Webber’s inner six-year-old self is unleashed when he stumbles upon the 'mad and magical world' of Kolejkowo in Gliwice
When I first visited Gliwice four years ago, I did so with zero background work.
Turning up, I arrived expecting another typically Silesian town: you know, chipped, redbrick workers’ estates, abandoned factories and smeared and sooty tenements.
Instead, I found myself charmed by its compact Old Town and snaking side streets lined with replenished pre-war buildings. It wasn’t ‘love at first sight’, but it was definitely ‘I like you very much at first sight’.
Leaving, it was with the promise to one day return. Well, finally I did, and of course, it was a football match that lured me. This time though, I came with a plan, and that plan involved doing something other than boozing in the hours leading to kick-off.
So what is there to do in the town of Gliwice? Well, there’s the Radio Tower for starters. Nicknamed ‘the Silesian Eiffel Tower’, and home to an intriguing museum, it was here that the Nazis staged a mock attack conducted by German soldiers wearing Polish uniforms.
Feigning outrage, it was this Polish provocation that Hitler cited as his excuse to launch a full-scale invasion and thereby spark WWII. But there’s other things as well, not least a remarkable place by the name of Kolejkowo.
Dubbed “the largest miniature town in Poland”, you find it on a distinctly underwhelming retail complex on the fringes of Gliwice. Dropped off by an Uber, my first instinct was to chase after the car and head back to town. “I should have done the pub,” I thought glumly to myself.
But I’m glad I didn’t. Entered via a lobby that has the plasticky ritz of a small town multiplex, you climb the stairs – having first passed the world’s largest gingerbread town – to find 900 square metres of sheer model madness. Yes please!
Now it doesn’t take much to unleash my inner six-year-old self, but this was something else. Housing countless models produced on a scale of 1:25, what unravels is a truly mad world of miniature life.
Trains, of course, play a big part in this. In all, find 12 chugging around 460-metres of track and covering a total of 4,380 kilometres per year.
But these tell just a part of the story. Over 235 buildings have been constructed, each one built on the basis of hundreds of photographs. Stunning in their detail, these include such regional landmarks as Gliwice’s train station, the Nikiszowiec estate in Katowice, the ethnographic park in Chorzów and, of course, the Radio Tower itself.
Four-metres in height, it took five modellers 2,245 working hours to build it from scratch.
Neither is reality seen as a constraint; first to greet you on the exhibition level is a sprawling model presenting Dziki Gliwice, a work that reimagines the city through a Wild West prism.
Complete with a Boot Hill-style cemetery, a steaming passenger cruiser and raucous saloon, according to the management the idea behind this “emerged from their unleashed imagination”. No kidding.
Leaving no detail out, sharper eyed folk will even notice a red-lit bordello complete with a half-dressed temptress.
And yes, at Kolejkowo it’s these little things that make it magic. Walking from model-to-model, you find yourself sucked into a parallel world that’s both fun and familiar – sitting around a long-abandoned Nazi bunker two old timers share a beer; in an allotment, a pair of friends gather around a fire armed with a guitar and sausages; and then there’s the Disco Flamingo, its door guarded by a bald-headed goon. Close by, punkish locals guzzle beer from the bottle.
The world of Kolejkowo is, if nothing else, exciting. Outside Gliwice train station a bomb disposal unit is seen dealing with a suspicious device; in Katowice, a bank robbery is thwarted by a team of cops.
There are fires, storms, accidents, protests, muggings, arguments and assaults; and there is childhood trauma, as well – who can’t fail to relate to the sight of a toddler dropped by his mother in front of an ice-cream salesman dressed as a cone?
In all, 3,200 figurines decorate the models, each hand-painted and the result of six-hours of labour, and it is these that maximise the human engagement. You feel daft, but you simply can’t help immersing yourself inside their wacky world.
And wacky it most definitely is. Outside your typical dog salon, an escaped lion startles a passer-by; not far away, a butcher gives chase to a pig, an axe waving menacingly over his head. In a lake, meanwhile, James Bond’s underwater Lotus lies rusted and forgotten amid swampy detritus.
All the more magical when night falls over this surreal world (every nine minutes, should you ask), it’s then that the buildings light up in all their glimmering, atmospheric glory.
Powered by fourteen kilometres of cables, it’s a project that leaves no stone unturned in its relentless quest to amuse and entertain.
Challenging visitors to search and tick off sightings of a crocodile, geese (seven), rats (two), monks (two) and turtle, it’s a hilarious detour from more standard sightseeing. Visit – for sure I will again.