Łódź

This (in size), 4th city of Poland is almost in the middle of the country located but it is not on the list of biggest tourist attractions. The Poles come here to buy clothes or to view relics. There is no typical city market either a special hall or a scenic river. Even its name: Łódź (boat) is strange and of an unknown origin because there are no rivers or lakes in the area.

 But there is something that distinguishes Łódź from other major Polish cities. It is a unique history and tradition of multiculturalism, without which the greatness of the town would have not arisen. And the council house is replaced by many pearls of industrial architecture. It was once called “the Polish Manchester”, because in the period of its biggest splendor, in the 19th century, textile factories were built one after one and their owners, at least the cleverest ones, made big fortunes there. Many traces of this splendor can still be seen as the city was not destroyed during World War II. But relics restored here and there or new investments, like railway station Łódź Fabryczna finished in 2016, cannot override the state of great neglect, visible in the areas close to the representative part of the Centre.

The most representative building – the palace of Izrael Poznański / photo: Lestat

SOME HISTORY

The first information about Łódź comes from 1332. Its strange name originated probably in the man’s name “W-ŁODZ-isław” or in the ancestral name “ŁODZ-ic” Up to the early 19th century the future big town was a small village, inhabited in 1820 by 767 peasants. The conversion to a considerate big industry center Łódź owes to textile industry, and act from 1821 which allowed industrial settlement there. The first textile settlement was established in 1823. An important factor that enabled development of the town was the custom union between the Polish Kingdom (were Łódź belonged to) and Russia, as well as opening the big Russian market for cotton producers from the city. (The Polish Kingdom was a kind of state created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 on a land taken by Russia after partitions of Poland and later incorporated by the Russian empire).

photo: public domain

A view on a Ludwik Geyer textile factories 

The scale of the town development in the 19th century is shown by a very dynamic population growth: 1820 – 767 inhabitants; 1860 – 32 000; 1897 – 314 000; 1913 – 506 000. Shortly before World War I Łódź was one of the most densely populated industrial cities of the world: 13 280 persons per 1 km! Regaining independence by Poland in 1918 had rather negative impact on Łódź because establishing customs barriers with Russia significantly limited access to its market what led to economic crisis.

Photo: public domain

Up to World War II Łódź was inhabited by four significant nations: Germans, Poles, Jews and Russians. This multiculturalism was destroyed by World War II. The lost war forced Germans to leave the “Litzmannstadt” (the war name of the town), and the Jewish population was exterminated (Łódź had the second largest ghetto in Poland). Today the city is inhabited practically by one nation only. 

 

Photo: Ryszard Gołębiowski

The pre-war Synagogue of the Reichers (1902), the only one that survived

After 1945 the town industry had been nationalized and modernized and its structure re-arranged, but textile industry kept domination – a profession inherited by generations. Another important feature of the city became a film production and education, which could not be run in a heavily ruined Warsaw. In 1948 the Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre was established and next year a Film Studio – the largest in Poland. Many movie stars could be seen here (arriving early morning by train from Warsaw) and the city gained even unofficial name HollyŁódź [“Łó” read as Eng. “Woo”].

The end of communism in 1989 brought no positive changes for the town.  Lack of easy access to the Eastern markets and cheap clothing imports from China led to the liquidation of the state-owned factories. Textile tradition of the city became now a legend, but its surroundings are known today as a center of production and trade clothing (run by smaller private producers). Also a prestige and importance of the film production center has declined much (Film Studio doesn’t exist anymore). Currently Łódź is looking for new ideas and identity.

Interesting note

There are not many songs about Łódź, but one of them became a big international hit, popular also in the Netherlands: Theo, wir fahr’n nach Lodz. In 1974 the song was popularized by the singer Vicky Leandros. The history of this song dates back to the 19th  century.  It was originally a song of Jews living in the vicinity of Lodz, which at that time was experiencing a great development. Its words, beginning with “Itzek, komm mit nach Lodz …” encouraged to abandon the backward rural life and go to a flourishing, modern city.

THE PROMISED LAND

In the title of the Władysław Reymont novel, published in 1899, the city is named “The Promised Land.” (The book was well filmed in 1974 by Andrzej Wajda as TV series and cinema movie, nominated for Oscar. A must see before visiting the town!).  So in “the promised land” big fortunes were born – and fell, mostly German and Jewish. The testimonies of it still exist in a form of large factory complexes…

Priest’s Mill (Księży Młyn) – Karol Scheibler textile factory complex

… and luxury furnished palaces.

photo: Ryszard Gołębiowski

The Izrael Poznański palace 

The biggest “kings of cotton” were: a German Ludwig Geyer (1805-1869) – one of the pioneers of the textile industry; a German Karol Scheibler (1820-1881) and a Jew Izrael Poznański (1833-1908).

Ludwig Geyer, Karol Scheibler, Izrael Poznański

Such entrepreneurs were called a lodzermensch, what has a positive or negative, disdainful meaning. For some it meant an admirable, resourceful businessman, taking care of his workers and poor people (like Karol Scheibler); for others – a man ruthless and greedy (like to some extent Izrael Poznański).  And there were always many people of this kind in Łódź. “The Promised Land” shows the second category of the lodzerr-mensch. The main heroes are three friends: a Polish nobleman Karol Borowiecki, the German Max Baum (son of a small manufacturer) and the Jew Moryc Welt. The men establish a company and build (for credit) a factory.

Max Baum (Andrzej Seweryn), Karol Borowiecki (Daniel Olbrychski), Moryc Welt (Wojciech Pszoniak) / The Promised Land, 1974

Uninsured factory is set on fire by a Jew Zuker, whose sexy wife was seduced by Borowiecki. This does not break the Pole down and to not go out of the business he marries a primitive daughter of a rich German manufacturer Mueller (unscrupulously leaving his more subtle noble bride). Some characters of the novel are modeled on Karol Geibler (Herman Bucholc) and Izrael Poznański (Szaja Mendelsohn).

Interesting note:
American filmmakers were not able to understand how poor, communist Poland could afford such gorgeous scenery to “The Promised Land”. In reality many scenes were filmed in authentic surroundings, including former palaces and factories of Poznański and Scheibler – in the last antique looms were still in use!

photo: Renata Głuszek

The room in the Karol Scheibler palace used in “The Promised Land”
with a movie photo on the wall 

The splendor of palaces, orgies and big business is just one face of the city. The second is a big poverty and exploitation of workers.

Workers waiting for a job, “The Promised Land”

It concerned especially women operating several machines at the same time and being paid less than men. Their situation has not improved even in communist Poland. Their life in the 70s of the 20th century ran as follows: 3.30 – wake up, breakfast (tea from thermos to avoid any noise in the kitchen and waking up the children), preparing breakfast for children, going to the factory, work, standing in a long queue for shopping, return home and cooking dinner. Highly desperate women finally rebelled in January 1971 and arranged big strike, which forced the authorities to improve their work conditions.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Weaving hall, years 50. of the 20th century 

MULTI-CULTI

The way of cooperation of several nationalities proved to work in the 19th century Łódź perfectly. National proportions could be changed, but the biggest business has always belonged to the Germans, the smaller to the Jews; Poles, mostly people of rural origin, created the working class and the least numerous Russians represented the Russian administration. This ethnic conglomerate was free from prejudice and nationalism. Various religions coexisted peacefully, followers of one cult built temples for the followers of another. A good example of it is the Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which building was financially supported by the biggest factory owners – Jews or Germans (not without some opportunities in mind however!). Many Catholic churches were co-financed by evangelicals.

photo: Ryszard Gołębiowski

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral 

This state of harmony was destroyed before World War II by the growing German nationalism, then by the war itself and then by the post-war hostility of Polish inhabitants towards Germans and Jewish survivors. To the beautiful 19th century tradition of “multi-culti” refers currently the Łódź Festival of Four Cultures, held since 2010 (the continuation of the Festival of Dialogue of Four Cultures held in 2002-2009). Festival presents theater, literature, movies, music and visual art of the Poles, Germans, Jews and Russians. Its aim is also to foster tolerance and the idea of peace.

photo: Zorro2212

Festival of Four Cultures 

HOLLYŁÓDŹ

The great post-war opportunity for Łódź became the film industry and education: the already mentioned above Film Studio and the State Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre, educating actors, film directors and operators. The list of outstanding graduates of this university is very long, and among others are Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk, Roman Polański, Jerzy Skolimowski, Krzysztof Zanussi, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Sławomir Idziak.

photo J.Nicolas KONDA YANS

The famous stairs in the film school, where students (Polański, Wajda among them) used to sit and wait for the verdict on their movie 

The prominent lecturers, comprehensive educational program and the atmosphere of freedom gave birth in the late 50s of the big legend of this university. Today the time of its glory has already passed and renowned Film Studio no longer exists. Its equipment can be seen in the Museum of Cinematography, located in the former Scheibler’s palace by Łąkowa Street.

photo: Stevenlodz

Museum of Cinematography 

In the years 2000-2009 in Łódź took place international festival of cinematography Cameraimage (the most important in the world), there were even plans, promoted by director David Lynch, of building a big Camerimage Łódź Center. Unhappily the idea fell, because authorities of the city did not want to finance the project. Cameraimage has been moved to Bydgoszcz and Łódź lost a great promotional asset.

Modern Łódź is in search of new identity and projects that could make a good use of the money from the European Union. The very best example is the new railway station.

The old one, view from October 2011

Photo: Zorro2212

and the new one, view from December 2016:

Photo: Ryszard Gołębiowski

And the streetcar station:

Photo: Ryszard Gołębiowski

The city can become a cheaper alternative to Warsaw for business and artists, because revitalization of industrial constructions results in offering for sell many large commercial or residential apartments, the so-called “lofts”. The old architecture (Łódź has one of the largest in Europe, the 19th century urban center) gives the city an unique atmosphere.

A WALK THROUGH THE CITY

Like every city in the world, also Łódź has attractions obligatory for tourists. Here are the most interesting objects and places:

Piotrkowska Street

View from 1914 / photo Bundesarchive & 2016 / photo: Renata Głuszek

A cult and representative street, which currently holds the role of the pedestrian area. Its buildings represent various styles, and some courtyards hide more than one surprise.

A house of Jan Petersilge – photo: Lestat, / a Jewish house – photo Renata Głuszek

One of its characteristic features is the Gallery of the Great People of Łódź – a group of outdoor sculptures in bronze, commemorating famous people associated with the town, including the world fame pianist Arthur Rubinstein.

photo: Renata Głuszek

Artur Rubinstein monument 

The Priest’s Mill (Pol. Księży Młyn)

In the past – a Scheibler factory complex connected to the housing estate for workers, the factory shop, fire brigade, a hospital, a school and also a palace with park and a pond. Today it is one of the most interesting industrial relics in the world.

photo.J. David

Spinning house 

Ludwig Geyer White Factory – Central Textile Museum

A classicist complex of factory buildings and one of the oldest Polish monuments of the industrial architecture (built in 1835-1837), nowadays the seat of the Central Textile Museum. On the exhibition are shown, among others, old tools and textile machinery and the reconstruction of the weaving hall from the turn of the 19th/20th century.

photo: HuBar

photo: Renata Głuszek

Exhibition hall 

Open-air museum of wooden architecture

Located next to the Central Textile Museum; includes over 200-year-old larch church, summer resort villa and nearly five 100 years old houses with the presentation of the craft workshops: weaving, glass-making and tanning.

photo: Polimerek

The brown house 

Manufaktura shopping center

Shopping, museum and entertainment center located in a former factory complex owned by Izrael Poznański.

photo: Jakub Zasina

Manufaktura 

A giant mural on Piotrkowska Street, one of the largest murals graffiti type in Europe (30 m long and 20 m high). Created by the members of Design Futura.

photo: Nemo5576

Muurschildering 

The Scheibler Palace – Museum of Cinematography

A rather small Scheibler palace, standing next to the Priest’s Mill, is a seat of 2 museums:

  1. Scheibler Palace (on a ground floor)

A string of enfilade facilities including the Scheibler’s office, a mirror room, a dining room in a Neo-Mannerism style, Moorish Room, Neo-Rococo-bedroom – all impressing with their elaborate and expensive wood paneling and valuable equipment.

photo: Olgerd Schoenwald

Scheibler’s palace – interior 

  1. Museum of Cinematography

Presents the film equipment, pieces of scenery and the 19th century old peepshow of August Fuhrmann, one of the four surviving on the world.

Camera used once by Jerzy Kawalerowicz and the peepshow / photo: Polimerek

Museum of the City

Housed in a former palace of Izrael Poznański by Ogrodowa Street, which is one of the most excellent buildings of the city. Its exhibits show the history of the city, its people and their culture.

Photo: Jakub Zasina

Photo: Ryszard Gołębiowski

The tombs:

A Scheibler’s family chapel (built 1888), one of the biggest in the world of a modern times, measuring 37 m of height , the Old Cemetery – evangelic part 

Photo: unknown;

Izrael Poznański Tomb, the biggest Jewish tomb in the world, New Jewish Cemetery 

Photo: Ryszard Gołębiowski

Photo: Ryszard Gołębiowski

MONUMENTS OF THE HOLOCAUST – RADOGOSZCZ 

The railway station from which Jews were transported to extermination camps 

Plates with the names extermination camps 

The symbolic death path with the exit of the chimney

Pictures from Radogoszcz made by Ryszard Gołębiowski.

Renata Głuszek

Published: February 22, 2017

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