawling city was built in very rich farmland.

Our tour guide, Klaudia, picked us up in a original 1978 Trabant but the year doesn’t matter because they are all the same model produced from 1957-1991.

Sometimes you had to wait 10 years in order to have the opportunity to purchase one.

Klaudia checked the fuel under the hood using a dipstick as there is no gauge inside the car.

Her company has nine cars. The car was very loud. There is a manual stick shift on the steering column and no power steering or power breaks. One has to have strong biceps and leg muscles.

Our original blue Trabant broke down within the first 10 minutes and we had to take a taxi to another one … it is part of the experience.

The car body is made of plastic so it was easy to push … and that was often. The entire car weighed 600 kg which is about half the weight of a compact car.

Watch this video to ride along with us. (Those that receive our post in an email need to go to the website.)

Nowa Huta has an old and a new part. It was a gift from Stalin, a proletarian community, a paradise with trees and parks, housing, and jobs and the steel mill. For many, this was their first exposure to electicity, toilets, running water, schools, and even garages.

A bronze statue of Lenin was a “gift”, one that the workers had to fund as money was taken out of their paychecks. (During the fall of Communism, the statue was pulled down. They intended to sell the bronze but learned that the bronze was just a facade while the interior was wood. Like Communism, strong facade, empty on the inside … and someone made a lot of money on the sly.)

Since Nowa Huta was built during the cold war, there are 250 bomb shelters, wide streets for tanks, and neighborhoods that could be easily fortified if needed.

The buildings and neighborhoods all looked the same since everyone was to have the same housing. Symmetry of buildings and streets was identical so it was easy to get lost.

Schools served to educate but there was no university. Your future was in the steel mill. It was easier if you weren’t educated. The tram led to and from the factory.

Life was easy since everything was provided but the people were also easier to control. They were always kept in fear of attack.

When they went to the movies, they were shown propaganda clips prior to westerns from America. These movies were to discourage the people from dreaming about a life in America. They didn’t want to be killed by Indians!!

Klaudia suggested that we watch Destination Nova Huta (1951) on YouTube. Also, Goodbye, Lenin (2004), a comedy about a woman who goes into a coma during Communism and wakes up in a post Communist world.

The main street was called Soviet and Friendship Avenue or even Red Rose Avenue. Many of the streets and squares have been renamed to reflect post-Communist feelings such as Solidarity Avenue.

The factory is not self sufficient and that is on purpose and for control. They had to rely on other Communist nations for the raw material and sell in to another. At one time, the steel mill employed 40,000.

Today it is owned by ArcelorMittal and runs at 10% capacity. It was formerly alled Lenin Steelworks but is now named Tadeusz Sendzimir Steelworks after this important Polish inventor and holder of 125 patents in steel works and metallurgy. Galvanizing steel is called the Sendzimir Process.)

(Sidenote: In 1939, Sendzimir lived in Middletown, OH. This is very close to where we lived in Ohio. He must have worked for AK Steel. He even worked for NASA on Apollo 11.)

In 1979, the time of empty shelves and food rations began. Warsaw set the prices. There were long lines for anything on the shelves. You could always buy one thing and trade it for another thing with your neighbor. There was always vinegar and mustard. (We found ourselves waiting in a long line for ice cream.) Everything was saved. Nothing was thrown out.

Toilet paper was especially hard to buy. When you did have it, it was only used on Sundays or other special days. Newspapers were used as a replacement.

Pewex shops were opened and had western goods but could only be purchased in dollars or Deutschmarks. Who had that?

When communism fell, it was hard because they went from everything provided for them to nothing. People didn’t have jobs.

One thing that the people wanted was to build a church. Nowa Huta didn’t plan for a church nor did atheist communism want one. There was a lot of strife about it and, finally, the people were allowed to build a church but they would not be given any building materials or equipment. The church resembles Noah’s Ark.

The exterior walls were made by bringing stones from the river.

From 1967-1977, they built the church by hand and with their own money. (Paradoxically, this was when the Lenin statue was being built in 1973 and money was taken out of their paychecks to do so.)

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