What Promised Land?


(Alleyway in the city of Łódż)
Everyone warned me before heading out to my weekend trip to Łódż. My students, friends of friends, even my roommate. “Why are you going there? Łódż is just a ghetto filled with graffitti and dangerous people”, he said. Because I usually like places that most people don’t, I decided to not think twice and just book a roundtrip ticket with Polski Bus to the third largest Polish city, located three hours from Wrocław, in the very heart of this central European country. Years before I even arrived to Poland and while I was doing research for my Ph.D, I read a book called “The Promised Land” (Ziemia Obiecana), written by the Nobel Literature prize author, Władysław Reymont, in the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a very detailed book which depicts the social panorama of the city of Łódż during the Industrial Revolution as something similar to a rat race where the three main characters: a German, a Jew, and a Pole, struggle to survive the transition of this city into a model of textile manufacturing and urbanization. 

(Statue of Władysław Reymont, author of The Promised Land)

Two things attracted me to this city: this book being the first, and the second, the most important film school in all of Poland, where three of my favorite movie directors graduated from: Polański, Kieślowski, and Wajda. Alongside the school, there now stands the Museum of Cinematography, which offers a glance into the history of Polish cinema.

Łódż can definitely be visited in just one day. A typical tour of the city consists of walking up and down the main street, ulica Piotrkowska, which is actually Europe’s largest commercial avenue ranging 7 kilometres in distance. The architecture visible from this point of the city is probably the most beautiful and varied in all of Poland. It seems as though each of the buildings has its own style, colors, and design, enriching the overview of this industrial hub. However, the great downside of it all is the fact that practically ever street in Łódż is under construction, and when I say under construction, I mean, UNWALKABLE and extremely muddy! It seems as though everything here has been left paralyzed in time. I never saw one single city worker on the sites. In sum, it is hard to admire the architectural styles of the buildings, when one must constantly be looking at the ground in order to prevent from falling into a muddy puddle or bending your ankle on a huge construction rock.

Besides Piotrkowska, another place to check out is the Manufaktura museum, more for its historical value than for its beauty. Located in the commercial rynek (main square) of Łódż, Manufaktura is a huge brick industrial-looking building, which houses an enourmous mall with hundreds of shops, a cinema home of the Polish Hollywood scene, and a small museum on the second floor. Here you are able to read some of the textile manufacturing history, see the machines from the factories, and the fabrics and stamps used to decorate the cotton. In Reymont’s book beforementioned, he narrates the rough working conditions the textile factory employees underwent.

(Manufaktura building, city centre, Łódż)

 “Workers, in shirts only and barefooted, with grey faces, with their eyes dull as if burnt out with this orgy of colours that flooded the place, moved quietly and automatically being but a complement to the machines”…

Łódż is anything but a Promised Land. Maybe it was at some point (although I still have my doubts), but definetely not any longer. It once was an industrial hub where the most beautiful textiles were produced and workers from all over the country were given the opportunity to earn a decent living during the transition of industrialization. More recently, it became the niche of famous movie directors in the making. Now there are only remnants of this time, and much of this history has been replaced by abandoned and glass-shattered buildings covered with graffitti and street art, and locals who try to survive in a huge city where a feeling of emptiness and disconnection reigns.   

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