A guide to the New East

Living museums: discover central Europe’s grand communist interiors

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In Edifice, photographer Karol Palka documents the faded grandeur of surviving communist-era buildings in his native Poland and neighbouring Eastern Bloc countries. Interested in the relationship between power and architecture, he visited places of grand ambitions — such as Poland's largest iron and steel industry complex, the Nowa Huta Steelworks in Kraków. Formerly known as the Vladimir Lenin Steelworks, this industrial colossus and the surrounding Nowa Huta district were intended to be Poland’s model communist city when built in the 1950s. Today, the Nowa Huta communist tour remains one of Kraków’s most popular attractions. The series also features lesser known buildings such as Hotel Polana, a retreat built for communist party leaders by the old Czechoslovak government in the Tatras mountain range. Other 1970s retreats built in Poland and the former Czechoslovakia now function as alpine spa hotels, offering peace, quiet and original communist decor. Despite the absence of people in Palka’s photos, the interiors that make up the series suggest a more symbolic presence: that of a regime that no longer exists.

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