Poland's third-largest city grew fabulously wealthy in the 19th century on the backs of its massive textile mills – and the thousands of workers who toiled inside them. That wealth was shattered in waves: by the Great Depression of the 1930s, the tragic German occupation during WWII, and the inept communist regime that came after. By 1990, the city was an industrial ruin, on par in some ways with present-day Detroit or the former industrial powerhouses in the British Midlands. The future looked bleak.
But Łódź (woodge) is not just a story of decline, but one of rebirth. In recent years, millions of euros have been poured into the city in an effort to spur one of the country's – and continent's – biggest renovation efforts. The investments have led to the rejuvenation of ul Piotrkowska, the main pedestrian thoroughfare, and creation of Manufaktura, Europe's biggest combined shopping, business and amusement centre, carved out of the decaying husks of the old mills.
Łódź has other things going for it as well, including being the centre of the Polish film industry. Polish directorial giants like Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polański and Krzysztof Kieślowski honed their talents here. American film director David Lynch was so smitten by Łódź that he set some of his 2006 film, Inland Empire, here. You can even stay in Lynch's suite at the Centrum Hotel.
Travellers interested in Jewish heritage have a special reason to visit. Before WWII, Łódź was Poland's second-largest Jewish city, after Warsaw, with a community numbering some 230,000. During the war, the Germans created Poland's second-biggest Jewish ghetto in a depressed section north of the centre. The area is still impoverished and looks much like it did during those grim years.