Here’s the next instalment of our summer/winter reflective series, with Wendy looking back at her year as a migrant in Poland: “12 things I’ve learnt living 12 months in Poland“.
4. To look beyond the blocks
A few kilometers from the charming medieval Kraków city center, things start looking very different. Take a trip to Łódź or Katowice and you just can’t ignore that things look… well, ugly. Unpainted cracking blocks, crooked sidewalks, colourful advertising plastered over the potentially beautiful pieces of architecture. And blocks. The never-ending left-over of communism. Sometimes stretching as far as the eye can see. Despite the resemblance they draw to housing commission blocks in Melbourne (perhaps the city government was inspired by Soviet architects), living in these blocks doesn’t reflect someone’s socio-economic situation – this is just where normal people live. I’ve visited massage therapists, bank managers, hipsters and intellectuals that call these buildings home.
At first it was hard for me to understand how people could exist in a place that for me was visually so depressing. And after a year here, I can’t say I’m loving blocks anymore fondly. But I can say, I’m looking past them more. Perhaps like the seasons, you can train yourself to be strong and not let your drab surrounding soak into your emotions. You learn to look beyond this ugliness and appreciate the positive transformations that are happening in Polish cities around the country. Katowice’s main square has had an amazing makeover, that has really changed the feel and increased the safety in the city. The museum of Śląsk is one of the most impressive and modern facilities I’ve visited anywhere. The cultural events happening, reviving old folk traditions, often organised by young people, such as the Wednesday night dance sessions by members of local band Blokowioska in Katowice (who mix traditional Polish folk with dubstep and beatboxing!) And many social projects initiated by local NGOs to animate ‘rougher’ neighbourhoods, through with ideas like modern art murals engaging local youths in colouring their streets.
To the surprise (or shock!) of many Polish people, Łódź is actually one of my favourite Polish cities! Why? Because the stark contrasts between the grey square communistic apartments, to the art nouveau, to the crumbling derelict is a feast for my eyes. You never know what you’ll find hidden behind the next corner (once it was a whole back of a building tiled with broken mirrors, like a giant disco ball!) And personally, I find this much more exciting than walking around the Hollywood film set of Kraków’s old town. There’s depth beneath these somewhat unappealing first impressions of Poland’s lesser visited cities – ugly? creative? changing? Go digging and you’ll find they’re everything but boring.