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Published: October 17th 2015
A wet snow fell steadily from the sky, as we walked across the tarmac at Lodz Airport. It was not what we had ordered. It was almost dark in the mid afternoon gloom. We opted for a taxi, partly due to the weather. The reconstruction of the town centre also due meant that a number of bus routes were running diversions and frankly I had no idea how to reach the hotel easily with the changes.
A mere 25 Zloty fare past scenery of a faded industrial past and we were in the city centre. The most modern building we passed was the Atlas Arena - an indoor stadium that seems to specialize in playing home to heavy metal acts. The city was littered with posters advertising the imminent arrival of Deep Purple and Slash. We weaved our way through the traffic and were deposited outside the relic that is the Hotel Savoy. It has a namesake in London, but the similarities end there. An opulent environment in 1912 and the inspiration for the book, Hotel Savoy.
A 1924 novel by Austrian writer, Joseph Roth. It is a tale set
in the Hotel Savoy, where lonely war veterans, variety dancers and others dream of better places. I shall have to read it to find out if they ever found them. The other half got into the character of the book and dreamed of other places in warmer climates. The hotel is now stuck in a time warp somewhere between 1912 and when the Communists gave it a makeover in the 1970s. There was a supposed renovation in 2007, although whether this was exclusively targeting the exterior of the building was not entirely clear from our room. The receptionist allocated us our room - in other world's, it would be called a suite with a separate seating and TV area. We were ushered into to lift to climb to our 3rd floor base, but only under the careful jurisdiction of the resident elevator man. He was sporting a communal grey jacket that I am sure that it was passed between staff, as they changed shifts. It was one of those folding door models - far too complicated for a mere mortal to operate. Self operation was clearly not an option, although quite how that worked in the middle of the night
remains a mystery. You can imagine a sleeping member of staff being woken from his slumber at 3 am to don the esteemed grey jacket and ferry guests to the relevant floor. It reminded me of going to Binns in the Boro when I was a kid - they had a lift lady too. Alas, no longer - she was consigned to history at some point, from which Teesside retail has never recovered. I guess along with scanning your own shopping in a supermarket, they call it progress. We mainly settled for the stairs thereafter, feeling guilty that we were creating further unemployment in lift operative world. Whatever your taste in hotels, the Hotel Savoy is a place you should stay before Eastern Europe is completely swallowed by the blandness that has overtaken the rest of Europe.
Lodz is not on the trail for most visits to Poland. Krakow has nothing to worry about, competing for those intent on a pleasing view each day. On a good day, it could be described as "industrial". Factory records? Lodz has plenty of them. The Manchester of Poland. The centre of the textile trade outside Lancashire, Lodz grew rich on
M is for .....................?
mass production for the Russian market and the city spread - a factory and basic accommodation for the workers. The population mushroomed. A red brick Polish industrial landscape, all linked together by a grand street. Times change - that was the 1890s, this is now. History has not been kind. A couple of World Wars, respective rule by the Germans and Russians, the loss of the eastern markets, the loss of the German market and 50 years of Communist central planning has created a moonscape of industrial decline. This paints a miserable picture and not one you would wish to visit. However out of adversity has risen a creative renaissance. The factories have gone to be replaced by Holly Lodz - the centre of Polish film and TV - and more industrial warehouse loft spaces for a new breed of urban dweller to reside. Street art adorns the giant canvasses, where buildings are missing. If it were Shoreditch, people would see it all very differently. A converted loft apartment would be worth millions. The place had the feel of the Manchester I knew in the early 1980s. You could imagine Joy Division and the rest of the Factory bands composing
their own brand of new wave in this city. It has atmosphere. I felt quite at home in a bizarre sort of way.
The other half remained less sure, as we trudged out into the afternoon snow. She had added it in her mind to the long list of places she had been forced to endure, when other folks get to visit sunny seaside resorts and picture book pretty squares. It would of course have helped if the destination could have been more easily described. Polish place names are designed to confuse. Where have you been? Wooge. Where? Wooge. It bears no relation to Lodz to the English tongue.
We walked north on Piotrkowska Street. It is technically the longest pedestrian street in Europe. A staggering 3 miles long. The reality is more of one of those new fangled shared space environment that are all the rage. The multi use spaces, where cars, pedestrians and the scourge of both - the cyclists - can all operate. The rules were not abundantly clear - our taxi used it, other vehicles were stopped by the Police and the cyclists do what they do everywhere, carry on
regardless and break all the rules. The grand buildings line the street - some restored, others faded - but all eluding to a prosperous past when the factory owners grew rich on the toil of others. In amongst the shops and businesses, bronze statues intermittently line the street. The most prominent is the 3 Factory Owners, who ironically sit outside a certain fast food establishment to show just how new industries have filled the void. The snow continued and I made a disturbing discovery. A slight hole in the sole of my shoe had rendered the goretex lining irrelevant and water was now freely circulating within. The soggy foot would prevail unless the weather improved. It did not!
The grandeur of the buildings facing the street hid the courtyards and flats behind. The decoration was absent here. These were just functional living spaces. The homes of the workers. The liquid continued to fall from the sky. A less fortunate member of society was snoring peacefully on a pew in the church. He was temporarily warm and dry, which is more than can said for my right foot at this point.
The focus of our
walk was Manufactura - the largest former industrial complex in town. The brainchild of Israel Poznanski, a Jewish industrialist, who saw the demand for high quality textiles in Russia, Japan and China. The first looms began spinning in 1852, but reached a peak in the early 1890s when 80,000 machines across 12 factories were transforming the textile world. The factory complex was designed by Hilary Majewski, who combined the red brick with some Art Nouveau flashes. The founder died in 1900, but his sons carried on the dynasty and continued to mass produce with a workforce that peaked at 8,000. The place is enormous and anchored by a large shopping complex. It was a welcome respite from the weather. There would be time for further exploration in the morning.
The weather seemed not to have deterred the social animals of Lodz. A bit like Manchester - rain does not stop play. We didn't venture far from the hotel. There was little point in getting wetter than necessary. Piotrkowska Street offers a multitude of eating and drinking opportunities. The cool and trendy places were in the hidden courtyards behind the main drag, but there was enough to amuse
fronting the street. Drinking in Poland is an inexpensive occupation. I was expecting prices more akin to Warsaw, but was surprised to find bars more on a level with last year's trip to Przemysl. 6 Zloty was typical. Despite the low prices, the drinking seemed quite responsible. The same cannot always elsewhere in Poland, where beer at rocket fuel strengths followed by vodka chasers, can often bring out the worst in folk. The food options were endless, but dominated by Italian and Polish cuisine. At the end of our street a disproportionately expensive Argentine restaurant had gatecrashed the party.
The morning brought no improvement in the weather. Lodz under blue skies was not going to happen. We avoided lift man on the route march to breakfast, before taking our first major excursions of Piorkowska Street. A giant piece of street art adorned the end of our block. A bright colourful, happy face stared out from the end of a building, bringing a contrast to the drab surroundings. The central Fabryczna Railway Station is no more - at least on a temporary basis. The tram tracks led to a dead end and a big pile of rubble. The
tram tracks had turned into a car parking opportunity. The shiny Porsche Panemara suggested someone was doing quite nicely, although it seemed a strange place to park a flash motor. The adjacent Orthodox Church was firmly locked up. As it seems with all large showcase Orthodox Church, it carried the name of Alexander Nevsky. The Lodz Concert Hall stood out as the only modern building on the adjacent street. The local bakery was doing slow business from the back of a van.
The 3 Factory Owners - Israel Poznanski, Henryk Grohman and Karol Schreiber - were still debating back on Piotrkowska Street. A number of other bronze statues are liberally scattered elsewhere on the street - Lamp Man ..... added in 2007 to commemorate 100 years of street lighting in the city and Artur Rubenstein ....... buy playing his piano among them. Manufactura - by it's own slogan was still "at the very heart of dreams". "Shopping, Museum, Fun, Film". The factory complex has been redeveloped by a French company into the hub of Lodz life - at least for those with some money. A flashy shopping experience, cinema, leisure opportunities and a lot of eating opportunities.
3 Factory Owners - the Golden Arches symbol looms
A group of businessmen were taking a cigarette break outside the Andel Hotel, which anchors one side of the development. We decided to stay dry for a while and searched out the Museum of the Factory. It was basically a history lesson of the factory through the years, but offers an opportunity to get on to the roof for an aerial view of both Manufactura and the real Lodz in the other direction. In contrast to the red brick Victoriana of the main area, the owner built himself a more splendid residence on the city corner. The so called Poznanski Palace is now a Museum of Lodz, but was frustratingly off limits today. It was closed on Mondays, but annoyingly closed on this particular Tuesday. The number of film trucks and electric cables snaking out on to the street suggested that Holly Lodz was in residence, shooting the next Polish masterpiece.
We moved off back down Piotrkowska Street and sought refuge in the Tea & Coffee Club. A bohemian coffee shop with a jumble of furniture relics and a nice touch in smooth music provided a relaxing half hour in a courtyard setting. The Holly Lodz Walk
of Fame near the Grand Hotel revealed a series of stars in the pavement, but Roman Polanski remained elusive. He was there somewhere. We stumbled on OFF Piotrkowska at the southern end - another old Cotton Mill and factory space converted into a leisure, restaurant and trendy shopping area. It was once owned by a Czech family, the Ramischs. It somehow seemed inconceivable that an industrial factory operated with metres of the main grand street. The Lodz Cathedral loomed behind. We retreated indoors again into the Galleria Lodz, which looked a little tired compared to the shopping mall at Manufactura. It was still some way towards the Kaliska Railway and Bus Station, so a taxi to our Polski Bus getaway chariot in the morning was an easy choice.
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