“Katowice is never going to win any beauty prizes” was an opening line from one of our first Katowice guides way back in 2007. “That the finest building in town is a concrete bowl that looks like a UFO should be an indicator of what lies in store” was another disparaging comment. There's no hiding the fact that Katowice was once a truly ugly city, and was difficult for us to big up on aesthetic value alone, but hey, that's what we're known for – brutally honest (and fair!) deductions. If these were the views held by previous editors, what about now? As the new editor for Katowice InYourPocket, will I beat Kato down? Does it deserve it? Hell, no! Now, dear reader, you find yourself in a city which has undergone a major, and badly needed, facelift. Today, Kato, billed as the 'city of gardens' (miasto ogrodów) after its attempt to become a European Capital of Culture in 2016, is now a city which innovates and has the honour of being a cultural hub, officially recognised as a UNESCO city of music for its efforts.
In the past, Kato had very few tourists as, well... there was not much to see! Those arriving found themselves here mainly on business, questioning their very existence and how on earth they ended up here. Why the existential dilemma? Let's begin with a walking tour, one which will require a bit of imagination, as we describe the changes the city has undergone in the last decade, and what the businessman of 10 years ago experienced compared to the tourist of today. We'll start in the centre, where most visitors to the city begin their 'Kato experience'.
Arriving at the Katowice train station, you walk through a modernised complex of platforms and main hall, handily incorporated into a new shopping centre. Now, shopping centres are not often something we enjoy walking through due to their predictable and repetitive nature, however, the mix of old and new architecture in this location is quite interesting so it's worth tilting your head up to take it all in. The main difference with the train station of today to that of yesteryear – it no longer smells of urine. Anyone new to the city is none the wiser as to how much of an abomination this site once was, often known as Poland's ugliest spot, let alone worst train station, it set the tone for your whole trip. Walking through often meant being accosted by beggars and drunks, food stalls being of a poor standard, and the available toilet facilities being...umm...horrific! Now you walk through the station and shops, out into a collection of streets containing spruced-up 19th century buildings which wouldn’t look out of place in Poland's top tourist destinations.