Encounter of Cultures in Łódź
By Agata Peleszuk | 26/08/2010
A Polish city of Łódź is well-known for its multicultural heritage. During centuries there used to live side by side Poles, Germans, Jews and Russians. This icon-city went through all model historical experiences of the Polish statehood – it lost independency, flourished as an industrial center, collapsed during the war and rose up again as a cultural bay for the Polish bohemia during a dull era of the communist regime. Nowadays Łódź regains its good days and yearly hosts thousands of tourists during many festivals. One of them is the Festival of Four Cultures.
photo: the website http://www.4kultury.pl/
Between 14 and 18 September more than 30 cultural events will mark the Festival of Four Cultures. Various concert, theater plays, workshops, meetings with literature, movies screenings and exhibitions under a common theme of “Returns” will depict a vivid history of minorities that accounted for the great majority of Łódź. Artistic encounters are aimed to remind the young generations the cultures of those who co-created the image of a famous manufacture center. The city that competes for the title of the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2016 has been dynamically developing in recent years. At the same time it systematically fights with accusation of intolerance or xenophobia which comes out from time to time, especially in forms of a conspicuous graffiti on the city walls with disgraceful slogans. A sprayed intolerance should not however veil a positive spirit behind the festival. The history of Łódź speaks for itself and the awakening of arts created by personalities related to the city helps to rediscover the tolerance that used to be the one and only trademark of Łódź.
Łódź was the city of Juliam Tuwim (Polish-Jewish poet), Artur Rubinstein, Karol Scheibler and Izrael Poznański (Jewish industrialists), Władysław Reymont (Polish writer, Literature Nobel laurate), Aleksander Tansman (Polish-Jewish neo-Romantic pianist) or Karl Dedecius (German translator). The image and atmosphere of the city was on many occasions captured by former inhabitants with a note of nostalgia. Artur Rubinstein wrote a lot about “his” Łódź in diaries: “My parents lived in Łódź, we took a spacious, sunny apartment in a nice house on Piotrkowska Street. My first musical experiences were shaped by a gloomy wailing of hundreds of a factory sirens waking up the workers. However soon I began to consume a much more pleasant nourishment. In the yard there appeared gypsies who sang and danced with their dressed up monkeys, and so called one-man band who accompanied them on a weird instruments. There were also monotone callings of Jewish antiques merchants, Russian sellers of ice-cream, and also Polish peasant women touting their eggs, vegetables and fruits. I loved those sounds”.
Indeed before the Second World War Łódź was a real Babel Tower of Eastern Europe. Before the industrial revolution of 19th century it was a small, barely known Polish settlement with a significant number of Jewish population. The economic boom and a German settlement campaign (the area belonged to Prussia based on three partisions of Poland), brought to Łódź German workers and merchants. Already in the end of 19th century Poles accounted only for around 46 percent of inhabitants. The rest were others – Germans (nearly 30 percent), Jews (more than 20 percent) and Russians (less than 3 percent). Thanks to industrial golden age of the city and various symbolic implications, Łódź was called “The Promise Land”. Not surprisingly a famous movie by Andrzej Wajda under this title included a meaningful scene of a prayer by a German, Pole and Jew. Indeed, it was a place where the industrial empires grew in richness. Thousands of people dreaming of success and prosperity were attracted to all the promises that could be fulfilled only there.
Main ethnic groups coexisted in this rapidly growing capital of industry. They cultivated their traditions, religions, built own theaters, celebrated their national and religious holidays. Naturally later on, when nationalistic ideas entered the political scenes, different ethnic narratives went through certain clashes, however until 1939 Łódź remained a dynamic multi-cultural center and an example of an everyday-life dialogue.
“So I love your “ugly beauty”, like a bad mother its child; I love your streets' dull greyness; The city dearest to my heart!; Your jabbered backstreets; their dust, fug and mud; They are dearer to me than capitals' chic; Than any Parisian boulevard!” – wrote a poet, native of Łódź, Julian Tuwim. His poetry gives an exceptional opportunity to set off on a time travel to the old Łódź – the grey city of workers, dusty clouds from factories' chimneys and bohemian circles of Polish, Jewish, German and Russian artists. A significant part of their history is brought back to Łódź streets during the Four Cultures Festival. A constant development of the city and a large amount of spots that still overwhelm with their natural greyness may allow the public to discern a realistic picture of Łódź. The entirely intellectual profile of the festival guarantees an interesting lesson of history of Poland. Due to the ethnic and cultural variety of Łódź population, vicissitudes of the city are a perfect case study for tumultuous centuries of partisions, wars, multiethnic map of society and difficult years under the Soviet suppression.
*More information about the Four Culture Festival on the website http://www.4kultury.pl/