Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Poland 2: Hooray for Hollywoodge!

I'm typing this in the breakfast room of the Hotel Savoy in Łódź, Poland. But don't get too excited - it's a far cry from the Savoy in London (this place is two-star).

Łódź is a bit off the tourist trail but is actually a good looking town, and very different in appearance from all the other Polish cities I've visited. That's because it's essentially an early 19th century city, bulked up by a profusion of factories as the local authorities welcomed in the Industrial Revolution.

So instead of an Old Town around the core of a medieval market square, Łódź's hub is ul Piotrkowska, a long street lined by attractive Art Nouveau buildings (interrupted by the odd concrete monstrosity for contrast).

But what's really interesting here is the National Film School, established in 1948 in Łódź (Poland's second-largest city) when Warsaw was still lying in ruins from WWII. As a result, Łódź became Poland's film centre. And as Łódź is pronounced 'woodge', there's been no end of puns about Holly-woodge.

The school is a famous institution that's turned out numerous successful actors and directors. Some have gone on to international fame, notably directors Roman Polański and Krzysztof Kieślowski.

They like the film connection here; there's a 'walk of stars' in the pavement on the main street, with famous Polish directors and actors. Also, extending beyond the cinematic, other famous Łódź creative types are immortalised along ul Piotrkowska in the form of life-size statues.

The most prominent is that of Artur Rubenstein, the famous 20th century pianist. His statue is accompanied by a full-size grand piano! (though the image above is actually from my 2006 visit to Łódź during winter; I haven't had a chance to load my latest photos to my laptop yet).

Łódź is a fine example of how a city can reinvent itself. Once only known as a manufacturing centre, it's embraced the creative, and given itself a new lease of life.