Katowice shares a lot of similarities with Ostrava; the town has mostly developed in last 180 years after industrialization; it used to be the most important mining town in the post war Poland. Over the years it became a cultural centre as the capital of the Silesian region.
We arrived in Katowice station on Sunday afternoon. Our hotel was the highest building in town and the view from 27th floor stretches for miles. I couldn’t decide if I preferred the look of Katowice from above or below. The city landscape with monumental mining shafts erected almost in the city centre with high tower blocks from each side of the town left from communist area of the town are overwhelming when viewed from the top of the tower hotel. When you are in the centre itself there are many opportunities to appreciate the dynamic town of Katowice. The central part of town formed in 19th century and in the present day is a mixture of 19th century eclectic buildings, examples of Art Nouveau mixed with modernist architecture and communist “giants” such as Spodek (concert hall) and Superjednostka (15 floors block of flats almost 2km in length, housing up to 30,000 people).
The Rynek – main square (which is not square at all) is under reconstruction at the moment. The streets are dug up and some of the traffic is stopped. During our stay the trams were still going through the partly blocked square, but it was obvious they will be redirected soon too. From the square there are some nice streets with cafes and restaurants such as Starowiejska or Mariacka street with neogothic Mariacki church at the end of the street. Mariacka street is a popular night destination for students who are a large part of population of Katowice in term time.
The main train station has been under reconstruction for last 2 years. The new design of Katowice Station created lots of controversy and protests from architects and local activists. The original station was built 1972 and it was the best example of the Brutalist form of Modernism in Poland. The building was designed by Wacław Kłyszewski, Jerzy Mokrzyński and Eugeniusz Wierzbicki. Using reinforced concrete they constructed 16 pillars of parabolic hyperbola shape popularly called “goblets” (kielichy); making a sculptural form that created the main station hall of 76 314 cubical meters. The station alongside Spodek became an iconic symbol of Katowice and its architecture. Unfortunately over the years the building became neglected and in 2008 there was a discussion about whether to renovate or rebuild the station. The Spanish Neinver firm won the design competition to rebuild the station, with a plan for an integrated shopping centre on the side of the station. To start with a decision was made to keep the original “goblets” form of the building but the developer using an excuse that the pillars were unsafe proposed the demolition of the vital part of the station (the developer wanted to build a road under the pillars to a new underground car park). Unfortunately despite the protests and efforts to list the building, the original pillars were pulled down, the last one fall in January 2011.The developer rebuilt all 16 pillars in the new structure. In my opinion it is a real shame that original pillars had to go and that the main form of the station is now going to be covered by new shopping centre.
I’m sad that I didn’t get a chance to record in the large hall of this iconic building. It made me think of projects that try to preserve the acoustics of the places, which will disappear with the time. Unfortunately I was too late.
I have decided to try to capture the sound of Katowice just as they are now with the sounds of a giant building site. It is interesting how much investment is going into this post-industrial city. There is a positive note in these sounds of construction sites; they give the city a feeling of growth and vibrancy, which is at once alarming with its jangling and crashing but also reassuring; sounding a positive note for the future growth and development of the city.
Next town to record on the route is Bielsko-Biała. I know the town quite well. Some of my family lives here and some years ago I used to go to art school in Bielsko. I visit this town on regular basis and I thought, that it would be much easier to find sites to record in a familiar location but I have realized that I work much better in places where I had to discover locations during my journey. I think I am more sensitive and responsive to the acoustics of unfamiliar surrounding than places that I know well.
Bielsko-Biała until 1951 was composed of two towns situated on opposite sides of Biała river: Bielsko which was part of Silesia and Biała part of the Małopolska region. Bielsko’s first settlement began in the 12th century and Biała started to develop in 16th Century. Today’s population of Bielsko- Biała is around 175,000 people. Before the World War II Bielsko was multinational; alongside Polish citizens there were German, Jewish and Czech nations, which is reflected in the architecture of the town. The textile industry brought wealth to the city in 19th Century. Bielsko was then part of Austro-Hungarian Empire. The factories owners strongly connected with Vienna looked to Viennese fashion for their inspiration commissioning new buildings in the town. Although Bielsko is certainly not as grand as Vienna it has always been known locally as “Little Vienna”. The town is surrounded by beautiful mountains of Beskidy Range it is also a popular tourist destination.
Bielsko was know also for production of Fiat 126 (1973-1993)
Visiting Bielsko reminded me of Simon Starling’s project Flaga (1972-2000)(2002). Starling drove 1290 km in a red Fiat from Turin (originaly where Fiat was produced), to Cieszyn (A Polish town on the border with Czech Republic) where he replaced the boot, bonnet, and doors for white parts produced at the Fiat Bielsko factory. Italian 1973 Fiat 126 with the white inserts resemble Polish flag. The work questions national identity, and the role of borders Europe and globalization. As a child and teenager many times I had a pleasure to be a passenger in Fiat 126 and I think it is a massive commitment to art to take 1290 km (12h at list) journey in this vehicle.
The hour for Bielsko-Biała on my clock is 10-11am. The train station in Bielsko is not as lively as some of the other stations I have recorded during my project. The station was built in 1890 (design by Karol Schulz) and it has been recently renovated. Bielsko was already connected in 1855 to Emperor Ferdinand Northern Railway – Kaiser Ferdinands-Nordbahn connecting the town with Ostrava, Brno and Vienna. The station main hall looks very attractive with ornate ceilings and walls. The high ceilings and stone floor give interesting reverb in the recording. On the wall there is an old-fashioned rotating timetable spinning every 10 minutes giving a great sound. I have noticed this board only in the Eastern part of Europe on my journey.
Following day between 10-11 am I wondered around the town recording the market, various squares and conversations on the streets. Bielsko has beautiful neo renaissance Town Hall with a clock tower. For the first time on my journey I have recorded a Town Hall bell, which was produced by an electronic signal. Bielsko-Biała along with Trieste and Venice on the journey hasn’t got a tram network in the city centre. The only transport through the city are the buses and taxis.
As the first orientation point we visited the Nove Radnice (new town hall) – largest town hall complex in Czech Republic, it was build in 1925-1930 and it is one of many examples of modernist architecture in town. In the central part of this monumental building is a 85m high viewing tower. The green copper tower gives you a great view of this postindustrial city. Nove Radnice have a clock on top of the tower with a bell which stride every quarter and an hour, which of course I have recorded between 11 and 12 of following day.
The other interesting example of modernism architecture from 1920s is Art House – town gallery on Jureckova street. This time it’s only two-story very simple and functional building. My attention was also captured by near by Palace Electra originally a base for miners’ union, also built in 1924. Palace Electra placed on the two corners of three streets has equally important façade from three sides of the building.
The town is surrounded by vast residential areas from 1950s such as the District of Poruba (a manifestation of the so-called socialist realism in architecture) consisting of 1960s and 70s housing blocks which grew with the modernization of the city in under communism.
I was very surprised how quiet the town was during the weekend. On Saturday late morning we visited the main square in Old town with Baroque Stare Radnice (old town hall). The square was almost empty; there were only few people passing by and a handful of kids playing in the water fountain. I have made some recordings of screaming kids running in and out of the water. Stare Radnice clock played interesting an interesting tune on an hour which I also managed to capture.
The Stare Radnice has been home to the Museum of Ostrava since 1931, but unfortunately it closes by 1pm on Saturdays, so by the time I finished recording, the museum was closed for the day. I sat down in museum café sneakily recording a snippets of conversation between an American researcher and an old miner. The conversation was through a translator, so there were Czech and English sentences passing my microphones.
Later on, when I realized, that I need a new set of AA batteries for my recorder I have discovered that all the shops in the old town are closed by 1 pm. After a conversation with a local man he directed me to new build large modern shopping mall were we found the rest of Ostrava’s population.
On Sunday morning I made my way to the Ostrava train station; a very interesting piece of 60s architecture. The station is constructed in such a way that it connects all city transport together; a large crescent canopy integral to the main station building which shelters the waiting commuters from rain or snow on tram, electric bus or taxi stops. This spot made a fantastic location to record sounds of all of this forms of transport. The reverb of inside of a large1960s station with frequent announcements made a very successful recording for the project. The rail connects Ostrava with Brno, Vienna, Bratislava, Katowice, Warsaw and even Moscow.
After few months of editing my previously collected material I am back on my journey recording four new locations to complete the 12 hours sound clock of “Krakow to Venice” project.
The first location to visit after the break is Ostrava in Moravian-Silesian part of the Czech Republic it is a city only 50 km from Polish border. We arrive in the third largest city of the Czech Republic on Friday afternoon which gave me enough time to have a quick look around the city centre for recording sites for the 11-12 am hour. Although the population of Ostrava is over 300 000, the town centre was very quite during our two day stay.
Ostrava covers over 214 km2 and is divided to several districts.
On the site of the old city centre is the industrial Vitkovice – district established in 1828 after the discovery of large layers of black coal. With the birth of industrial Vitkovice , the city developed rapidly, several coalmines and steel works were built. The steel works originally belonged to Viennese Salomon Mayer von Rothschild with direct connection to Vienna by Kaiseer-Ferdinands Nordbahn in 1847 which gave Ostrava the industrial boost.
After the World War II the steel works were privatised as VZKG by the Czechoslovak state as was the the rest of the industry in Eastern Europe.
The industry in Ostrave slowly declined after the 1989 Velvet revolution when major changes took place in the structure of the state and as a result the coal mining in Ostrava was stopped in 1994 and the steelworks of Vitkovice were finally closed in1998. The only plant which continues production is Arcelor Mittal (Nova Hut in it’s communist past)
Unfortunately Ostrava remains the most polluted city in EU with the highest concentration of PM10 dust. In Vitcovice there is a museum of mining but unfortunately we ran out of time to see it on this visit.
To be continued