BYTOM Uncut
part two - Downtown

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Downtown, Pilsudskiego Street


Downtown, Pilsudskiego Street


Downtown, Pilsudskiego Street


Downtown, Pilsudskiego Street


Downtown, Pilsudskiego Street


Downtown, Kwietniewskiego Street


Downtown, Kwietniewskiego Street


Downtown, Kwietniewskiego Street


Downtown, Kwietniewskiego Street


Downtown, Kwietniewskiego Street

author: Piotr Studzinski
first published: 2nd September 2009
last modified (updated): 28th November 2009
photographs taken between 10th May 2009 and 21st January 2010
translation: Radoslaw Obuchowski, Piotr Studzinski

Certainly, mining damages have not helped the city, very often being more effective in destruction than shellfire. Activity of poorer part of Bytom society, stealing everything they could, mainly metal and wooden elements from abandoned buildings as well as from those still inhabited but highly devastated, also have not helped at all, weakening mercilessly their construction. The 1990s and following years is without doubt the time of prosperity for scrap-iron thieves. Hold on, maybe there is no poverty in this city?

There was a time in the past when Bytom residents did not know what to do with their money, today many citizens – City Hall included - have substantial problems getting it. 

You can see it with an unaided eye, walking through main streets of Downtown. Situation is much worse in the backyards. Most of the people never walk up there for fear or lack of interest. During my journey I also visited those places. I focused on the most extreme examples because if I had wanted to take a closer look on every old house in the city, I would not have been able to finish this project alone. It is very easy to understand my point of view, the only thing you have to do is to visit other areas than those mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Walking through one of the main arteries of Bytom, Marshal Pilsudski Street or running nearby Kwietniewski Street, you can have an impression that warfare in that area did not end in 1945 but at least 50 years later. The worst part is a section running from Chrobrego Street to crossroads with Strzelcow Bytomskich Street. I am not talking about backyards here, but about fasades of presently dead day houses. Having visited Bosna and Herzegovina twice, I have seen with my own eyes what a city in a relatively poor country - which was under heavy gunfire of the enemy not longer than 16 years ago - looks like today. Let me take Mostar for example; one of the most bombed and destroyed towns during Balkan War. Close to the renovated Old Town runs Marshal (what a coincidence) Tito Street where you can see a few bombed buildings. Comparing built-up area on both Marshal Tito and Marshal Pilsudski streets, you can see a lot of similarities, which is not something the city of Bytom can be proud of. This is sad because during World War II Bytom has not suffered as much as some Polish cities.

Kwietniewski Street should be renamed to 'Sad Street' because sadness comes to one's heart, seeing its remains. Out of many high reliefs, situated above the windows of a formerly pretty three-storeyed red brick tenement house, only one survived. The rest, in more or less secret way, has disappeared. A few years ago an article about the topic was published in the local media where we can find some information about the 'mystery'. 'Iron-scrap thieves from Bytom will steal door adornments for you, knock off small fasade reliefs and, as an additional gift, give you a statuette of old gravestone angel.'[5] Furthermore, their offer also includes balcony balustrades, metal rails or stained glass windows. They will also take the opportunity to take out radiators and sanitation pipes since scrap-yard pays them for such items a little money. A good observer will pick out very quickly that the roof is also slowly disappearing from the aforementioned building, as well as wall parts over at the backyard, but in this case it is rather cased by gravity which got only helped by the 'demolition specialists'.

On seeing the whole unfinished quarter between Kwietniewski and Weber Street, one can get a wrong impression to think that the area is developing. No. This ground died a few years ago. Allegedly, a multi-storey car park is to be built – I guess the development plan of the most attractive plot, according to the earlier declarations, was not supposed to look like this.

Extracting coal from protective pillar led to many bulding catastrophes

The aforementioned streets are not the only ones in the city centre that are screaming for help. We come across unpleasant views in gates, but not only on Piekarska, Powstancow Warszawskich (in a section running from Strzelcow Bytomskich), Walowa, Katowicka, Chorzowska, Jagiellonska, Karola Miarki, Korfantego, Zeromskiego or Smolenia Streets. There are a lot of shabby, dirty, dead brick-walled houses with bricked-up and boarded-up windows, where the only living creatures are pigeons that seem not to care about anything at all. On their fasades, a lot of those tenement houses have wonderful adornments, which makes it even more painful to see what condition they are in. What I enjoy the most from the ornaments is a theme on the front side of one of the buildings in Powstancow Warszawskich Street, near the bus station, showing an old time coal mine scene with miners working hard, extracting black stone. Beautiful!

Talking about mining industry, it has to be mentioned that there was a time when mining terrains were located under 83% of Bytom area. [2] Due to authorities decision allowing mines to extract coal from protective pilars (a coal bed which must not be extracted because of high risk of damages to the above build-up area) under the city led to many building catastrophes. The biggest one took place on 4th July 1982. 'Not only did plasters come down, but also bricks and sometimes even entire walls.' 'Almost 600 buildings suffered from this, most of them located on Batorego, Wyczolkowskiego and Powstancow Warszawskich Streets.' 'It was the first time in history that the term natural disaster had been used in Bytom'.[11] During 1981 – 1982 period 1802 buildings have been damaged due to mining activities. Looking from a wider perspective, from 1970 to 1982, 93 houses were demolished.

Gaps forming between houses of the above-mentioned parts of Bytom were also created during following periods. 'Within five years (starting from 1994) 150 houses were razed (...) The action included very representative places such as Kwietniewskiego, Pilsudskiego, Piekarska and Powstancow Warszawskich Streets (...) It is no wonder that visitors coming to Bytom have an impression that warfare zone or other disaster swept through the city since empty areas are within key routes.' [11] I think that numbers presented in the last two paragraphs are self-explanatory and appeal to readers' imagination.

It is good to look down on the pavement since there is a threat of walking into dog’s mess, which is not acceptable for downtown area. Remains of demolished houses - like one in Piekarska Street - creating pretty big backyards; toolsheds falling down (colloquially called pigsties), piles of rubbles, different sort of garbage in connection with existing “residential substance” condition makes it a perfect scenario for a movie set during World War II. It can be observed even more clearly inside one of the Korfantego Street backyards, where you can see a damaged wall full of marks that resemble gunfire holes. Similar view can also be seen on Piekarska and Zamenhoffa Streets. Anyway, it is not a reason to be happy for in 2009 because – just to remind everybody – the war ended 64 years ago!

It is a stone-throw from Rynek!

The image of Walowa Street from crossroads with Rostka Street to Klasztorny Square is – you can safely say – shocking. For Christ's sake, it is only a stone-throw from Rynek (the main city square)! The view from the street speaks for itself: on both ends of the section, there are dying two interesting brick houses with little trees growing out of their roofs already... Between them, a gap and a pile of rubble, which you can see more clearly coming into former backyard via green gate of two-storeyed, partly abandoned, building. You enter on your own responsibility!

Walowa and Kwietniewski Street, as well as other streets in the Rynek neighbourhood, form protected historic medieval urban configuration which includes: oval built-up plan, rectangular marketplace (Rynek) and chessboard-like street structure. Within the area you can find many examples of unique Bytom secession architecture style and more. It is fantastic that this precious configuration has survived until this day, but what is the use if its essence is in danger of collapsing? Even in direct Rynek neighbourhood, on the corner of Podgorna Street and Grunwaldzki Square in such an important and representative place, a beautiful house with elegant little towers, whose facade was put on postcards and promotional leaflets, is having a hard time now. Ground floor walled-up, a crooked window frame of the abandoned apartment on the first floor, clearly visible sinister fissures of upper floors together with shabby elevation of oppostie building make really bad impression for passers-by. Between Kosciuszki Square and Rynek runs the narrowest street in the city – Zaulek. It could be a magnetic place, perfect for walkabouts but unfortunately, there is no pass and the houses are in poor condition. There are no city walls and its little remains are not properly exposed. Their restoration – as it was done in some other places of the planet or even in Poland – can be put in cathegories of science-fiction.

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