From Surrey to Łódź…
PUBLISHED: 15:13 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:13 19 December 2017
It may not be at the top of many bucket lists but Łódź, Poland's third largest city, jolly well should be, says Rebecca Younger
One word sums up the Polish city of Łódz for me and that’s ‘reinvention’. From its magnificent street art and Hollywood-style walk of fame to its Jewish heritage and gradual emergence as a cultural powerhouse, there’s a story of triumph and transformation to be uncovered around every corner.
While the scars of Poland’s involvement in the Second World War are still evident on the outskirts of the city (the Lidtzmannstadt Ghetto, which over 200,000 Jews passed through on route to Auswitz, is here), Łódz is undergoing a period of change – one that is turning the grey days of post-war Poland into a celebration of industrial and cultural heritage.
Łódz (pronounced ‘woodge’) is nicknamed the Manchester of Poland, not just because it is the country’s third largest city (after Warsaw and Krakow) but also because of its industrial links and because, well, it’s pretty hipster.
Vienna House Andel’s Lodz
Happily marrying the latter two is Vienna House Andel’s Lodz, a magnificent red brick building, which proudly sits at the entrance to Manufaktura, Poland’s largest shopping and cultural centre.
The hotel was formerly one of the Łódz’s biggest cotton-making factories, owned by textile magnet Izrael Poznanski,(the building features in the 1974 Andrzej Wajda film Promised Land) and is vast. It can take a good five to 10 minutes to get from reception to your room, depending on where it is in the 277-bed hotel, but the quirky stencils on the walls, many of which depict those who worked on the hotel’s restoration (although there are some famous characters in their too; see if you can spot Barrack Obama by the lifts), make it worth the stroll. As do the rooms, which with their warehouse-style windows, quirky layouts and abstract colour schemes feel like mini-art galleries.
Design is a key feature in the hotel, from the futuristic-looking stairwells with changing coloured downlighting to the top floor spa and fitness complex, which utilises the factory’s 19th century fire water storage tank to house the swimming pool and offers panoramic views of the city. Even the food and drink offering presents itself as an art form.
While Andel’s Lodz manages to fit the hipster vibe, the wider Manufaktura area, with its shopping mall, urban beach, larger-than-life deckchairs, outdoor surf simulator and aerial zip wire, can appear pretty ‘touristy’.
Those who want to experience the city’s alternative quarter should head to the OFF Piotrkowska district, a five-minute stroll away and situated just off Piotrkowska Street – Europe’s longest pedestrianised street at over three miles long. Here, you will find hip restaurants including MITMI, which serves breakfast until 2pm for the IT crowd (the word brunch doesn’t exist in the Polish language) and funky shops, such as Pan Tu Nie Stał, selling quirky T-Shirts and accessories.
While Łódz is famed for its industrial past, today it is the capital of Polish cinematography and creative industries. You’ll find many a nod to Łódz’s cultural heritage on Piotrkowska Street. Look out for the star-shaped plaques in the pavement outside the Grand Hotel (also a former textile factory), they mark the city’s famous film stars and directors that have helped earn the city the nickname Hollylód.
You’ll also find Gutenberg House, once owned by Jan Petersilge who issued the first local newspaper in Lodz, here. The facade reflects the building’s print heritage and features a sculpture of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of print.
The most convenient way to travel along Piotrkowska Street is by rickshaw, which you can hire by the hour for about 40 zloty (£8).
By night, the street is awash with outside seating, where groups gather to eat, drink and socialise. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from (there are over 200 in this area of the city alone) and with a three-course dinner with wine costing around 70 zloty (about £15) it’s a much cheaper night out then you’d get at other popular European city break destinations. Check out, Klub Spadkobierców, which sits almost directly opposite Gutenberg House, for hearty Polish cuisine in ornate 19th century surroundings.
While the Polish love their Vodka, craft beer is fast becoming the drink of choice. Try the selection on offer at Pivoteka, also on Piotrkowska Street, which has an extensive menu of purely Polish-produced craft beer, as well as a selection of its own home-brewed ales (look out for the comic labels).
The museums and galleries in Łódz are well worth visiting and are cheap to enter too – particularly at weekends when you can buy cut-price entry to the celebrated art museum, ms², and Museum of the Factory for just one zloty (about 20p). However, if you’re short on time you’ll see plenty of the city’s most impressive art by simply wandering the streets. Turn down any number and you’ll come across enormous graffiti murals painted on the sides of derelict buildings that were once central to the city’s industrial heritage. There are about 37 scattered across the city but one of the most famous – and the largest in Łódz – is just off Piotrkowska Street and pictures a boat (Łódz means boat) and various other iconic features of the city.
Łódz’s latest reinvention project is the regeneration of the EC1 district – the area surrounding a former electric power plant in the east of the city. Once finished EC1 will house a comic centre, a planetarium, Poland’s National Centre for Film Culture and an interactive Science and Technology Centre. It is hoped the project will clinch the city’s bid to host the International EXPO Exhibition in 2020, the destination of which will be announced at the end of this year.
Whether it’s reinventing mills and factories into lively neighbourhoods, creating a new draft beer or painting over the cracks of its past with life-size murals, the people of Łódz certainly have imagination. And, as the saying goes, a little imagination goes a long way.
How to get there
Wizz Air (wizzair.com) has several daily departures from Luton to Warsaw Chopin, about an hour from Łódz, from £23.99 one way. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies direct to Łódz Wladyslaw Reymont airport six days a week from London Stansted, from £17.49 one way.
Where to stay
Vienna House Andel’s Lodz, Ogrodowa 17 Street, 91-065, Łódz, Poland.
Tel: +48 422 791 000 Web: viennahouse.com/en/andels-lodz
What to do
Off Piotrkowska: offpiotrkowska.com
Museum of Cinematography: Kinomuzeum.pl
Street murals: Fb.com/lodzmurals
Museum of Art: msl.org.pl