Life Travel

Thursday 28 August 2014

Lodz: Fashion, fun and art in a newly reconstructed Polish city...

I have been in Warsaw and my abiding memory is of how much of the capital was destroyed in World War II and of the massive reconstruction that has taken place. Lodz (pronounced woodge) is a little over two hours away, but survived the war well.

John Masterson

Published 15/06/2014 | 07:00

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Industrial origins: Reconstruction, much of it artistic and imaginative is what the city of Lodz is all about
Hidden Depths: The swimming pool at Andel’s Hotel has some
Hidden Depths: The swimming pool at Andel’s Hotel has some surprises

I have been in Warsaw and my abiding memory is of how much of the capital was destroyed in World War II and of the massive reconstruction that has taken place. Lodz (pronounced woodge) is a little over two hours away. The city survived the war well. Its Jewish population did not, with the majority — 150,000 — being slaughtered. Lodz has a strong Jewish history and before the war had the second largest Jewish population in Europe after Warsaw. Today Lodz is undergoing massive reconstruction for a different reason. It was a huge manufacturing centre from the late 19th century. That world is no more.

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Andel’s Hotel claims to be the best in Poland. Well it is certainly very, very good. And striking to look at being more than a block long, all in redbrick and iron. It is part of the Vienna International group and is on the site of an enormous 19th Century Lodz textile factory.

Once you enter reception you get the blend of heritage and modern design that goes all the way through the building. Lying on my bed watching the flat screen and surrounded by colour I became aware that the ceiling was a curve of redbrick retained from the top of the factory. Lots of redbrick is cleverly integrated with furniture in oranges, various greens and purples. Colour and comfort throughout, with emerging artists displayed through the hotel. Lets face it, the hotel itself is a work of art. It is a pretty cool place and I could happily move in.

I had heard of Lodz as a major film city, so much so that it is nicknamed Hollywoodge’. David Lynch fans will know he fell in love with Lodz. He shot Inland Empire there in 2005. Film aficionados will spot bits of this very hotel including a famous cast iron staircase. André Wajada made The Promised Land here too and the city features prominently. There is a kind of New York feel about a lot of the back streets and you can see why films are made here.

Lodz is a city of around three quarters of a million people and is bang in the middle of Poland. The centre is very walk-able. Piotrkowska Street is the main boulevard and is four km of shops, bars and restaurants. Huge murals liven up dead buildings. Arthur Rubinstein was born here and he merits a street name and a sculpture of him playing the piano. It is only two minutes up the street to Off Piotrkowska’ which is an area of quirky shops, bars, fashion designers and clubs, all reclaimed from unused industrial buildings and now full of trendy life. Reconstruction, much of it artistic and imaginative, is what Lodz is about. We sat outside a bar in the dark which translates as Burned By The Sun and drank Lomza, a very good local beer.

I began day two with a swim. The spa and training facilities are superb but for me the pool on the roof was the star of the show. I was taking in the magnificent city view from the glass building pool when I looked doooowwnnnn . . . down through a glass panel five stories to the street. I edged my way off slowly. Hold me there and I will admit to any crime. The water comes exactly to floor level. People coming up the stairs look like they are emerging from the water. Next they look as if they are walking on water. Fabulous. I lazed and looked out over the city and felt like I was swimming on the top of that Pink Floyd Animals cover. I later learned that this swimming pool was made by placing a stainless steel pool into the original Manchester made factory water tank with only small adjustments needed to the original support structure.

My visit coincided with the 10th Polish Fashion Week so I paid my respects. I have limited tolerance for robot-like models who all look like they have just broken up with their lovers. But such is modelling. Those who know a lot more than I do tell me that the week is growing in stature and they all saw lots to impress. I liked a label called Blot. We watched as they painted the clothes before the models wore them. They looked great but I have spent enough time waiting for women in this life to add waiting for the paint to dry to the explanations. Having watched several imaginative catwalk sessions I am left with the eternal question... Do I go 100% black or throw out everything black?

The Museum Of The Factory is near Andel’s Hotel and part of the same industrial complex built by Israel Poznansky who was the second richest man in Poland. He arrived in the city with his parents in 1834 and was a textile multi millionaire by the 1870s. Beside our hotel is one of his spectacular palaces. One wonders what the even richer person lived in. Nearby is Museum Sztuki, which houses a good collection of 20th and 21st Century art. There were lots of thought provoking installations and I particularly liked one called “How to make love to your television set.”

At the Museum of the Textile Industry we saw fashion back through the years and plenty of art work in textiles. Video installations, some interactive, take you through the manufacturing process and give a good impression of the heat, noise, danger and unrelenting effort of factory work. On the street outside was a film set at work. As I said, Hollywoodge’.

I ate in Andel’s appropriately named Delight restaurant where I had a magical asparagus and salmon starter followed by a stir fry with some of the most impressively sized prawns I have ever come across. All washed down by an Austrian Red Pepp. Lodz has a lot of music going on. André Rieu was staying and had breakfast with the rest of us. Peter Gabriel was due the day I left.

The hotel is a short walk to restaurants and coffee shops, lots of them outdoors in the large square. Manufactura is a very good shopping centre with prices for the well known brands much the same as Ireland. I had the pleasure of dealing with a charming Polish assistant who told me what I always want to hear. “No, that is not your size. It is too big.” She measured my neck, handed me a smaller size, directed me to the changing room and sure enough she was right. I would never have though you could improve your body so much by running one 10K and having a rooftop swim.

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