Unless you live in Poland or are majorly into films, the chances are that you probably won’t know much about Łódź despite it being Poland’s 3rd largest city. So I want to tell you a little more about this fascinating place.
Little under a year ago I visited the city and wrote an article called Łódź: The Black Sheep of Poland or So it Seems… and was really surprised by the response it received. One of the most heartening aspects of writing about Łódź was reading all the comments left by Polish people who lived or had lived in the city and wanted to share more information about what makes it so special to them. It was clear to see that although underrated, Łódź leaves an indelible impression on those who come into contact with it. And if you’re wondering, Łódź is pronounced ‘Woodge’ and not ‘Wootch’ as some people might say (cough, David Lynch).
The reason why more people haven’t heard about Łódź is simply because it’s not the kind of city featured in the travel section of a glossy fashion and lifestyle magazine. It doesn’t have a beach, colourful Main Square or markets filled with exotic trinkets and fragrances of a faraway land like other cities have. Quite frankly, Łódź can be a hard sell. Magazines, and indeed, tour operators like to feature destinations that are crowd pleasers, that look beautiful and will sell easily, and as a result fascinating places like Łódź never make it into the bucketlist.
I discovered Łódź through my love for David Lynch, a director who’s up there with the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, and Alfred Hitchcock. Scenes from his latest film Inland Empire (2006) had been shot in Łódź so I wanted to embark on a Lynchian pilgrimage to see not only where the film was shot, but notably, the place he called his favourite city in the world. Surely if it inspired one of the most creative minds of the 21st Century then it could offer me something too? And surprisingly it did, instead of reminding me of Inland Empire like I thought it would, images of his early film Eraserhead (1977) came to mind, exploring Łódź was like entering the dark, industrial landscape of Eraserhead. It was like crawling into a portal and ending up in a Lynchian world.
Still taken from film: Industrial scenes like this in Eraserhead reminded me of Łódź.
This photo was taken in Lodz last December at -15 degrees.
Many of the buildings are still left in a state of severe decline, but admittedly, they look very cinematic, at least for me they do…
Adding to the growing list of why I wanted to visit, it’s also home to one of the world’s most prestigious film schools where another of my favourite directors studied, none other than Roman Polanski. However, after reading his autobiography I discovered he didn’t see his future in Łódź and had bigger plans, a desire still adopted by many young people of Łódź who seek employment in more economically thriving places:
When I was young and studied at Łódź Film School, I had only one thought in my head: to leave. I had never imagined my future in Poland I always wanted to leave for the world, to get to know other countries, meet new people. I always assumed that the Earth belongs to me as much as to other people ~ Roman Polanski
Addressing this problem, Łódź has been going through a sort of renaissance recently with new business initiatives cropping up that champion creative thinking. An important example is the Manufakura, a whooping cotton mill left dilapidated after the demise of the hugely successful industrial era but recently converted into an impressive culture and entertainment complex. Similar, but on a smaller key is Off Piotrkowska, again a converted cotton mill but less commercial and more local (think East London or Berlin), encouraging independent shops, design companies and publishing houses. Last but not least, my favourite aspect of Łódź’s regeneration is in the form of its street art which has become a prominent characteristic of its landscape, a colourful motif of the city’s artistic freedom. These new creative visions for the city are giving it a new identity, a reason for the young people to stay and new people to visit.
When I arrived in Łódź I excitedly headed to my hotel which was a primary focus of my trip because it was the Hotel Grand, a place where several scenes of Inland Empire were actually shot! At first I didn’t in my wildest dreams ever expect to stay in the same hotel that was featured in the film, but it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and although I didn’t stay in the Rubenstein Suite where the scenes were taken, the hotelier was more than happy to show me inside the room.
Above is a scene from Inland Empire, and below I’m sitting in the same suite but at a different angle.
Like its name, the Grand Hotel does have an old-fashioned grandeur to its appearance but it’s mixed with a sense of decline and degeneracy that over the years it’s never been able to relive its former glory. It’s nothing which a new lick of paint couldn’t fix but in a way I’m not sure if it needs it because, as it is, it has bags of character.
It’s not just its important film heritage that attracts creative types to Łódź but its burgeoning art scene. Did you know that Łódź is home to one of the oldest museums of Modern Art in the world? It is without any exaggeration when I say Muzeum Sztuki is the best museum of contemporary art I’ve ever visited, surpassing all galleries I’ve been to in London, Berlin and Paris. In case you’re thinking about visiting, you’ll discover there are two museums of modern art (I know, this city really spoils you) but I would recommend the one located inside the Manufaktura which covers four floors if you’re pushed for time. Inside you’ll be able to see all forms of art by Picasso, Max Ernst, Hans Arp, Louise Bourgeois and Marina Abramovic to name only a few. I could easily have spent the whole day in there and it probably still wouldn’t have been long enough.
Other museums which come highly recommended are the History of Łódź Museum and the Cinematography Museum. The History of Łódź Museum is beautiful, set inside a former palace and highlights include a lithograph and painting by Marc Chagall and a room dedicated to the pianist Arthur Rubenstein who was born on Piotrkowska Street, the longest shopping street in Europe. Rubenstein is considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, especially noted for his interpretation of Chopin and in homage there is a statue of him playing a piano on the street he was born.
Going back to its film roots, the Cinematography Museum is a must for anyone interested in film and behind-the-scenes production, the highlight of the museum for me is an original 19th century photo-plasticon which gives you a real sense of how Poland appeared in a different age.
Finally, even without all the museums there is something special about Łódź, when all you have is a wintry landscape of leafless trees and a light fog.