Seldom Said

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Manchester of Poland?

The little engine that couldn't

Before I came, I read that Lodz has been described as the "Manchester of Poland", so I was certainly expecting a city with a conspicuous industrial past. And I have to admit that walking around streets full of desolate old factories and warehouses is not so very different to parts of central Manchester (those that haven't been converted into trendy loft apartments, that is). What I do find a little overwhelming, however, is the sheer scale of it all.

I had another long wander around yesterday, rather losing my sense of direction on a number of occasions. Once again, I found that almost as soon as I strayed away from the hustle and bustle of Piotrkowska, I was immediately surrounded by empty or rundown buildings peppered with occasional gems.

What an incredible place this must have been in its industrial heyday! Even now the remaining infrastructure is an impressive sight: great wide boulevards strung out in straight lines for miles, with trams running down their centre; huge municipal parks and magnificent public buildings; colossal factories and warehouses. Another relic of the glorious industrial past that seems to be slipping through Europe's fingers.

Curious little remnants of that not-so-distant past in Lodz are everywhere. On Sunday I came across an defunct jet fighter, which had been turned into a monument outside a empty building of indeterminate purpose. Yesterday I noticed a small steam engine on display outside another building. The business centre where my Polish colleagues have their offices was formerly a mill of some sort. After lunch yesterday, I spotted an old piece of machinery in the cafe there, with a little brass plate detailing where it had been manufactured: Manchester, of course.

On my way back to the hotel, I strolled through a beautiful park, stumbled across a huge shopping centre called Geant and then - lured by the sight of my trusty cooling towers - bumbled ill-advisedly into an desolate industrial estate. It reminded me of the particularly grim parts of north-east Manchester. Not a pleasant experience. I think perhaps I'll use a taxi next time.

My colleagues tell me that Lodz is enjoying a period of regeneration at the moment; clearly it still has a way to go yet. Then again, it probably would have been fair to say the same about Manchester a few years ago...


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