For many newcomers and tourists alike, Łódź is an anomaly in many ways. The city has garnered much praise for its fantastic film pedigree and dynamic cultural calendar (make sure to check our events section to see what's on) Economically and architecturally it is also being compared with other post-industrial revitalization success stories such as Manchester and Rotterdam. This is all well and good however in reality, Łódż remains impenetrable to many would be visitors. Some very basic information is needed before one can thrust oneself headlong into the all-night industrial warehouse parties and cut up the red carpet at film premieres. For example, how do I even pronounce the name of this city?! And where in the world is the city center? Have no fear dear reader, since you’ve made it this far, IYP has done you the favour of answering these two vitally important questions.
A TRIP OFF THE TONGUE
The odds are that since you are reading this guide, somewhere along the way you had to mutter your own creative interpretation of how one is supposed to officially pronounce Łódź. Most English speakers anglicise the city’s name to something akin to “Lodge;” we hate to break it to you, but this is way off the mark. While some Polish cities have widely accepted anglicised names (Warsaw, Krakow) Łódź is not one of them. While you can get away with de-diacriticising the name in written form ie “Lodz”, pronouncing it is another thing altogether. If you tell someone in the Krakow train station you’re trying to get to “Lodge”, they may think you mean a mountain lodge and put you on a train to the Tatras. The key to cracking Łódź’s nutty name is obviously figuring out how to pronounce these alien-looking Polish letters. There’s only four of them, so here we go: The Polish ‘Ł’ is pronounced like an English ‘W,’ the ‘ó’ is pronounced like an English ‘oo,’ and (to simplify a bit) the Polish ‘dz’ letter combination is pronounced like an English ‘j’ or ‘dge’ as in ‘ledge.’ So let’s hear it – stand up straight, take a deep breath and bellow it out: Woodge, Woodge, WOODGE!
The origins of the city’s name have never really been conclusively established, and as such a number of theories exist. Local legend has it that a chap called Janusz used to navigate the marshlands, small rivers and streams of the area in his little boat. One day his vessel got stuck in the shallow waters and he sat down to consider what to do next. During his period of contemplation, ably assisted by a small religious icon which he always carried with him, the skies opened and a torrential downpour engulfed the land. He took this as a sign and in order to find shelter he dragged his boat to higher ground and upturned it onto some short tree trunks to act as a roof and so the first ‘house’ appeared in the area. In Polish ‘Łódź’ means ‘a small boat’ and some think that the city’s coat of arms is a reference to Janusz’s little punt.
Many believe the name simply derives from the name of the noble Łodzic family, with their crest becoming the symbol of the city, while others think it comes from the old Polish word for willow tree – ‘łozy.’ One theory which holds no water, unlike the ground the city is built on, is that the name stems from the river Łódka when in fact the opposite is true; the river was previously known as the ‘Starowiejska’ and was changed after the city had already become known as Łódź. Personally, we’ll stick with old Janusz, at least his is a nice story.
The city was first mentioned in the 14th century, but it was the industrial revolution that saw the population balloon and Łódź emerge as Poland’s youngest metropolis. The birth of the textile industry saw Łódź dubbed 'The Promised Land', with thousands flocking from central Europe, England and even Switzerland to make their fortunes. WWII saw the city's rich ethnic balance destroyed, the Jewish population butchered, the Germans exiled and the Russians heading back whence they came. Now, in spite of massive unemployment, Łódź remains an important cog in the Polish wheel, and the Manufaktura project ranks as one of the most impressive urban regeneration projects in Europe. More surprisingly, the city is also at the heart of Polish art and counter-culture. The famous film school, founded in 1948 as a pet project of Stalin, has nurtured the talent of Polański, Wajda and Kieślowski while ul. Piotrkowska, Europe’s longest pedestrian street, rates as one of Poland’s most famous party streets.
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