The weather’s getting better and it’s time to start thinking about going outdoors. This year I’ve got a few camping trips planned, most notably up into the Scottish Highlands in August. Isn’t it daft how we often go so far afield and yet miss the gems nearby? I’d never been to Paris until a few weeks ago and have never been up into the Highlands, into Northern Ireland or Cornwall. Nor too have I ever checked out Stonehenge even though I’ve seen the Armenian Stonehenge which, whilst spectacular, is not quite the same. So, my vow for 2015 is to rectify those omissions a bit, starting with that strange land north of Glasgow.
But for now, here’s the last bit of Poland.
Uncle Travelling Matt
Links to all parts of this travelogue
I found this amazing hand-drawn map of Łódź by one Madzia Bryll on her website, here. Please visit her site and check out her cool pictures!
And so it was our last day in Łódź, indeed the last of the entire trip. We had a whole day ahead of us to delve into the depths of Poland's industrial powerhouse before heading off to the airport for our flight home.
We consulted Łódź in your pocket and found a feature on Radogoszcz Prison. Originally built as a factory, at the start of World War II the complex was handed over to the Polish Army and then, of course, to the Germans who transformed it into a prison for Poles. Having checked out some Holocaust sites the year before, and working in a prison ourselves, this seemed like the natural place to head, so we strolled down to the park and hopped on a tram.
But we didn't get to the prison. Well, no immediately. En route we passed an enormous market. With Mike lathering at the mouth, there was no option but to check it out.
And well worth checking out it was too. This was more of the “real” Poland but unlike what we'd seen the night before, it wasn't crap. We bought sausages and cheese, and some excellent gherkins although the pennies that we handed over bought us a carrier bag full that we didn't really know what to do with. More than that though, we saw people going about their daily lives and the things that most Poles buy, (lots and lots of mushrooms for example). We also saw a strange man hawking a single packet of cigarettes with Russian health warnings on the front. However, when we asked if he had more, he merely replied “How many do you want?” The white van parked a way off was full of them.
Radogoszcz Prison was worth heading out to. About 25% of those who passed through it – it was a transit prison – died there, but the most tragic day was January 18th, 1945. with the Red Army approaching, the Germans decided to execute all their prisoners. Realising their fate, the inmates rose in rebellion causing all the guards to flee. In retaliation the prisoners were locked inside and the whole complex razed to the ground. 1,500 souls were incinerated with only thirty living to tell the tale. Whilst no Birkenau, these smaller sites where men and women were senselessly murdered are to be found scattered across Poland and beyond and each one is a tragedy, for even a single wasted life makes it so.
After seeing the factory that became a prison, we then rode back into the centre to see another very different factory with a very different fate. Manufaktura is Łódź's premier tourist attraction and should not be missed. It began life as the textile mill of Izrael Poznanski, the Jewish oligarch who dominated Łódź during the second half of the 19th century. The first mill opened in 1852 and was expanded 1872-92 by which time more than 80,000 spindles spread over twelve separate factories were in operation. It was a city within a city which continued to churn out cloth until 1997 although by that time it was largely a run-down or derelict eyesore. However, in 2000 a developer bought the site and instead of knocking down the old mills, they were all renovated, new buildings erected alongside them and the whole site reopened as Manukfaktura, an enormous retail and cultural complex with shops, restaurants, an IMAX cinema, a museum, an art gallery and much more.
Both Mike and I were impressed by it all. The restoration was sympathetic yet the whole place also had a vibrant, contemporary feel to it. We engaged in some harmless fun getting ourselves arrested by the cuddly mascot of the Łódź police force and taking photos next to some profound food-based quotes, (in both Polish and English), such as “No man can be wise on an empty stomach”, a maxim that I have always striven to live by.
And then, to finish off our Tour de Łódź, where else but old ulica Piotrkowska? We ventured much further down the record-breaking street than we had the previous night, actually reaching the section that had been beautified including the (locally) famous Hollyłódź Boulevard where the names of prominent Polish film stars and directors are inscribed in the pavement, (the city is the centre of the Polish film industry and the home of Roman Polanski), but Mike was more interested in an exhibition on street art a little further down.
Street art and graffiti had been a recurring feature of the entire trip. Berlin has an incredible mural on the side of one building near to Zoologischer Garten station which depicts members of the government being controlled like puppets on string by an elite group of businessmen and bankers, whilst in Poznań there were several impressive murals including a particularly good one next to the “lock bridge” on Ostrów Tumski. Łódź however, was in a street art league of its own and this exhibition showcased all the murals around the city painted by some of the most famous street artists in the world, several of whom were locals. My own personal favourite though, was a piece on the side of a building near to where we'd waited for the tram home after our drinks the night before. M-City depicted an intense and cluttered mechanical city of fantasy with machinery, steam engines and a whole lot more. It was brilliant and credit must go to the city fathers who, realising that they could never compete with Poland's prettier cities on architectural grounds, have decided to turn their metropolis into a centre of contemporary arts and cheer it up in the process in a similar way to what Eddie Rama did in Tirana at the turn of the century. S would be proud.
And with that we were done. We took a tram back to our hotel where we ate all the sausage and cheese that we'd bought at the market. We also ate a hell of a lot of gherkins, but seemed to make little impact on the bagful that we'd bought, so we left the rest for the proprietor who was a decent chap. Then we took a taxi to the sparkling new airport, built no doubt to cater for all the emigrants returning home from Manchester, Birmingham and London. That day however, they were all staying well away, as too was everyone else. For the first and only time in our lives, we entered a completely deserted airport terminal and so had some rather juvenile fun playing Come Fly With Me behind the check-in desks before other, more mature passengers and staff began to trickle in and we finally had to draw a close to our trip.
But what kind of trip had it been? Not particularly long nor ambitious, that is true, but a pleasant few days' diversion and education nonetheless. I'd revisited two old friends, (well, three if you count Dzhilbert), and thus linked up our 2012 trip with my other travels, and I'd made two new buddies: Poznań which I really liked and Łódź, less so, but still fascinating, and in doing so I deepened both my understanding of Poland – a country which impacts on my daily life in the form of all the Poles in the UK many of whom I have had the pleasure to work with – and has also been the crucible in which were forged some of the most traumatic and momentous events in the history of my continent.
Written Smallthorne, UK, October 2014
Copyright © 2014, Matthew E. Pointon
See my travelogue 'Albanian Excursions' (Part 3).