Discover this European city’s rich history, modern ways.
By Hans Egefalk
I recently escaped my work in Sweden for a week and went to Poland. There was time for simply meeting people, to be a tourist and wander the streets of Lodz. Absolutely wonderful.
In Polish it’s Łódź and pronounced “woodge.” It’s way off the tourist tracks.
I really like Lodz. It offers such a tremendous mix and depending on which glasses you’re wearing you can see the city in so many ways. It’s not very touristy, which just adds to its pleasant feeling.
There’s a rather amazing mix of architectural styles. There are a few very modern buildings plus new ones are being added, mainly around the Fabrycza train station area. Then there are lots of restored older buildings with grand old facades in the heart of the city. There are a few western-style glass buildings (circa 2000s), some drab 1950s Soviet concrete buildings, remnants of ghettos from the cotton industry, more or less ruined houses, grander buildings in need of paint and care, and one small communist-style corner kiosk.
In the early 1800s only about 8,000 people lived in Lodz; by the end of that century it was 300,000 as there seemed to be no end to the expansion of the cotton industry. Cotton from the Soviet Union (around Lake Aral) and other places within the Soviet empire kept Lodz going until the end of the communist era.
Besides the beautiful old buildings there are others, some in decent shape, some waiting to be knocked down. There are old factory ruins everywhere, blocks after blocks of them. The Manufaktura area is very inviting; it’s a giant shopping center, art complex, restaurants and parks around old gigantic orange brick factories. There are more areas like that, but if you look across a street you often see an empty factory building. Like in the Ksiezy Mlyn area, with restored factories full of modern offices. It’s several blocks in size and a whole part of the city, with old workers’ brick cottages and other giant brick ruins.
There are wonderful, spacey parks. There are also old Soviet suburbs with giant apartment buildings, some of which are rather nice, all painted up with parks around them.
There’s a big tram network and lots of brand new bike paths with people riding bikes everywhere. There are small anachronistic communist era kiosks by tram stops that contain cake shops, butcher’s flower shops, tiny shops. Everywhere there are giant murals on empty facades of often old buildings. You can spend days wandering the streets just searching for these gigantic murals, five or six stories tall.
The old Jewish ghetto, Litzmannstadt, was the second biggest Jewish ghetto in the world. It’s still there, some bits restored, some bits with newer buildings, some bits very run down. I avoided the smaller streets when I walked through part of it one afternoon. Then I was on my way to the Jewish cemetery. I found it, but couldn’t find any entrance. A two meter brick wall all around it and I couldn’t see in. I’d read that you could get in, so I went back the next day. Then I took the tram to the end station of that line and was within 200 meters of the entrance. I asked the tram driver and people there, but no-one knew how to find the entrance. It was marked nearby on a map I’d seen, but there was small fenced in garden plots and trees in between. I kept on walking around and found a narrow dirt lane and way up there, there was a sign on a small steel door. Open. I had read that it was open 9 to 5, and it was. Amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Some 40 hectares of overgrown headstones, jam-packed near the entrance, then like a grass savannah in Queensland, only with the occasional headstone instead of Brahman cattle. Some bigger graves and then the Israel Poznanski mausoleum. Poznanski was one of the Jews who owned the cotton industry and Manufaktura was his factory. His mausoleum is the second biggest Jewish mausoleum in the world. A huge granite construction with a slightly dilapidated granite fence around it. It’s a granite space ship landed among overgrown headstones on earth.
All the people I met were really friendly.
I had lunch a couple of days that had been prepared by big women stirring huge pots and serving up loads of mash and chicken. And there are cabbage salads. The first night, after getting there, I found a restaurant near the hotel and got a chicken schnitzel made for a Polish shot putter, draped in a glacier of melted cheese. The avalanches of cabbage salads: white, red with beetroot, with red cabbage, sour, with capsicum. Plus a truckload of grated carrot and fries.
The hotel was in a narrow lane and the stairway up to my room on the third floor was bare brick and old wood. I had a room with a hotplate, a few cups and a small fridge, so I could have some bread and make a sandwich and have a cup of tea in the evenings before going to bed. It was a bit like a very small apartment.
– Photos by Hans Egefalk
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