Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sewers- fun for the whole family

Sewers. Generally a place we avoid, yes? Apologies to any intrepid jumpsuit-wearing reporters among our reader base, but climbing down a manhole to hang out with your buddies is just sixteen kinds of creepy. Besides, you don't need to go that far to find mutants in Poland- check the immediate vicinity of any 24-hour alcohol store.

Still, there are those to whom a sewer is just another world of exciting adventures. I'm not naming any names, but....okay, me. I like sewers. Why wouldn't I? They fulfil all of my criteria for fun, being:

1) a place where people usually don't go
2) a place that is rarely captured in photography
3) a place that has interesting architecture.

You may wonder about the third one, but have you ever considered what the underground world of your city looks like? It may surprise you.

The sewer system in Łódź, for instance, is nearly four thousand kilometres long (sic! and Lodz isn't that big a city) and was built according to designs by the renowned British engineer, William Heerlein Lindley (not to be confused with his father, William Lindley, although their engineer business was a family affair).

Łódź got its sewage system extremely late- construction began in 1925, and the first building was connected in 1927; no other European city of that size was, at that time, lacking a sewage system . It was especially important, since Łódź was an industrial city, and so it was not only human waste but chemical and industrial sewage that ran down the street gutters.

It was engineer Stefan Skrzywan who took up the challenge to bring Lindley's designs into being. He was a remarkable man, driven and enthusiastic. There is an anecdote which sums up his attitude quite well: upon moving in to the building designated as the Waterworks Office, he ordered a mosaic to be put down in the hallway, spelling out the word 'Smile'.

I guess when you're in sewage, you have to have a sense of humour!

The sewers of Łódź, much like any of the sewers built in the late 19th and early 20th century boast brickwork that is almost too beautiful to fill with the waste it was built to channel. I believe 'gothic' is the word that comes to mind, and perhaps not unjustly- the water reserve tanks at the edge of the city are so spectacular in their construction, they have been nicknamed 'The Cathedral'. I am still looking for the right strings to pull in order to access that wonder.

So, how does one get a look at that red brick underground network? For those who are disinclined to trespassing and can't abide revolting smells, the city of Łódź offers a fortunate alternative.

Lodz Sewer Museum
Not for the claustrophobic.

In 2008 it drained one of its old water retention loops underneath the Plac Wolności square and opened it up to the public.  Built in 1926, the reservoir is nicknamed the Dętka, or 'inner tube', on account of its circular shape. Several other sewers connect to it radially; when one of them needed to be flushed out, the Dętka was filled with 300 cubic metres of water, which was then released into the sewer in question.

Nowadays, sewers are cleaned using special mobile pressure machines, and that is why it was possible to drain and clean the Inner Tube, evict the sewage and rats, and open it up to the public.

Lodz Sewer Museum
The space is clean and well-lit, though a damp trickle remains on the floor.

They also rent out the space for photoshoots...ah, I can hear those steampunk cogs turning in your heads. ;) So, if you visit Łódź, don't miss this fabulous chance to see what's going on underneath your feet.

But what does a sewer look like when it's not cleaned out for tourist access?  Let me demonstrate. Here are some photos of an authentic Lodzian sewer, still in use today.

In the sewer
Speleothems which can hurt your head if you don't duck, silly.

Mushrooms grow on the walls- I couldn't tell you what kind, but they are all white for lack of light, and look rather like mutated Hattifatteners.

In the sewer

In the sewer

In some places, tree roots penetrate the sewer and form a delicate mesh on the ceiling.

Roots above our heads

 These are some of the oldest passages in the city, built in the mid 1920s. This one in particular is a storm drain, which connects to several waste sewers. Note the careful brickwork.

The junction

Sewers. So beautiful. Built with such passion.Who would have thought?

Meta info:

The Dętka Museum official Website

The William Heerlein Lindley Wikipedia entry:

The Stefan Skrzywan Wikipedia entry:

1 comment:

  1. Definitely don't eat those mushrooms. Well to be honest, one shouldn't eat any mushrooms in my opinion, but especially poop ones!