Lodz

   
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The third-largest city in Poland (after Warsaw and Krakow), and one of its youngest. Lodz was basically born out of the industrial revolution, especially textile manufacturing. In WWII the city was taken over by Germany and the second-largest Jewish ghetto was set up here, and most of its inhabitants were murdered in the Holocaust. The specific dark-tourism sites relate largely to that period, but there are also a few other aspects.      
       
More background info: First things first: the correct Polish pronunciation of this place is NOT “lodge” but “woodge”! Note the diacritic line through the letter L in the correct Polish spelling: Łodź. And the <ł> is what in English is /w/. (For simplicity's sake, however, I'll continue using the spelling without special characters.)
  
Even though the first records of a settlement at this location go back to the late Middle Ages, Lodz remained an insignificant and small town for most of its earlier history, during which it also passed from Prussian annexation (in the 18th century) to Russian rule and to being part of independent Poland
  
The city's heyday came with the industrial revolution. In the 19th  century Lodz became one of the world's largest centres of the textile industry. It was sometimes referred to as the “Polish Manchester”. The boom triggered waves of immigration to provide the workforce for the spinning mills and surrounding industrial operations. Thus many Jews arrived in the city, also many migrants from Germany.
   
At the very top, super-rich dynasties of textile magnates formed, most of them Jewish. The big names involved here included the empires of the Geyer, Scheibler, Grohmann, Kindermann and Poznanski families. Many used their wealth to build palatial residences in addition to their huge factories, which were often designed like veritable castles of industrialization themselves (see below). 
  
Yet for the masses of factory workers, labour and living conditions were far from glamorous. Lodz at the time became one of the world's most densely populated and most polluted cities. 
   
But Lodz's truly darkest days came with the occupation of Poland by Germany in WWII. As a result of the city's earlier German links, it was properly annexed, incorporated into the Third Reich and renamed Litzmannstadt. A ruthless campaign of enforced Germanization ensued. It wasn't just the renaming of every street and square, but also physical segregation of non-Germans from the “Aryan master race”. 
   
Worst hit, unsurprisingly, was the large Jewish population of Lodz. The Nazis set up a huge walled ghetto in the northern districts of the city. Over 160,000 Jews (some sources say as many as 230,000) were forced to live in cramped conditions in this ghetto. In addition to Lodz's own Jewish population, thousands of Jews from Austria, Germany and other countries were also deported to the ghetto here. It became the second-largest Jewish ghetto of them all, after the one in Warsaw
   
During the worst phase of the Holocaust, the Jews from Lodz were deported en masse to the death camp of Chelmno not far from Lodz where they were murdered in an industrialized fashion by gassing (see also Operation Reinhard and House of the Wannsee Conference). 
  
The ghetto was completely liquidated in the summer of 1944. And when Lodz was finally liberated by the Red Army in January 1945, the Jewish population had been all but wiped out. There were only very few survivors, less than a thousand (some of whom had been given refuge by non-Jewish citizens of Lodz). Amongst these were the parents of one of Lodz's most famous sons: Daniel Libeskind, who was to become one of the world's most celebrated star architects (he designed e.g. the Jewish Museum building in Berlin). 
  
Not only had Lodz's formerly substantial Jewish population been decimated, what remained of the once equally substantial German population fled westwards ahead of the advancing Soviet army. So at the end of the war Lodz was largely depopulated. Moreover, the Nazis had dismantled most of the movable industrial infrastructure. It looked like the end for the city altogether.
  
Yet, after the war, when Lodz became part of the new communist state of Poland and the Eastern Bloc, it got back on its feet and regained some of its former industrial status. The factories were now nationalized, of course, but for many decades textile mills such as those at what today is the Manufaktura complex (see below) continued supplying not only Poland with cloth but were also exporting it to other countries. 
  
From the beginning of the 1980s, however, the industry declined, and after the fall of the communist regime in Poland and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR, followed a wave of bankruptcies and privatization. The big mills, former symbols of industrial glory, were all closed and became derelict. Gradually, however, several of these places found new investors and new leases of life – see under non-dark combinations
  
In addition to its industrial achievements, Lodz also became well known for its cultural merits, in particular in the film industry. Graduates of Lodz's National Film School include famous names such as Roman Polanski (cf. Krakow and Warsaw ghetto trail) and Andrzej Wajda (see Katyn Museum).
  
  
What there is to see: Three individual sites are given their own separate entries here: 
  
  
  
  
  
Apart from these more specific places, there is the area of the former Litzmannstadt ghetto (see background). Today there isn't much to see of this ghetto, but you can follow a trail along several sites that used to be of importance in this context. Little markers set into the pavement show the location of where the ghetto wall used to be (of which no trace survives, as far as I can tell), and there are a few memorials/plaques as well. But mostly you have to use your imagination. This is greatly helped by using a guidebook written by a local history enthusiast: Joanna Podolska's “Traces of the Litzmannstadt-Ghetto”, which you can obtain from a bookshop at 1, Stary Rynek. 
  
The former ghetto area, which stretches between Radegast station to the north and  Staromiejski Park to the south, is in large parts quite run-down and apparently a bit rough, so you are advised to use caution (do not flash valuables, photograph discretely, etc.).  
  
One larger structure that used to be just inside the ghetto can be seen from far away: the red-brick neo-Gothic Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Mary. During the ghetto years it was used, for instance, as a warehouse for clothes taken from those murdered at Chelmno. Another especially notorious address associated with the ghetto is the former Gestapo and police HQ at  ul. Limanowskiego 1.  
  
At the north-eastern end of the former ghetto area is the large Jewish cemetery of Lodz (a bit south of the Radegast station memorial, so best combined with that). The tree-filled northern half has some grand mausoleums and other noteworthy sepulchral art, whereas in the south is the open “ghetto field” where those who had died there were buried during WWII and whose graves are for the most part only marked by simple little signs on sticks.  
  
Back in the main part of the city is an unusual attraction: if you fancy going underground, literally, and are not claustrophobic, a tour of the Detka Canal may have some dark appeal as well. Tours of this narrow and low, 142m long brick sewer, now cleaned up and enhanced by historic photographs, are run by the City of Lodz Museum. The entrance to the canal is on  Plac Wolnosci (Freedom Square), at the top of Piotrkowska street (see below). Open regularly from May to September (in winter only on request), Thurs/Fri 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sat/Sun from 12 noon to 8 p.m., admission 6 PLN. 
  
The textile industry heritage of Lodz (see above) also includes some dark aspects, and parts of this are included in the Museum of the Factory at the Manufaktura complex. Apart from giving insights into working conditions in the 19th century textile industry it also has a wealth of other information, a couple of original looms and other bits of vintage machinery, enhanced by various hands-on exhibits (feel that cotton!) and interactive screens. And in the small cinema an interesting 15-minute film is shown about the history of the place that also includes scenes from the communist era (when the factory operated under the name “Poltex”). The museum is bilingual throughout, with relatively good English translations. It's located in the northern part of Manufaktura, next to multiplex cinema, on the second floor. Open Tue-Fri 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat/Sun from 11 a.m., admission 6 PLN. 
  
Other than that, one could say (perhaps not without a dose of cynicism) that the cityscape of Lodz, once you're off the main boulevards and beauty spots, has a distinct “shabby-chic” appeal that in some ways overlaps with a dark appeal. Anyway, I must say I quite liked it here … especially for it being non-touristy.  
  
  
Location: almost exactly at the very centre of Poland, ca. 75 miles (120 km) south-west of the capital Warsaw, about 115 miles (185 km) north-east from Wroclaw, 120 miles (195 km) north of Krakow and ca. 180 miles (300 km) south of Gdansk.  
  
Google maps locators:
  
Former ghetto area: [51.7832, 19.4534]
  
Jewish cemetery: [51.7973, 19.4835]
  
Plac Wolnosci (and Detka Canal): [51.7769, 19.4546]
  
Manufaktura (Muzeum Fabryki): [51.7808, 19.4483]
  
White Factory: [51.7454, 19.4619]
  
  
  
Access and costs: not too hard to get to, comparatively affordable. 
  
Details: Getting to Lodz used to be surprisingly complicated, given the city's location right in the centre of Poland. But things are improving, with new and faster rail links to Warsaw as well as a new rail terminal under construction (at the time of writing in 2016) and a new passenger terminal already completed for Lodz's own international airport (served also by budget airlines). 
  
Lodz is within 10 miles of the intersection of the main east-west motorway A2/E30 (between Warsaw and Poznan and onwards to Germany) and the main north-south route A1/E75 (between Gdansk and Katowice and onwards to the Czech Republic), so coming here by car is also relatively easy (although then you have to face the issue of secure parking, bad roads and sometimes stressful traffic conditions). 
  
Getting around in Lodz is helped by a decent network of trams and buses, fairly cheap taxis and along the main otherwise pedestrianized street Piotrkowska even rickshaws. While most of this street is by its very nature as walkable as it can get, some of the dark sites covered here are quite far out and off the beaten track (also those of trams) so you will have to use a taxi or car to get there or face really long walks.
  
In terms of accommodation, Lodz boasts some superb options, both with regard to affordable rates in some pretty good budget places as well as at the very top end: the celebrated Andel's hotel occupies a converted textile factory in the Manufaktura complex and it is a true gem well worth splashing out on (given its status as the top hotel in town its rates aren't even that exaggerated). Its rooms enjoy good views through huge “industrial-size” windows, high ceilings and the interior design of the public areas is quite simply breathtaking. Add to that the amazing swimming pool in the glass box on the roof and the outstanding breakfast buffet and you are in for what I rank as one of the world's best hotels that I've ever stayed in. If the Andel's is out of your price range there's a more affordable alternative of a hotel in a converted former textile mill, namely the Focus in the south of the city. 
  
As far as food & drink are concerned, Lodz may be a bit behind the other larger cities in Poland, but it is possible to avoid the rather characterless chain outlets at the Manufaktura complex and find something a bit more inspiring. I managed to find a lovely Jewish restaurant called Anatewka just off Piotrkowska (ul. 6 Sierpnia 2/4 – note that this is NOT the branch at Manufaktura!) which ticked all the boxes that you'd expect in such culinary-cultural heritage combinations. 
  
  
Time required: A couple of days would do to cover all the dark-tourism sights described here, but you could easily spend an extra day or two to explore the other sides of this city in more depth.  
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: First and foremost, Chelmno has to be mentioned here – the memorial site(s) of the death camp north-west of Lodz where most of its Jewish population were murdered by the Nazis
  
Also within relatively easy reach from Lodz is Warsaw.
  
For more see under Poland in general.
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Lodz suffers a little from a kind of “ugly duckling” reputation amongst Poland's larger cities, especially when compared with Krakow or Wroclaw, but it does have its own charms in its own ways. 
  
There's no Old Town (or reconstruction thereof – as in Warsaw or Gdansk) to speak of, simply because Lodz isn't that old. Nor is there a clearly defined city centre as such. But Lodz does have some stunning architecture, including remarkable art nouveau buildings along its main street, Piotrkowska. This is a mostly pedestrianized straight north-south line where many of the city's shops, bars and restaurants are stretched out along this artery and its side streets. Piotrkowska is claimed to be the longest pedestrianized street in Europe (Kaunas in Lithuania has another contender for that title). 
  
Apart from the architecture there are also various pieces of street art along Piotrkowska, including a bronze piano player (in honour of the great Arthur Rubinstein, who was born in Lodz). And the city's close connection with the film industry is celebrated by Lodz's own version of a “Walk of Fame” (cf. Los Angeles) – though Westerners will be unlikely to recognize many of these stars' names.
  
If you are halfway open to the aesthetics of 19th century industrial architecture (which I am quite a fan of) then Lodz has more splendours to offer than most other cities that owe their (former) riches to the industrial revolution. The textile industry may long have departed, but it leaves behind several venerable palaces of the (earlier) industrial age. Some are still derelict but quite a few have meanwhile been refurbished. You can pick up a special leaflet at hotels and tourist information centres that lists the best pieces of this heritage. 
  
Pride of place usually goes to the huge Manufaktura complex, a showcase of industrial urban regeneration. It does come with a hefty dose of commercialization – but the architecture itself is indeed stunning. The most successful conversion in my view is that of the hotel by the main gate (Andel's – see accommodation under access and costs). It combines the imposing outer red-brick façade, now cleaned up and indeed intensely red, with a completely modernized interior, plus a glass cube lying at a right angle across the roof. The latter houses the hotel's swimming pool (a swim with a view!).  
  
Another top conversion is the so-called White Factory (Biala Fabryka) towards the bottom of Piotrkowska. This now houses the Central Museum of Textiles. Plenty of the other former textile plants have been refurbished or are undergoing conversions too, such as the huge EC1 complex. 
  
The grandest non-industrial buildings in Lodz also tend to be associated with the textile industry, whose owners built themselves grand residences and palaces. Probably the grandest of them all, Izrael Poznanski's Palace on Ogrodowa Street now houses the Museum of the City of Lodz. 
  
On a more streetwise level, also literally, Lodz also sports a number of remarkable large-scale modern wall murals, some of which are truly impressive both size-wise and artistically (cf. also Wroclaw). 
 
  
 
  • Lodz 01 - view over Manufaktura and former ghetto districtLodz 01 - view over Manufaktura and former ghetto district
  • Lodz 02 - church within the former ghettoLodz 02 - church within the former ghetto
  • Lodz 03 - marker of the boundary of the former ghettoLodz 03 - marker of the boundary of the former ghetto
  • Lodz 04 - on the edge of what used to be the ghettoLodz 04 - on the edge of what used to be the ghetto
  • Lodz 05 - Plac WolnosciLodz 05 - Plac Wolnosci
  • Lodz 06 - shabby-chic houseLodz 06 - shabby-chic house
  • Lodz 07 - very shabbyLodz 07 - very shabby
  • Lodz 08 - very pretty refurbished house with dragonsLodz 08 - very pretty refurbished house with dragons
  • Lodz 09 - PiotrkowskaLodz 09 - Piotrkowska
  • Lodz 10 - street artLodz 10 - street art
  • Lodz 11 - pianist and policeLodz 11 - pianist and police
  • Lodz 12 - walk of local fameLodz 12 - walk of local fame
  • Lodz 13 - wall muralLodz 13 - wall mural
  • Lodz 14 - unrefurbished former textile factoryLodz 14 - unrefurbished former textile factory
  • Lodz 15 - former textile factory undergoing refurbishmentLodz 15 - former textile factory undergoing refurbishment
  • Lodz 16 - refurbished White Factory and home of the textile museumLodz 16 - refurbished White Factory and home of the textile museum
  • Lodz 17 - former textile factory block turned into a stunning hotelLodz 17 - former textile factory block turned into a stunning hotel
  • Lodz 18 - gate to the Manufaktura complexLodz 18 - gate to the Manufaktura complex
  • Lodz 19 - museum of the factoryLodz 19 - museum of the factory
  • Lodz 20 - it kept working in communist timesLodz 20 - it kept working in communist times
  • Lodz 21 - now it is the Manufaktura shopping and entertainment complexLodz 21 - now it is the Manufaktura shopping and entertainment complex
  
  
 
 
 
 
  

  

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