Łódź: industrial uprising to a city break destination
I have traveled all over Poland, from the capital city of Warsaw to the old capital of Krakow, to the Baltic port of Gdansk to the colourful town of Lublin, to the mountain resort of Zakopane to the lakes near Lithuania but I have never been to Łódź (pronounced Wood-ge). I got the chance recently to check out one of Poland’s youngest cities but to be honest, I knew nothing of the place. Over a long weekend I quickly learnt a lot about the city which is trying to bring visitors from all over the place. It may not have the charm and glamour like other cities but there is a reason for this, to which I will explain, but I left here with a lot more knowledge and want to share the world about this amazing city.
First off I will have to explain the history of the place. Four hundred years there was a few rivers, a hut with a leaky roof and the odd rabbits roaming about. Three hundred years ago there maybe a couple of huts. Two hundred years ago a small town was built here and then BOOM! The industrial revolution hit the city. It expanded big time. The good times were here. The city became the textile heartland of the country then all of a sudden, the Second World War. The Nazi German’s came in, moved a lot of jewish people on who were running the textile show here and the city never recovered. It was crumbling big time. A lot of people left. Then recently it became Poland’s Hollywood, a lot of films were filmed here and Polish film premiere’s are shown. A massive revamp of the city followed, a lot of money poured in and is now bringing people back to the city for work. Something has happened over the last ten years. It has boomed big time with the locals and the tourists are starting to sit up and take note. Now guys like me, are thinking, what is Łódź, I don’t care, just book a flight ticket and boom! I have arrived in the city…now let’s go and check it out and be amazed. Yes, I seriously came to the city with no knowledge whatsoever. No planning, no research, all I know is that my flight from London landed at the city’s small airport (which currently has two flights a day) and that Łódź: is around a ninety minute drive west of Warsaw.
My guide to Łódź: for a long weekend break
I start off with the city centre. Now where exactly is the city centre? At first it’s a huge urban mess with many streets clogged up with cars. I have been told by locals that Łódź is the slowest city to drive around due to all the traffic jams. However, despite the local authorities classing the centre with a few suburbs into the area, I class the heart of the centre where one of the longest commercial streets is located (at 4.2km long), Piotrkowska ul.
There are some touristy bars and restaurants along here (I prefer to eat and drink in places just off the main street) and lots of shops but there are some things to see as well. I mentioned that the city is Poland’s Hollywood earlier and there is the Polish version of the Walk of Fame. Starting from the Grand Hotel, the stars on the western side of the road has the names of actors and actresses who have made it big in the Polish film industry whilst on the eastern side is names of directors and cameramen.
Nearby is Róża’s Passage (Pasaż Róży) is a fantastic creation by Joanna Rajkowska. The passage which links up two streets has a small courtyard in the middle. It used to have a hotel here but later turned into apartments. The place was rundown, dark and gloomy so Joanna decided to make a mosaic which reflect natural light off a lot of mirror shards (and I mean a lot…like, er…thousands!). This has really transformed the place and is even bright at night. I was completely gobsmacked when I saw this at night and took the time to appreciate the effect that Joanna put in to produce this fantastic piece of street art.
As well as the Piotrkowska holding the record as Europe’s longest pedestrian street, it also holds the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest piece of graffiti in the world but now just holds the record of being the largest piece of graffiti in Europe. Way back in 2001, the ‘City of Łódź’ mural took two months to complete and is symbolic to the folks of the city. It features Wolności Square and the Kościuszko monument, an old tram, the Old Town Hall and has the city’s logo on the side of a boat. The mural combines the modern with the traditional and is worth checking out.
For eating I checked out Nóż’ which means ‘knife’ in English. Don’t worry guys, it’s not a dangerous knife party! In fact, this is one of the best ever Spanish restaurants I have been to outside Spain. With lots of tapas, paella Spanish style meats and wines, to which some are exclusive to the restaurant, plus with it’s interior design which has a modern Mediterranean feel, this is the place to go for one evening and enjoy what Spain has to offer in Central Poland. (The restaurant can be found in OFF Piotrkowska – just ask a local where OFF Piotrkowska and they will all know where it is).
To the north of Piotrkowska is the area known as Manufaktura which is Poland’s largest renovation project since rebuilding the Old Town of Warsaw in the 1950s. The buildings I was looking at was once a set of factories which produced textiles back in the 19th century. The area was booming but then World War Two came along and then the place was deserted. Back in the day the factories were designed by Hilary Majewski who was a student at Saint Petersburg University. The mills were built in a red-brick industrial style and based on those from Northern England. The factories were the property of a Jewish merchant who knew that high quality textiles in the Japanese, Chinese and Russian markets was needed. At the time when the factories were built, Łódź was the westernmost city in the Russian Empire. With his expertise in western textile and industrial knowledge and his access to those markets in the east, he was onto a winner! It made him a fortune and put the city on the map.
Work to restore the buildings started in 2003 and the site was open in May 2006 and took more than five years to plan and construct this massive project. As you can see from my nighttime photos, the finishing result is amazing. The original 19th century brick buildings are the main part of the complex as they have been totally renovated. The only buildings which are brand new to the complex is the shopping centre and it doesn’t look out of place either.
I entered the complex through the Poznański gate and found out that this was the area where workers used to go into the complex everyday to work at the mills. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked down the cobbled street to the Rynek (main square), this is when I first took note of all the buildings around me! It was simply stunning to take in this part of the city’s history and see what the locals have done with it.
Away from the main area of the centre to the eastern outskirts, I visited the area known as Księży Młyn, which was also a place of producing textiles. Built up with the backing of the Herbst and Scheibler families in the second half of the 19th century, the area was booming in no time and hundreds of workers were happily working in mills and production as well as schools, hospitals and a railway line being built and used. The two families who sparked life into this area were considered the wealthiest and most influential industrialist families in all of Poland.
I discovered the Herbst Palace (I wanted to check out the Scheibler Palace which is not too far away but is having some work done to the building and won’t be open until the end of 2020), where of course, the Herbst family lived when times were good here. When the city council, in this case, the Museum of Art took over the palace, it was in a bad shape, a lot of original furnishings were not there and the place needed much more than a tin of paint to bring the building back to life.
After a while the palace was eventually resorted and is now much closer to the original style and it has been done very well. From master bedrooms, children bedrooms, the office, the guest rooms, the hallway with the grand staircase, this is a palace worth checking out. On the ground level is a small museum with displays of photos of the family when they were the ‘granddaddy’s’ of the city.
Also in the palace grounds is an art gallery but I have to admit, I spent most of my time wandering around the garden in the Autumn sunshine. It may have not been colourful but it was great seeing green leaves on trees and bushes in the middle of this brick-clayden city to which I haven’t seen many parks.
Outside the palace, I checked out some of the Księży Młyn area. I saw the old railway station which is converted into a cafe with the railway line and sign outside. I walked through a small park with red bricked buildings overlooking it from each side whilst leaves on the ground gave this park and cozy-rustic feel to the place. There is the old fire station whilst the main complex has been converted into a hotel and a few shops. Also is the Księży Młyn brewery which I checked out and found out that they have the best beers I have tried in Poland so far on my travels.
At first when I arrived in Łódź and taking a ride from the airport to the centre, I was thinking what a boring, grey-looking Soviet-style city. Don’t get me wrong, I been to a lot of cities in Poland, Eastern Europe and Russia but I felt that this place on first impressions was depressing and really, I was thinking why the hell am I here! But soon afterwards, discovering the area, walking around, talking to the locals, checking out the food and drink scene as well as major renovation works, turning this city from a textile power to an outdoor ‘Hollywood’ movie studio, my views changed and they changed a lot. This place is not depressing. It might have been a decade ago but now with a lot of work done, people moving back to the city for work, the place is starting to boom again. Inside the old factories, the old buildings, hidden passageways, there is life inside them. People smiling, people being happy, the interior with its modern design, colourful, majestic. There is a lot of words I can describe this city now but the one sentence I thought about towards the end of my visit which best describes the city of Łódź to me is: ‘when your down, you rebuild, rebuild to greater things’, and that is what the locals have done and I am pretty sure they have some ideas which will come to fruition soon. Łódź is a must see city, even if doing just one or two days here and also makes a great day out from nearby Warsaw.