Friday, March 16, 2007

Keeping It Real in Lodz

Earlier this week I shared an article about Krakow overtaking Lodz as the second largest city in Poland. As a follow up I'd like to share an article about Lodz. From Polish Radio 13.03.2007:
Keeping it real in Lodz

Last week a demographic study revealed that Kraków is set to
overtake Lodz as Poland's second biggest city. So, stripped of its
title what does Lodz have left to offer?

By Anna Piwowarska

Kraków is one of Europe's favourite tourist destinations with over
eight million visitors per year. Many of these tourists are so
captivated with fairytale city that they end up buying properties
there - this explains the city's fast growing population. On a
recent visit to Kraków, I woke up to the enchanting sound of horses'
hooves on cobbled streets.

I looked outside at the carriage disappearing in the misty narrow
street and I felt like I had gone back a hundred years. Kraków has
an `unreal' quality that makes it a perfect get away. All day long
people sit smoking and drinking coffee in the numerous bohemian
cafes that line every street. In the evenings you can go and drink
in beautiful, artistic bars that give Paris a run for its money,
like "Absinthe" in the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. Apart from
masses of students and tourists one doesn't really see many people
with `real' lives in Kraków. In comparison, Łódź is so `real' that
it's almost painful…

The history of Lodz is fascinating. Born in the 14th century, it was
a small agricultural village, but that all changed in the first half
on the 19th century with the industrial revolution, when Łódź became
the centre of the Polish textile industry. The town became
a `Promised land' for people from small villages seeking work in
factories. Settlers also came from Czech Republic and Saxony, as
well as France, Switzerland and England.

Almost every ten years the population of Łódź doubled. In 1872, the
famous Poznański cotton plant came into existence, as well as many
others. Soon it became one of the most important industrial cities
in the Europe. Lodz was the centre for the production of wool,
linen, silk and rubber goods. Just before World War it was one of
the most densely populated industrial cities in the world (there
were 13 280 people per sq. kilometre).

With the beginning of WW II, over a third of the population were
Jewish, however, during the German occupation, the majority of the
300,000 Jewish inhabitants were killed. Just before liberation, the
80,000 Germans living there fled. Despite the city acting as
Poland's capital between 1945-58, it certainly was no longer the
bustling, international metropolis that it had once been.

Today Lodz is the poorest city in Poland with highest rate of
unemployment. Poverty and alcoholism is very apparent and it strikes
many as a sad city, partly because of the contrast with its glorious
past. Despite this its inhabitants are incredibly positive and down
to earth. Łódź may be uglier, poorer and less cosmopolitan than
Kraków, but it has an idiosyncratic character all of its own.

The first time, that the avant-garde filmmaker David Lynch went
there, he fell in love with the city. He described the disused
factories as "…fairy tales, like dream palaces—cathedrals!" and
decided to shoot his film `Inland Empire' here. The National Film
School was established there after the war and looking at the early
films of Kieślowki, Wajda and Polański, it seems impossible that
these talents could have evolved anywhere but in Lodz. Other famous
inhabitants included the world famous pianist Artur Rubenstein and
the poet Julian Tuwim, both who stressed the influence of the city
on their creativity.

The neo-baroque Poznański Place and factory give you glimpse of the
cities former glory. The red brick factory must have been as
incredible sight when you imagine it bustling with factory workers.
Apparently, at dawn, one would be woken up by the sound of thousands
of women's' shoes making their way to work…

In the summer, Lodz becomes an Eastern European style Cuba, with
people sitting in front of their houses in deckchairs and children
happily playing in the streets. The seven kilometre long main
pedestrian street, Piotrkowska, is a never ending line of beer
gardens and non-stop parties. It may not have as much international
appeal as Kraków, but Łódź citizens hasn't let that stop them from
having fun themselves.

I've always thought that you can compare cities to certain types of
people. If Kraków is a fashionable, perfumed, well-to do-lady, in a
fur coat and high heels, then Łódź is a happy go lucky vagabond in a
tatty hand-me-down suit, who will tell you his life's story as soon
as he meets you. Kraków has a certain bourgeoisie quality that makes
it sometimes seem twee and claustrophobic. Łódź on the other hand
has a sense of mystery and intriguing darkness that never fails to
draw you in. It's the place where you find yourself doing things
that you'd never do anywhere else. Like climbing over gates at night
to see a cemetery in moonlight or drinking vodka on a park bench in
minus fifteen degree temperatures…

The word `lodz' means `boat' in Polish. So next time you're in
Poland, take my advice and make sure that you `don't miss the boat'.
I have several relatives living in Łódź and a good bit of my family history is tied to this area. I have recently discovered an interesting blog post written by a gal who is from Łódź. It makes for interesting reading. If your family's history is tied to the Łódź area as well you will enjoy reading Annabuda.