The city of Łódź in the middle of Poland is something of a paradox.
Unlike many other major cities, it did not spring up around a major river.
And yet it is because of water that it developed and grew to be the metropolis of three quarters of a million people that it is today.
Every day at noon, the Łódź anthem rings out from the town hall, a song written in the 19th century in celebration of the industry that brought the city wealth – textiles.
And for a place without a major water supply, it might seem bizarre that its symbol is a boat.
The city’s Mayor Hanna Zdanowska told euronews that there is water even though it is not highly visible: “The city of Łódź began here and developed rapidly thanks to the number of rivers that criss-cross it. In fact Łódź sits on 18 rivers.”
‘Rivers’ is perhaps an overstatement. The biggest is maybe just 10 metres across at its widest. The others are more like streams – like the Sokołówka.
With water so scarce, they have to keep it clean.
Professor Maciej Zalewski, Director of the European Regional Centre of Ecohydrology described his purification system which is much cheaper and more efficient than an industrial plant.
“Most of the pollution falls as sediment in this pool,” he said. “The process is reinforced by these strips.”
“Cloth filters catch virtually all pollutants, and afterwards they’re used to fertilise lawns.”
The water – almost as clean as a mountain spring according to the professor – feeds into a lake in a nearby park.
Without a major river, Łódź grew up around its main thoroughfare – four kilometres long Piotrkowksa Street is straight as a die.
City guide Dominika Ostrowska told euronews: “In the 19th century as the town got richer it was everyone’s proud dream to have a house on Piotrkowska Street. Like Juliusz Heinzel’s house behind me, which is now the town hall. The interior has hardly changed.”
“The Rubinstein Alley is my favourite part,” she went on. “The great pianist was born there at number 67. Today there’s a sculpture of Arthur Rubinstein, sitting at a grand piano.”
They might not have had much water in Łódź, but what they had was exceptionally clean and so perfect for making textiles. From 1820 onwards, the red-brick mills shot up and the population exploded.
“The city of Łódź came about thanks to big money,” Mayor Hanna Zdanowska said. “It developed in the 19th century and at the time it was one of the three fastest growing cities in the world. In less than 100 years, it transformed from a small town of 1,500 into a city of more than 600,000 people. We want to find our roots, and we think that saving this beautiful post-industrial infrastructure is a real chance for the city.”
‘Manufaktura’ is one of the biggest shopping and leisure centres in Europe. It was created from an old factory with private investment.
The Łódź city art centre is partly completed. Work on the rest of the centre is still underway.
Its director Krzysztof Candrowicz told us: “This is an old factory built in the 19th century by the industrialist Karol Scheibler. It’s been transformed into an arts centre, and here we can host lots of artists, festivals and events. Most of all, when the work is finished in two years, this area will grow to 10,000 square metres and will house a new centre of creative industry called Art Inkubator.”
They are renovating an old power-station that supplied Łódź with electricity until the beginning of the 21st century. It is one of the biggest industrial conversions in the world. The aim is to create a new city centre.
The man in charge of the project, Paweł Zuromski, showed us around: “This is the old generator hall, part of it dates back to 1907. After the works have finished there’ll be a centre of cinema art here. At its heart there’ll be mainly what you’d call a theatre of sound. That’ll be a recording studio big enough for a large symphony orchestra and a choir.
“The old machine room will house an art gallery and conference rooms. There will also be a planetarium and a 3D cinema.
“And there is a part they call the new generator, built in 1930. There will be a research and technical centre. The installations are intended mainly to explain energy production.”
Łódź is always looking for water, to live, and for leisure like the Fala aqua park – but also to open itself up to the wider world.
The Marshal of the Łódzkie Region, Witold Stępień, said: “It’s clear that the city can’t function well without its surrounding region. The water-treatment plant for example was built by Lodz and its neighbouring communities.”
The giant water plant, started in 1974, was one way of dealing with the nastier consequences of the textile industry.
Stępień went on: “Life has come back to the River Ner. Before it used to change colour according to what the factories were making. Now it’s clean again.”
Another example of keeping in contact with the outside world is the intersection near the city, where the north-south and east-west A1 and A2 motorways meet as they cross Europe.
The intersection was the driving force behind an enterprise zone for businesses that wanted to set up in the region. Authorities have introduced tax incentives, too, to attract companies.
And the search for water goes on, in Poddębice they are looking for sources of natural hot water. One well reaches down more than two kilometres and supplies the local hospital.
And another geothermal source is being lined up to bring more benefits to the region.
Witold Stępień explained: “The towns around and about have things to offer the people of Łódź. One for example has one of the only thermal spas in Poland, and many inhabitants of Łódź spend their leisure time there.”