Once derogatorily dubbed the Manchester of Poland, the country’s third largest city is undergoing a huge facelift more in keeping with its other sobriquet of ‘HollyLodz’. Stuart Wilson reveals the stars of the show…
A leisurely stroll along Piotrkowska Street – the main artery running through the heart of Lodz – is all about maximising life’s great pleasures: shopping, eating and drinking. And with the street’s newly constructed beer-gardens, the latter can now be enjoyed outdoors as the world, and the waitresses, move around them. Those too lazy to walk this boulevard can opt instead for the city’s famous rickshaws, which, in a perfect symbiotic relationship with this seemingly endless highstreet, whisk their passengers to and from the innumerable refreshment-stops right up to Liberty Square (Plac Wolnosci), elegantly presided over by the statue of General Tadeusz Kościuszko, Poland’s National hero. No wonder our Piotrkowska Street possesses a cult status in Poland!
Lodz only began expanding during the mid-19th Century industry boom, creating an elegant, international city and more than its fair share of prosperous pioneers. But the 45 years of communism, coming hard on the heels of WW2, felt like a slow train to nowhere as the city was allowed to crumble in its slumber. Since 1990, however, city renovation schemes and foreign investment have led to a Lodz renaissance – and several new architectural projects are in development which will radically transform the city centre. The jewel in the crown will be if Lodz is awarded European Capital of Culture in 2016, and with its famous film school (the very one that churned out Wajda, Kieslowski and Polanski), cultural spaces and art galleries the title will be well earned. ECC or not, the modern Lodz explorer is sure to be beguiled by the alchemical combination of industrial grit and cultural gold dust, which makes for a friendly and spellbinding atmospheric city.
Best of the Beaten Track
Get your momentum going on Piotrkowska – one of Europe’s longest commercial streets – where elegant buildings watch over the daily festivities and, sprouting on either side, are entire streets within a street. (Indeed, in these side alleys and courtyards you’ll find many of the cooler cafes and bars – such as Jazzga, Lodz Kaliska Pub and Sto Jeden).
It was only sensible that Lodz’s industrial landscape was reworked to its advantage rather than bulldozed from memory, and that was certainly the case with Manufaktura, the latest addition to the city’s fabric. A shopping, cinema, leisure and arts complex which has succeeded in combining the old with the new, the redbrick factory (famously featured in Wajda’s film The Promised Land) now lords over a square with dancing fountains, summer netball and winter ice-skating – you can even go rock climbing! Two new projects being developed in the same ethos are David Lynch’s film-studio-come-cultural-centre and the EC1 development, which will include an Art and Culture Zone, Science Zone and new underground railway station.
Slap bang next to Manufaktura is the Poznanski Palace, the most elegant of Lodz’s stately homes. Eccentric in style, it houses the City of Lodz History museum and regularly hosts concerts and banquets. Whilst for something more contemporary visit the MS2 modern art gallery – in my opinion the best in Poland. Its sister gallery is on Gdanska Street is situated in one of the palaces that the industrialist Izrael Poznanski built for his children.
Lodz’s alternative treasure number one is the kooky Inner Tube Museum, located under Plac Wolnica (Liberty Square) in the renovated sewage system. This underground reservoir, with its network of tunnels was built in the 1920s, forgotten about and recently rediscovered and opened to the public. Meanwhile for those hellbent on exploring HollyLodz’s film legacy, head to Charlie Cinema – a hit with the art-house crowd, where you might even catch an evening of student films from the progeny of the city’s famed film school. The Museum of Cinematography is opposite the film school and, after you’ve whizzed round the exhibitions you might try and sneak in for a look around.
Lodz is well-turfed with greenery and the largest park, Park Zdrowie, contains a zoo, fun fair, the Botanic Gardens and a few beer gardens – a nice place to escape from the bustle of town. Foodies might want to check out Green Market/Hala Targowa, where the locals get the best smoked sausage, pierogi, gherkins and bread – a different slice of true Lodz life.
Lodz’s Jewish heritage is well-known. Tragically not much remains, but the city’s overgrown atmospheric Jewish Cemetery, situated on the edge of what was the once the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, is the largest in Europe. Nearby is the Radagast holaucast memorial a haunting reconstruction of the station used for Jewish transport. However Lodz does have one of the most active Jewish communities in Poland based around the functioning synagogue on ul. Pomorska.
Experience & Events
The streets on either side of Piotrkowska feel as if they have scarcely changed for 100 years – this is the industrial climate for which Lodz is infamous and can be particularly charming at dusk. Though rather for the flâneur than the typical tourist. Lodz’s factory climate can also be experienced with a visit to Księży Młyn a purpose built 19th Century housing estate built for the workers in the opposite Scheibler Factory, now under conversion to luxury loft apartments.
Other great ways to experience the city include a hot beer in front of a roaring fire at the mountain cabin restaurant Bacówka u Józka on the slope of Rudzka Gora, Lodz’s artificial hill in the South; a trip to the Sunday morning flea market on ul. Andrzejewski (between Lodowa and Puszkina), in the Widzew part of town; or, if time allows, an afternoon on a bike in the Łagiewniki City Forest where hours of cycling can be followed by a cooling bathe in a mini-lake or washed away with a pint next to an ostrich farm.
Plus Camerimage is probably the most well-known of Lodz’s festivals whilst the Festival of Dialogue of Four Cultures, celebrates the Polish/Jewish/German/Russian mix that once lived here, through music, theatre and art.
Exceptionally fine hotels have sprung up over the last five years and direct Ryanair flights from Stansted make Lodz a novel adventure for tourists looking for a taste of Polish life. A couple of top choices are the Andels Hotel, with a rooftop swimming pool overlooking Manufaktura, and Hotel Savoy, which is great value for money. Lodz isn’t big on hostels but for a budget option try Szkolne Schronisko Młodzieżowe on ul. Legionów. The Jewish community of Lodz has its own guest house at Pomorska 18. Guesthouse “Linat Orchim” is another recommended choice situated next to Lodz’s active synagogue and the Jewish community centre and cafe (Cafe Tuwim).
Although some of Lodz’s treasures may be hidden there’s no need to scour the streets for good grub! The best restaurants are all situated around Piotrkowska or in the Manufaktura complex. Some of the city’s more elegant places are Karczma u Chochoła, where huge servings of traditional Polish cuisine include helpings of wild boar, Ganesh, a superior curry house, and Varoska, a very popular Hungarian option where you’ll need to book ahead for the weekend. Also worth tucking into is the chicken in honey and ginger sauce at the Jewish restaurant, Anatewka, and the mouthwatering pizza at Pizzeria Incentro , recommended by Poland’s top food critic.
So good it’s worth mentioning twice, the Lodz Kaliska Pub comes replete with art-bedecked walls, frequent live music shows and a chattering film school crowd. (The success of Kaliska led to the opening of a sister bar in Krakow, equally tantalising in its decor). Another no-nonsense, freshly designed cafe is Freedom Coffee and Bar with a summer patio and view onto Plac Wolnosci, whilst Pub Peron 6 has live music and 35 kinds of beer. For something a bit wilder Bagdad Cafe hosts popular reggae, soul and electro parties, whilst you can delve into the city’s gay scene by calling by at Narraganset.
Lodz is almost exactly placed in the centre of Poland and is a good base for discovering places like Czestochowa or a day-trip to Warsaw. There is a very comfortable high-speed train to Warsaw taking 1.5 hour and Ryanair flies frequently to various UK airports, including Stansted London. Jetair fly to Warsaw and Vienna.
Hard Copy & Silver Screen
One of Poland’s greatest poets, Julian Tuwim, hailed from Lodz and his volume of poetry “Polish Flowers” is a classic. He is immortalised on Piotrkowska with a shiney-nosed bronze statue. The Brothers Ashkenazi (1937) is a novel by Israel Joshua Singer (brother of Isaac Bashevis Singer, the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature 1978). Meanwhile Wladyslaw Reymont’s The Promised Land (1899) charts the destructive nature of capitalism via the friendships and betrayals of three industrial entrepreneurs – a Pole, German and Jew. Wajda went on to make the film in 1975. Finally David Lynch shot much of Inland Empire in Lodz – a city he fell in love with after visiting in 2000 for the Camerimage Festival.
Soundtrack to the City
Feature photo by Marco Crupi.