Friday, October 28, 2016

Courtyards of Łódź

Łódź (in Yiddish, לאדזש‎, Lodzh) is an old textile industrial city in central Poland, about 130 km south west of Warsaw. Łódź became an industrial powerhouse in the mid-late 19th century, when Jewish industrialists built immense textile mills to process cotton. Before our Civil War, much of the cotton came from the southern United States. The mills continued to thrive until World War II, when much of the production shut down. During the Communist era (1946-1989), the mills had a steady customer base in the Soviet block, but little investment was made in modernizing equipment and production processes. When Communism collapsed in 1989-1992, the mills were obsolete and could not compete in the international market. Many shut down, and Łódź became a grim Polish-style rust-belt city.

However, unlike most cities throughout Poland, Łódź did not suffer much destruction in World War II. The Jewish population was rounded up and exterminated in death camps, but the city did not suffer major bombing or warfare, sparing some amazing early 20th century architecture.

And Łódź is coming back! Because of the immense wealth generated by the textile industry, luxurious mansions coexisted with immense brick factories and old tenement houses. Many of the mills have been redeveloped as high tech think tanks, malls, or hotels. The arts thrive. Mansions have become museums. The main street through town, ulica Piotrkowski, throbs with cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. We were impressed at the activity, although there is still a lot of urban decay throughout the city.
The typical residential apartment in the city consisted of a short frontage along the street with two long arms extending back into the lot, much like a "U" shape. A passageway (tunnel) led into a courtyard, where residents had access to their stairwells. I assume that in the 1800s, latrines may have been located in the courtyards (as described by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Yiddish: יצחק באַשעװיס זינגער‎) in some of his pre-war novels (he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978). The two examples above are passageways off ulica Piotrkowska. The massive iron cones were designed to deflect wagon wheels.
During a recent trip to Łódź, my wife and I booked a couple of nights in Hostelik Wiktoriański at Sienkiewicza 40, near the main tourist area of the revived downtown. Come to find out, the lobby of the hostel faced the main street, but the rooms were in back in the courtyard. It was a bit gray and grimy, and not too welcoming. But the rooms were clean and the plumbing worked, and parking was free (for our tiny rental Opal) so we can't complain too much. A art-house cinema was in the building across the courtyard. I saw stacks of film cans in the lobby, so possibly they are trying to preserve films and project them optically (the old-fashioned way).
These buildings look like they have not had much upgrading over the years other than electrical work. Of course, now there is interior plumbing. And the windows are modern.
Great door. It has survived a century - how many people have passed through it? What drama has it witnessed?
The hallways on the upper floors were pretty dingy. But the buildings had been massively built a century ago.
While I took this picture, a lady on her way to work came down the steps. She looked annoyed at me. She likely figured I was another one of those obnoxious tourists who stayed at the hostel. Sorry, this was too good of a chance to see inside one of these old buildings. 

The square pictures are scans of Tri-X film that I shot with a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera, equipped with the Schneider Xenotar lens. I developed the film in Kodak HC-110 developer at dilution "B", 4:30 minutes at 68° F. I posted them at 2,400 pixels wide, so click any frame to see more detail.

1 comment:

  1. Fajne zapraszamy też na naszego bloga o pozycjonowaniu stron regionalnie w łodzi :)

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