Postcards from home

You may or may not know this, but the inhabitants of my adopted city of Poznań have had a lot to put up with recently. Our vision of the city has become increasingly blighted in recent years by never-ending roadworks and renovation projects. But promises made by the local authorities that they will soon be finished are rarely reflected in reality

News that someone has fallen down a manhole in the dark (even when sober) on ul. Św. Marcin or got stuck in the mud on the Old Town Square no longer makes it to the front pages and local news portals don’t even bother any more to highlight such stories as ‘breaking news’. After all, only survivalists – or tourists – now dare to go for an evening walk without a torch. Pubs are closing down because there’s simply no way of getting to them. Meanwhile, the photos on postcards enticing people to come and visit the city have been skilfully photoshopped. Believe me, as the locals say, it’s become a bit of a dump around here.

It should therefore come as no surprise that an internet campaign has been launched in protest at the situation. The Rozkopane campaign started last year with postcards featuring the landmarks of the city, such as its old townhouses and the Okrąglak building but surrounded by cranes and piles of sand and even flying saucers. The spoof promotional campaign went viral across local social media, where influencers and others would then publish their own postcards of once open streets that had been ploughed up. Rozkopane is also a campaign for book lovers, since customised bookmarks bearing its logo have appeared in local bookstores, where entry tickets are also handed out allowing the public to take part in a competition in which you can publish photos of yourself reading in your favourite dug-up or scaffolded city location.

The name Rozkopane, which actually means ‘dug up’, is rather similar to that of Poland’s so-called winter capital, Zakopane – and just like that particular mountain resort, we have our own famous lake. But I’m not now going to moan about the mess that’s been made of Poznań’s Lake Malta – as far as I know, there’s nothing wrong going on there. It hasn’t dried up or become overgrown with reeds. The area around it still attracts walkers and people who are into certain sports. However, just across the street, its namesake, Galeria Malta, which is connected to the lake by a unique footbridge, has become a sad place. I don’t visit the mall too often, either for business or pleasure, but a few months ago, prompted by hunger and necessity, I did actually go there, only to encounter motionless rotating doors. The centre was shrouded by a deathly silence, the lights were off, and the stores were empty. It felt like I’d wandered into the zombie-apocalypse TV serial ‘The Last of Us’. Then I decided to go upstairs. A few years ago, it had a large, bustling food court, but nowadays all you can eat there is popcorn from the cinema, which is just about still operating. Galeria Malta’s younger sibling, Posnania, which opened a few hundred metres away in 2016, has probably contributed to this situation. And even though the owner of Galeria Malta has been granted permission to demolish it, the permit has been temporarily withdrawn. If it is eventually knocked down, this would be an unprecedented event – and not just for Poznań. The building isn’t even eighteen years old. I have no sentimental attachments to it, however. It looks little different from any other shopping centre of its kind and generation, with a rather uninspiring frontage from earlier this century; but in environmental terms, the demolition of such a large building only a few years after its construction would be a disaster on many levels.

I have no fondness for large shopping centres, but I do towards my city – so I hope we will manage to survive this seemingly eternal period of renovations. At least the younger generation in Poznań will know what a bulldozer or an excavator actually look like, rather than just knowing them from ‘Bob the Builder’.

So, come and visit me in Poznań – but don’t forget to bring a torch.