The Macabre Krakow walking tour was a pleasant surprise for me. Before arriving in Krakow, the only thing I knew that I really, really wanted to do was visit Auschwitz.
Other than that, I was clueless.
Not only was I clueless, but I was also kind of penniless and so ‘cheap and cheerful’ was even more of a priority than usual. And that’s saying a lot when you bear in mind that I’m cheaper than Christmas baubles in February at the best of times.
So yeah, when we arrived in Krakow the first thing on the agenda was to find something cheap and fun to get busy with the next day.
I’ve never shied away from expressing my utter adoration of free walking tours, but I’m going to say it again right now because this is my blog and I can do whatever the heck I want with it!
I bloody LOVE free walking tours!
They’re fantastic! In fact, I’d go so far as to say they may even be up there in the Top 5 best things to happen since sliced bread.
Okay so that’s a bit of an exaggeration but travel-wise? Top 10 at least! They’re up there on my list right alongside free mini toothpaste on planes, and buses that depart and arrive bang on time.
A quick Google search put me on to a few different walking tour companies in the area, and so I did what anyone would do in that situation and clicked on the first link. Seriously, if you’re going to tell me that you actually scroll further than half a page when looking for something on Google then I’m sorry but can you even be trusted?!
Related: 3 Days in Krakow: The Lowdown
Aptly named, Free Walking Tour is Trip Advisor’s number one choice when it comes to free tours in Krakow. And having experienced not one, but two, of the tours they have on offer, I have to say that they’re definitely deserving of the top spot!
Not only do they offer a good handful of free (tips only) tours such as Old Town Krakow and Jewish Krakow, but they also provide some paid for tours which seem pretty damn cool, such as Communist Krakow and Foods of Krakow. I mean, when there’s food involved you can’t go wrong really.
To be honest I was just after your bog-standard historical centre-focused tour; the kind of thin that provides basic History 101 on the area with a little bit of oomph and added je ne sais quoi. So, with that being said, after double-checking the date and time on the online schedule for the Old Town Krakow tour, I was all set and good to go the next day. But juuuust as I was about to close the tab something caught my eye.
The description of the tour started off with “Every city has its dark secrets and Kraków is not an exception. Come with us and we will tell you stories that are not told on any of our other trips…” and finished up with “And last but not least, you will hear the historically factual tales about brutal serial killers terrorizing Krakow in 20th century.”
I don’t think it’s possible for a tour to be more suited to my tastes.
Dark secrets and serial killers and free walking tour combined?! They may as well change the name from Macabre Krakow to “Rhiannon’s Favourite Things Tour“.
Available every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, the tour kicks off at 6pm during November and February, and I assume a little later during the summer months. The meeting place is right between the Barbican and St Florian’s Gate, and it’s pretty obvious who the guide is because, as is the case with most free walking tours around the world, they will be unashamedly yielding a hideously bright umbrella no matter what the weather.
My tour was taken by a guide called Tomasz, who prefers to be known as Golden because yep, you guessed it, he has golden hair. He told us that there are 8 guides altogether who are responsible for the Macabre Krakow tour, and each guide does a slightly different route, with slightly different stories. So, in theory, you could do the same tour 8 different times and never get bored! He even said that there are some locals who have done just that in the summer months!
In total the tour ran for just under one and a half hours, but it was honestly so interesting I really didn’t want it to finish! I could rant on and on and on for thousands of words about the tour, the tales Golden told us, and the dark history of Krakow, but I’ll save my own energy and your time and simply summarise one or two.
The Role of the Executioner
Back in the day, as was the case in almost all countries in the world, capital punishment was legal and super common! And obviously where there’s execution there has to be an executioner, right?!
In Poland, Chief Executioner or Chopper of Heads or whatever you want to call it wasn’t exactly a profession you can just fall into. It wasn’t the most sought-after of jobs and was passed down from father to son. So yeah, if your Daddy killed people for a living then you better get your little tush down to the forest and start practicing on mice and voles because boy, by the time you come of age you’ll be chopping heads off like there’s no tomorrow!
From the age of 9 sons of executioners were encouraged to “go to work” with their fathers and “practice” by torturing animals. By 11 they’re expected to kill the names. By the age of 21, they’re expected to have carried out their very first human execution. Their first execution is the responsibility of their father, so if they fail and it isn’t a clean cut, then their father has to shoulder the blame.
And can you guess what would happen to an executioner failed at their job??
One of their executioner buddies from the Union of Executioners would come along from the next town over and chop their head off.
And if the executioner is killed or dies naturally without leaving an “heir” to the job?
Well, the city council or whoever it is toddles on over to the local jail, gathers together all of the inmates on death lots so one of them would ultimately become responsible for the deaths of all their new jail buddies.
But of course, even professional murderers need to be absolved of their sins, so the sword they used to chop heads off was inscribed with “I did not kill you, your sins killed you“.
Messed up, right?
The Vampire of Krakow
Karol Kot was not your cutesy Edward Cullen-type vampire, but he was an evil, murderous real-life villain. Although according to him, he was a murderer but that doesn’t make him an evil man. Um, okay then?
He wasn’t fussy about who he tried to kill, nor did he have a preference of gender, age or type of person. He just liked killing.
His first two murder attempts involved old ladies. The first was in church, and as the lady knelt down to pray he stabbed her in the back. Fortunately, she survived, as did his second potential victim who he stabbed after following her off of her tram.
His third attempt was successful. He stabbed a woman to death as she left the sanctity of her church after Holy Mass. The tour guide relayed this tale to us right outside that very church, and pointed out the door in which the murderer hid, licking his knife clean of her blood as the police and emergency services arrived.
His next known murder occurred seventeen months later when he stabbed an eleven-year-old boy to death. A few months later he again tried to kill a child, stabbing an eight-year-old girl multiple times in the stomach, chest, and back. He thought she was dead and fled the scene, but she somehow survived, managed to get herself home and was taken to the hospital, where they were able to save her life.
It was this failed attempt that ultimately led to his arrest. On arresting him they asked, “Is it you who has been committing all of these murders?” His reply? “Yes.”