If I had just one word with which to describe it? Real.
For my first post I would like to give a brief recap of my trip to and share some of my reflections as a foreigner on, possibly one of Poland’s most under-appreciated cities, Katowice. This rapidly growing, ex-industrial metropolis simultaneously showcases both the dynamism of 21st century development and a gritty urban beauty. As a solo-traveller and Slavseeing’s resident brutalism-obsessed western Slavophile who listens only to Laibach, the capital of Silesia is exactly my kind of city. If I had just one word with which to describe it? Real. This city is very suitable either for a day trip if you lack time, or for a few days if you wish to explore what Katowice has to offer in greater depth.
what will you find out?
What makes Katowice Katowice?
Which places to visit?
How many shopping centres does a city centre need?
History, Nikiszowiec distric, Culture and Architecture, People and my reflections
Katowice first developed as a city largely around the coal mining and steel industries, during the Industrial Revolution, and the vestiges of this history are very much intrinsic in the heart and soul of this city. The whole Cultural Zone (Strefa Kultury) in the city centre was once the Katowice Coal Mine. Adapted from what were once the subterranean tunnels and shafts of the coal mine, is the Silesian Museum. My recommendation is to make this place a priority during any trip to this city. Without a doubt, this is one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever been to. You will find a stunning collection of paintings by many of Poland and Silesia’s greatest artists since 1800. Polish museums go all out with their exhibitions and the “Illumination of History: Upper Silesia through the Ages” exhibition is no exception. Unfortunately for myself, I was operating on a limited timeframe and could only skim through all the exhibits and information on display. I recommend you leave yourself a few hours to behold everything in this superlatively interesting and impressive museum.
If you take a bus or Uber (cheap as chips in Katowice) out of the city centre, you’ll quickly reach another essential destination and amazing example of Katowice’s industrial history – Nikiszowiec. This district was built as a self-contained coal miner’s settlement between 1908-1918 before being incorporated into Katowice in 1960. Walking amongst the red-bricked “familoks” (pre-WW1 multi-family residences built specially for coal miners, the name being a Silesian rendering of the original German “Familien-Block) while the breath-taking chimneys of the Wieczorek Coal Mine loom overhead feels like taking a step back in time. Nikiszowiec, one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments tracked by the National Heritage Board, essentially functions as a living museum – yes, people still live here!
Upon leaving Nikiszowiec I made a failed attempt to take a bus back into the centre and had to settle for another Uber. As I said before though, you pay practically nothing for Uber here. It’s also a great opportunity to practice your Polish skills if you have any knowledge of the language, though during this trip my driver was stone-faced, deadly silent “Oleksandr” who appeared to be from Russia’s North Caucasus. The introvert in me gives 5 stars for his thoughtfulness nonetheless 😉
Culture and Architecture
My next destination was Osiedle Roździeńskiego, with its Communist housing blocks. This place isn’t essential to visit though it is very conveniently located to then walk to the Cultural Zone and into the city centre. These star-shaped apartment buildings stand 24 storeys tall and were built in 1978 in the classic brutalist fashion beloved of the 20th Century Eastern Bloc governments. I love brutalist architecture, maybe I’m crazy but the looming apartment complexes all over Central/Eastern Europe and to a lesser extent in Western Europe are like the pyramids to me! This district maybe isn’t the most impressive I’ve ever seen, but I still liked it for sure.
More or less adjacent to Osiedle Roździeńskiego is the Cultural Zone again. The Silesian Museum isn’t the only attraction here, you will be immediately struck by the new venue for the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, opened in 2014. This formidable structure truly reflects Katowice’s soul with its sleek, modern façade being constructed from Nikiszowiec-esque red bricks. The Cultural Zone’s next landmark is the “Spodek” or “Saucer”, Poland’s 2nd largest indoor arena constructed to resemble a giant UFO. Nearby, you’ll find the “Silesian Insurgents’ Monument”. Three enormous bronze wings commemorate the three Silesian Uprisings of 1919, 1920 and 1921, aimed towards incorporating Silesia, at that time under German authority, into the new Polish Second Republic formed following WW1. In the end Silesia was partitioned between the two countries, with all Silesia eventually joining Poland after Germany’s defeat in WW2.
From here, it’s a short walk into the city centre. Pretty much every architectural style is on display here, from neoclassical to socialist realist, but modern capitalist beautification dazzles most obviously in the centre. Not one, not two but three shopping centres sit within spitting distance of one another here, including the Altus Shopping Gallery – southern Poland’s second tallest building. Otherwise though, the streets of Katowice have that authentic graffiti-ed urban grit that I love. Speaking as a Brit, that unmistakable feel of the European way of life also permeates the air here. I can never get enough of it! There are some impressive clubs here too supposedly if you’re so inclined. As a giant nerd though, I didn’t go to any ;).
A city is nothing without its people, and Katowice’s Silesians with their unique Polish dialect influenced by German are an incredibly compelling bunch of people. This city has its share of social problems for sure. I read once that there’s apparently an old Polish proverb along the lines of “a strong hand means a strong family”. If so then that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard but unfortunately intersects with my experience – more than one Katowice expat of my generation who I’ve got to know over the years clearly bear the mental scars caused by such a culture. This is doubly tragic and a shame because Katowice’s citizens have to be some of the coolest people in the world! There’s something about how friendly, down to earth and, as I said at the beginning of this blog, real they are. Katowice residents have also been the nucleus of “hip-hopowa” art and culture in Poland since the 1990s. Kaliber 44 and the legendary Paktofonika among other groups and rappers have originated here.
Let me constrain above all else – if you have any knowledge of Polish, speak it! To your taxi driver as I mentioned before or anyone else, Polish people will love it! I recommend a trip to the now relocated Pub Kredens where I had a wonderful night downing shots, drinking beers and conversating in broken Polish with several of this city’s awesome people.
watch our video from katowice
Katowice, like any city worthy of being called one, has its good, its bad and its ugly, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t think any tour of Poland is complete without visiting it. I’d maybe even go as far as suggesting it represents Poland’s industrial heart. It absolutely served as the perfect starting point for my own tour of this great nation, that’s for sure. Like it’s home country, it’s not without its flaws of course but only time will cure these issues. For now, I invite you all to join in the party and help this amazing city out with your custom!
my top 3 favourite places
I recommend you leave yourself a few hours to behold everything in this superlatively interesting and impressive museum.
Amazing example of Katowice’s industrial history
Teatralna 8, 40-003 Katowice, Polska
A place where XX century history can be felt.