Poland is not the first country that will cross your mind when you think about the holidays. I don’t blame you. The only things that used to pop up in my mind when I thought about Poland were blocks of grey socialist buildings and the notorious concentration camp Auschwitz. Back in 2012, I got an offer to do summer internship in Poland. I accepted it, although I wasn’t so excited about the idea of spending summer in, as I thought, poor, former Eastern block country. However, six weeks long stay in Poland turned out to be one of the best summers and best life experiences I’ve ever had. I stayed in Lodz, but every weekend I was visiting a different city and at the same time, breaking prejudices I had about the country and its people.
Poland has pleasantly surprised me many times…
…not only by the beauty of its scenery and charming cobbled streets but also by the kindness of its people. To be fair, I thought about Polish people as cold-blooded northerners. But they turned out to be friendly and approachable. Even in a case of a language barrier, which happens quite often as not many Poles have good knowledge of English, they will do their best to give you directions and help you out.
I must say that Polish men are true gentlemen. Each time I was struggling to carry my bulky luggage, a Polish guy would pop out of nowhere and offer his help. I have pulled my heavy suitcase around many other cities afterwards, but I haven’t experienced such a chivalry anywhere else. However, there is one thing I have to warn you about Poles- don’t compete with them who can drink more vodka! They will beat you. Badly.
Now let’s have a closer look at Lodz
The third largest city of Poland is situated in the central part of the country, south-west of Warsaw. Lodz literally means “boat” in Polish, but when roaming around the downtown and beyond, you will see no river. So how come did Lodz become “boat” if there are no rivers anywhere to be seen?!
There are actually 18 rivers running through or better said, under the city. Industrial development of Lodz depended on rivers, but industrialisation eventually took its toll. Due to the chronic pollution, all rivers got covered back in 1920’s. However, the current government is working on their restoration. By now, only one river on the outskirts of the city has been returned to its former state. Although it harmed the rivers, development of textile industry in the 19th century turned the small village into the city that Lodz is today. Today so-called Polish Manchester is no longer an industrial centre. Only old factory buildings have remained as witnesses of its former glory.
Sightseeing in Lodz
During the stay in Lodz, you will spend a significant amount of time in Piotrkowska Street. Numerous cafés, various restaurants, clubs and shops will lure you to return to the longest promenade in Europe several times a day. The lifeblood of the city starts at the statue of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Poland’s national hero and famous revolutionary, at Plac Wolnosci (Liberty Square) and spans almost 5 kilometres to the south. It is lined with neo-renaissance and art nouveau buildings between which architects occasionally squeezed in socialist work of art.
While walking down the Piotrkowska, you will see bronze casts of famous Lodz’s residents. One of them is Arthur Rubinstein, an acclaimed Polish-American pianist. His monument is at number 78, in front of the building in which he grew up. Visitors used to enjoy listening piano tunes played by music box within the monument. Unfortunately, residents of nearby buildings didn’t share the same enthusiasm. The box was eventually removed due to the complaints.
Lodz is yet another city that has Walk of Fame which honours the most eminent names of Polish cinematography. Among stars embedded on both sides of the pavement in Piotrkowska is the star of Roman Polanski. The famous director is alumni of National Film School in Lodz, the leading Polish academy of its kind, which was founded in 1948.
Manufaktura-city within a city
You might think that going to the shopping mall when visiting another city is a total waste of time. I totally agree, but Manufaktura is a place you don’t want to miss. The complex occupies premises of a former textile factory founded by Izrael Poznanski. In 1992, they closed down the factory after 140 years of work. A decade later started a renovation of its abandoned ruins. The focus was to preserve what was left out of the old brick factory buildings. Some of them were rebuilt brick by brick.
One of the biggest commercial and entertainment centres in Europe with the surface ceremonially opened in 2006. Apart from the shopping mall, the area of 150,000 m2 also features plenty of restaurants, cinema, entertainment centre and 4 museums. The entertainment centre has facilities for bowling, gambling, laser tag and even indoor climbing. Surrounded by buildings is a large market square that hosts different events throughout the year.
Urban Forms Foundation has been bringing colour to grey facades of Lodz since 2009. The foundation promotes and helps the work of independent artists who contribute to the metamorphosis of the urban landscape. So far, there are 36 murals scattered around the city, which have been painted by the best street artists from Brazil, Spain, France and Poland. There is no better way to get to know Lodz, than by following Urban Forms interactive map and stroll around this open-air gallery.
My favourite among the museums that I have visited is Herbst Palace, the villa that tells the history of two wealthiest industrial families in Poland of the second half of 19th century, the Herbst and the Scheibler. Interior of the villa has been carefully designed to faithfully display the way of life of the owners, but also to tell the history of Lodz in the industrialisation period. In the back of the villa, there is a lovely garden where you can have a moment of peace. The estate has a carriage-house as well in which art lovers can see the exhibition dedicated to the painters of Krakow School. Admission is free on Thursdays.
The impressive Neo-Baroque palace just next to the Manufaktura used to be a home of its founder, Izrael Poznanski. Today, if you go inside, you will be greeted by curators of the Museum of the City of Lodz. If you like to learn about the history while sightseeing, then you should visit this museum because it will give you the best insight how Lodz has changed over the decades. Permanent exhibitions are dedicated primarily to the history of Lodz (from the end of 19th century till the beginning of WW2) and to its famous citizens such as Arthur Rubinstein. Visitors can also look around the office from which Poznanski managed his textile empire. It is the best to visit on Wednesdays when entrance is free of charge.
I left out some of the important museums, but Lodz has 17 of them and it would be too much to write a line or two about each museum. If you are really keen on finding out more then visit In My Pocket.
Before the beginning of WW2, the Jewish community in Lodz counted 233,000 members. Then on 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Eight days after, the army marched in the city. Soon Lodz became Litzmannstadt in honour of the general who tried to occupy it back in WW1.
Persecution of the Jews that started almost immediately reached its peak in the spring of 1940 with the establishment of Lodz Ghetto. Those who didn’t flee the country had to move to the ghetto. Conditions in this crowded restricted area were bad and they got worse when Nazis brought Jews from other European countries to live there. Heavy security around the ghetto made any attempt to smuggle the food impossible, so Jews had to trade their remaining belongings with Germans to get essential supplies.
Somewhat later, Nazis established Jewish Council within the ghetto and put Jewish businessman, Chaim Rumkowski to be in charge of it. This consequently lead to the transformation of the ghetto into manufacturing base that provided Nazis with war supplies in exchange for food and medicines. In 1944, Heinrich Himmler commanded the liquidation of Lodz Ghetto. Surviving Jews went on their last journey- from Radegast train station to one of many concentration camps. After liberation, there were less than 1000 surviving Jews in Lodz.
Today, post-war buildings cover the area of a former ghetto in the north part of the city. However, some traces of Jewish quarter left. If you want to make a tour around Lodz Ghetto, the starting point should be at Balucki Rynek (Market), ghetto’s administrative centre. For the map of the almost 10 km long trail that ends at Radegast train station check free tour guide, In Your Pocket.
In case you aren’t keen on walking, here is a suggestion of other points of interest to visit:
- Children’s Memorial was erected to honour 1600 Polish children of deported Poles who lived in a separate concentration camp within the ghetto. Those who had German facial features were sent to Germany to get adopted and Germanized.
- Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Mary served as a warehouse for clothing of Jews gassed in an extermination camp. Later on, it was turned into a feather factory that employed Jewish labour.
- Radegast Station is the place from which about 200,000 Jews were sent to death. Inside the memorial, there are three Deutsche Reisebahn cattle trucks used for transport of victims. Their doors are wide open. Visitors are free to enter- if they dare.
- Jewish Cemetery is not far away from the train station. Once one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe has about 180,000 marked graves. The most impressive out of these is the mausoleum of Izrael Poznanski that is allegedly the largest Jewish tombstone. Within the cemetery, there are also mass graves of ghetto and Holocaust victims.
After sightseeing, you will most likely be hungry so it is time to try Polish cuisine. One of most famous dishes is pierogi– filled dumplings. They can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients, but the most popular one are pierogi ruskie stuffed with potato and cheese. There is also a sweet version of pierogi filled with fresh fruit, usually berries or sweetened curd cheese. Sweetened cheese has rather unusual taste, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like a sweet-savoury combination. I didn’t experiment a lot with traditional Polish cuisine due to my “no pork” diet. Thus I cannot recommend other Polish dishes.
Lodz offers a great selection of international restaurants too. The best among them are situated in Piotrkowska and its capillaries, as well as in Manufaktura. However, with my student budget, I couldn’t splurge on dining that often. What I can recommend you is to visit Green Way. Present nationwide, this chain restaurant proves that healthy and vegetarian food can be delicious too. It is suitable for eating on a budget, same as Da Grasso– pizzeria that offers a big range of pizza flavours. Slightly more expensive, but still affordable is Anatewka, where you can enjoy delicious Jewish food in cozy ambience.
This is only a fraction of what Lodz has to offer you. The rest, you should discover yourself. If I you want to find out more about Poland, stay tuned. Next time, I am going to write about the city of kings-Krakow. Till then, cześć!