So this is Lodz.
This is the view from my window at the Relax Hotel in Lodz, the third largest city in Poland. Being located almost exactly in the country’s center, it is a major regional logistics hub — which is why I’m here.
When I look out this window I see A parking area for the hotel and nearby buildings, which is nearly always full of thirty year old guys drinking beer. At first, I thought this was the meet up point for some local street drunks. It took me a couple of days before I realized that they were actually working for a home improvement/ painting company. While waiting for jobs they apparently sit right below my window getting sloshed.
I was told that Lodz was built virtually from scratch by German and Jewish manufacturers and merchants, who found its location between a mess of different rivers and streams economically favorable for running factories. Not coincidentally, this was the location of the first steam powered factory in Poland and the Russian empire.
At the time of WWI Lodz was one of the most densely populated and most polluted cities in the world.
In WWII the city lost 420,000 people (300,000 Jews) — more than half its population.
Today, the city’s population again is in decline. From its peak in 1990 it has dropped to around 750,000. Being located 130 kilometers from Warsaw, the country’s political and economic capital serving as a sink draining away the city’s talent.
Lodz is kind of a European oddity. Being built in the 19th century it’s not a medevil city, so it lacks the typical medevil market square that most European cities are centered around. Instead, it has the longest commercial street in Europe extending down the center of it. It was once just a road that connected together two provinces, but when Lodz began growing it was transformed into the emerging city’s center of gravity.
Called Piotrkowska Street, it stretches for around five kilometers from end to end, essentially rendering the city into a very long corridor — kind of like a clump of dough that’s been pulled into noodles. It is full of 19th century buildings — some of which are incredibly ornate and immaculately decorated — that are full of small shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, clubs, and bakeries. This is where everybody comes when they get off of work to dine and drink at tables set up along the sidewalk.
There is something about this street that’s almost mythical. It is just so long, with so much activity happening, little stories being played out at each stage; it’s linear nature making it seem like an odd sort of like a comic strip.
Once I finished my work, I spent my days in Lodz walking up and down Piotrkowska Street like everybody else, sitting in cafes and bars that poured out onto the sidewalk, sipping cheap beer in the summer sun, blogging on my BlackBerry or just looking at the people walking by.
I can’t say I found Poland to be a particularly social place — merely sitting down at a cafe isn’t enough to ensure conversation like in some other places — but I didn’t find the place particularly off putting either. The people sitting around me would politely answer my questions, but it was clear that they had no real interest in conversation.
I have to re-emphasize the point that the architecture on Piotrkowska Street. Although relatively recent for Europe, was impressive. Impressive, first off, because it was still there — Lodz wasn’t bombed to bits like everything else during the war because of its factories — and secondly because they are a part of this grand five kilometer long ensemble of buildings that seemed to have been designed with the intention of out-competing the buildings surrounding them.