Three cheers for the birthday girl: Łódź hits 600!
Celebrations are already underway to mark the 600th anniversary of the birth of Łódź – set to climax tomorrow, it was on July 29th, 1453, that King Władysław Jagiełło granted it its Magdeburg Rights.
For all that, for centuries it remained a largely irrelevant agricultural town, a place that only found its role in society in the 19th century when the Industrial Revolution saw it become a major textile hub.
The population ballooned, fortunes were made – built on the success of the manufacturing industry, Łódź’s rapid growth saw the landscape transform: where once stood fields, lavish palaces arose, and so too the crowded tenements that defined the slums.
Even in these early years, the contrast between rich and poor was stark and pronounced – something immortalised in the works of the writer Władysław Reymont.
Things were to get worse, however. The decline of the textile sector shook the city to the core; as other cities adapted and found their footing in the post-Communist world, Łódź slid towards bankruptcy, a fact attested by the growing number of derelict factories.
But where once Łódź was an ambassador for urban decay, today it has bloomed anew and, in the process, become Poland’s capital of cool.
In fact, just arriving is a pleasure – climbing off at Fabryczna station, it is hard not to be wowed by its epic proportions, steel and glass canopy and lilywhite adornments. And from there, the city just gets better.
Famed across Poland, Off Piotrkowska is the country’s best example of industrial regeneration. Set in what was a decrepit factory complex, it was reinvented in 2011 as a centre of experimental food concepts and colourful bohemia.
Twelve years on, it’s lost none of this edge – amid an international babble and swirl of sounds, it’s to here people flock for a wild taste of weird. Now in-filled with quirky cafes, hip restaurants and upcoming local fashion brands, all life gathers to tag themselves in spots such as Brush – a barber shop by day, and a thrilling cocktail den at night.
As a microcosm of modern-day Łódź, it’s a fine example of the kind of creativity that now courses through the city.
Even so, any talk of the town’s ‘second life’ should not overlook the Manufaktura effect.
Opened in 2006 on the site of a 19th century cotton mill, what had been an abandoned sooty husk has become the new heart of Łódź. So much more than just an immense shopping extravaganza, it’s a world class development featuring dancing fountains and an overhead zip line, as well as an artificial beach space fringed by gently waving palms.
You need to pinch yourself to check you’re in Łódź.
A reminder that, yes, indeed you are, comes inside the onsite Museum of the Factory, an engaging distraction that regales the story of the town’s industrial heritage. Yet this is but the beginning. A stone’s throw away sits the Museum of Łódź, a stellar cultural escapade located within the Neo-Baroque palace built by the local “King of Cotton”, Izrael Poznański.
It says much, however, for the self-contained world of Manufaktura that these are not the highlight. For that, refer to MS2, a momentous modern art gallery that’s bewildering in its scope.
Two design-led hotels, the Puro and the Andel’s, sit close by, the latter boasting an overhanging rooftop pool and a guestbook featuring the likes of Bieber and Rihanna.
It is the depth of contrasts though that truly enrich the city – walking the streets, discover an architectural smorgasbord of wedding cake palaces, blackened tenements, creepy warehouses, restored factories, futuristic office blocks and commie era concrete horrors.
That, quite often, all of these are to be found on just one stretch of street makes for a visual feast of baffling beauty. You turn each corner not knowing what you’ll find.
And then there’s the streets themselves. Piotrkowska, lined with teetering beauties built in eclectic style, is the most famed, but don’t forget the city’s woonerfs.
Inspired by the Dutch fixation of transforming streets into ‘living organisms’, it’s on routes like ul. 6 Sierpnia that drivers and cyclists weave among tables laid out by artisan beer pubs and on-trend
Exciting doesn’t cover it; from a cultural perspective, away from its posey white cube galleries and much-lauded cinematic connections, it’s the grass roots side of things that rings out the loudest: installations such as an entire side alley rendered in mirrored glass or its full-on assault of mega-sized murals – Instagram heaven.
Now internationally known, the city’s murals are by themselves an A-class attraction.
But it helps, too, that City Hall seems so in tune with the spirit of the city: municipal investments have been wise, echoing the artsy soul with ‘what the hell is that’ statements such as the Unicorn’s Stable, a psychedelic tram stop that could house a jumbo jet.
Frankly, it’s a city that hits you in the guts in a big woosh of energy. Raw and unrelenting yet always eccentric and engaging, it’s little wonder that Łódź has emerged as such a bastion of hip – may the next 600 years continue in this vein.