|part six - Miechowice, epilogue|
In Bytom, there was once a castle, as well as city halls and palaces
Ending the journey through Bytom routes, I have to mention Winckler Palace from the beginning of 19th century, standing in Miechowice. Those are small remains of a big palace complex, a unique object in Upper-Silesian scale for sure. In ruin for years, you could think that it is long forgotten. This is the right moment to say “thank you” to the Soviet Red Army which went far towards its destruction. Probably the palace was a real threat to them... Former Polish authorities (the Comunists) also took infamous part in this tragedy. The historic monument is located in a pretty place, inside a park, and it would be perfect for a fashionable restaurant or something else of that sort; or maybe more ambitious investement. For the time being, it is incompletely walled in with concrete fence and that's that. What is interesting, a lot of Bytom residents do not even know about its existence.
Not much has left from old Miechowice as well as from Miechowice Coal Mine which still has a very important place in the borough residents' hearts. In such circumstances it seems that tremendously important for them and for us are ruins of Szyb Zachodni (Western Shaft) from that mine, located close to the border with city of Zabrze. There are two major buildings inside the woods creating the complex of the shaft. One of them, a highly devastated building, where the shaft actually existed presents no spectacular block, but the nearby engine room constructed of bricks in old industrial style, resembling earlier the Bobrek one, bowls one over! Even looking at grown over by bushes obnoxious concrete fence and crushed windows I cannot help but agree with other entusiasts of former industrial architecture that special care has to be taken of those kind of objects because times of beautiful and functional constructing are already gone. The Western Shaft is a period piece.
Near the chapel at Gora Gryca (Gryca Hill), far away from pedestrians’ eyes, an interesting structure – remains of grocery warehouse composed into a hill - is located. The sides and the top of concrete object, similiar to bunker at the first sight, are covered with ground, grass and trees. It is unsecured so one can enter inside where among many pillars there is nothing but crushed glass, rubble and waists. Right now people made a dumping ground out of it. It would be good to brick the entrance up so that no one would get hurt.
There is no easy way for Bytom to rebirth
Bytom has the potential, but it is not the potential that makes a city become beautiful. An astronomical – as for Polish conditions – amount of money is needed to renovate all historic houses, and let us be realistic, no matter which political party will be the ruling the city, it cannot gain such funds in one or even five years. One who demands that Bytom must be restored to the times of brilliance right away is out of mind, seriously. We can only envy the German town of Goerlitz the rich philanthropist who anonymously donates big amounts of money to renew the town every year. What a shame that our city is not attracted by such people. Brick tenement houses is one side of Bytom coin, the other are former industrial areas after coal mines and steelworks. Revitalisation problem of those comes back like a boomerang. Local government complains about lack of funds. City of Bytom – by some sources which seem to be rather objective – is the leader in using European Union funds, but as you can read in local, Silesian media  millions of euro from EU grants are still not taken and could be lost for good, which would be a huge scandal and a shame for the region and Bytom itself. In case we receive the grant, European Union covers 85% of the investement, the remaining amount is to be paid out of applicant pocket. Maybe it is worth putting some pressure on the government to do something in that matter?!
Every city provides plans of its development and rehabilitation if it is needed. Over the years City Hall of Bytom have published some interesting documents in that matter. Its body in some parts is similar. The first large document is 'Strategy of development for the city of Bytom for the years 2001 – 2015'. The next one is 'Rehabilitation and development plan for downtown (ReRoS)', then 'Social and economical revitalisation plan for specified municipal and industrial areas of Bytom for years 2001 – 2015'. I recommend you read what goals they assumed for these periods. In 2007 'Local programme of rehabilitation of Bytom for the years 2007 – 2020' was approved. An important note about it: the content about saving historical municipal area did not change a lot but implementation time increased by five years. In May 2009 authorities presented 'Strategy of development for city of Bytom for the years 2009 – 2020'. In my opinion, it would be good to use earlier plans of the same matter. We will not move forward if every new authorities create the same plan over and over again from scratch, increasing implementation time.
There are a lot of plans and one can get lost in its large content consisting of many pages. It is important to read the documents and to remember what was written there for the future. After some period of time, one should get back to those opened plans and strategies and check if Bytom changed as it was written there. Those are official documents which should not be part of election battle. It should not be only a matter of who will promise more unreal things. Bytomians have to demand effects, not promises from the City Hall leadership. It would be nice for the authors of those plans to inform the residents how realistic implementation of the specific points is, because sometimes it seems to be a pure fiction. For instance, renovations of historical buildings in Bobrek, which was promised in 2001. It is 2009 now and what has changed for the better there over those eight years?
There is no simple way for Bytom to get up from its knees and there is no use talking over and over again about the fact how bad the City Hall was earlier and how much anti-activism it has presented (and I am not talking here about present authorities because their tenure is still running). I am not a magician and I do not have a happy medium to solve Bytom's problems. You have to remember that there are people whose job is to care about different types of solutions for the city. As a Bytom resident I would like the city to use its potential rather than taking notice of its presence. Bytom can be an interesting tourist destination, as it could be in the case of German Ruhr Area or our direct neighbours – Zabrze and Tarnowskie Gory. It is obvious what kind of tourism I have in mind.
What is next?
Naturally, renewed fasades of old brick houses in the city centre would be nice to see for people visiting Bytom, but the real attraction could be revitalised historic working-class housing estates of Kolonia Zgorzelec and Bobrek Steelworks. The aforementioned old traction maintenance depots in Brzezinska Street and in Karb as a railway technique museums might also be something special for tourists. It was Bytom that had the biggest number of coal mines per one city. Why not use that fact and find a coal or mining museum? Where would this kind of institution have a better raison d'être? Who, if not the people of Bytom, can have a better knowledge and experience connected to coal extraction? Maybe it would be good to pay some attention to a similar matter – steel works? What is more important, the investments listed above would allow the city to save the memory of slowly disappearing legacy of Bytom, which a lot of city residents are still identifying with. Those are strong assets and it would be a shame to squander them.
There are facts which - from objective point of view – are uncontested, and what makes a difference among people is their interpretation. Seeing devastated brick houses of Bytom downtown, one can say that those are beautiful, very precious buildings from architectural point of view, but neglected over the years; another one can say that they are ugly because of shabby and dirty fasades and generally ruined as a whole; and they both would be right. However, the sad fact remains the same: those houses are in a very poor condition and no matter how beautiful and valuable they are, soon they can disappear from Bytom landscape forever and there will be nothing to show off. It would not be fair on my side not to notice another fact from the present life of the city, and this is an increasing number of simultaneous repairs of old historic houses (not getting too deep into matters of ownership) which causes positive surprise. Let us hope that a trend of this kind of positive activity will be on the increase in years to come and not only will the easiest renovations be done but mainly those of the most precious buildings.
Getting close to the end of my in-depth article I have to stress an important fact. In my opinion, Bytomians' help is needed so that Bytom can catch up with more attractive cities in Poland and Europe. Maybe the term “social activity” causes mixed feelings in our hearts because of the past era in which it was used the most, but it is an important thing. I think that it is very important for the city authorities to maximize the free of charge potential of its residents – their willingness, keenness and their readiness to sacrifice their time. There are many ways for us to help (Upper Silesian Narrow-Gauge Railways for example). Another one could be created. Bytom authorities should put the best of effort to coordinate such projects. For instance, a banner with information how to help the city could be put up in a visible place on the city website; it would include addresses and telephones of subjects that would be grateful for such volunteer help. Periodical cleaning of the city could be under the patronage of the city. Perhaps, photographic documentation of such activities presented on the website section would be a stimulant for others. Maybe the City Hall representatives who have promised to 'exercise councilman duties in respectable and honest way having the common good of the city and the residents on their mind' could take part in such programmes, being a good example for others? If there is no money, let us use what we have for free!
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