Local gay hostels forced underground

A hostel in the centre of Krakow. Five cheerful rooms and one apartment called a studio. No billboard, no adverts in any tourist guides or magazines. A place known only to insiders.

“If we lived, for example, in Germany, there would be a great big colourful billboard – but we live in Poland. ‘Gay hostel’ sounds like sensationalism,” says Radek Oliwa, one of the owners of the 2nd Floor Hostel, and author of one of the first and biggest Polish gay/lesbian portals: www.innastrona.pl.

For two years, he and his partner have owned a cosy hostel in the centre of Krakow. For two years, they have kept the place a secret.

There are no billboards; they have no adverts in tourist guides or magazines. Even talking to me, he would not agree to reveal the address.

“It is better, safer to stay underground,” Oliwa says. “We are afraid of unpleasant graffiti on the walls, or more aggressive attacks. Everybody likes peace, quiet and discretion.”

Underground seems to be the only lifestyle allowed for gay society, not only in Krakow, but in the entire country. The reason is obvious.

The owner of another gay Krakow hostel stated it openly: “We live in an intolerant, Catholic country, whose government publicly supports homophobia. It is common knowledge all across Europe.” Upset, the owner ended our call.

Despite this situation, Krakow has two exclusively gay hostels – both in the centre – and one gay-friendly place on Kazimierz. The lack of billboards doesn’t preclude hostel owners attracting their preferred visitors. They advertise their accommodations on Polish and international gay web sites.

“In the beginning, we were afraid that we wouldn’t find many visitors. We expected only foreign guests, who are accustomed to places like this. It quickly turned out that gay hostels are very much in demand in Poland. Our place became very popular among Polish people. Two men sharing one room causes a bit of sensation in Polish hotels. Here homosexual couples can relax and feel comfortable,” Oliwa says.

Although all of the neighbours know that the 2nd Floor is a gay hostel, neither the visitors nor owners have ever heard any unpleasant comments from them.

“They are nice. It is typical Polish tolerance. When something exists in a small group, it is accepted,” Radek says.

The guests are mostly content with visiting Krakow and 2nd Floor. A lot of them come back.

“I’m here for the third time! It’s a lovely place – private, domestic atmosphere. The hosts are very young, and their English is great. I’m from Scotland. I work in London. I’d like to live in this place,” said Jack, a frequent guest at the hostel.

The hostellers take good care of their visitors, giving them information about pubs, clubs, parties and places to visit, and telling them about the town.

“Sometimes we go out with our guests,” says Radek, who confides that he regrets that there are still too few gay places in Krakow. “It is a pity City Hall doesn’t want to finance a gay festival in Krakow. Everybody could earn on it. Gays are the profitable tourists. They travel a lot; they have no children, which means they have more free time and more money to spend.”

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