Katowice is a city that built itself on coal, turning the 18th-century village into an industrial powerhouse. Now it´s in the middle of another transformation: developing a cleaner, greener, more sustainable way of living and working. In this edition of Spotlight, we look at how this Polish city has turned coal mines into culture mines and new places to do business.
Silesian Museum – art and history
The centrepiece of this urban make-over is the Silesian Museum, built in a coal mine. Along with underground performances and a meeting space, the main hall is two football fields long, 14 metres deep. There are exhibitions about the region’s history, and on Polish art, including works by coal miners such as Jan Nowak.
Nowak said, “It’s amazing. I used to work here, with a shovel, with a hammer, and so on. And now my works are here in this museum, in this mine (Kopalny).”
For him, art was therapy for a tough, sometimes deadly job. “It was kind of like turning myself off from the stress, from work. It’s important that it doesn’t disappear, that it’s not forgotten. But something remains after my colleagues and after me.”
About a quarter-million people visit the museum annually – a powerful message for the Silesian Museum Director Alicja Knast, “This site has a lot of work memories, life memories, and we are trying not only to encapsulate them in our programming, but we try to somehow be very close to those whose lives were related to that particular site.”
Also giving new life to a former coal mine is the Bytom Theatre, inside the building that housed the mine’s chapel and offices. The stage used to be the altar, to celebrate, but also to mourn miners who perished.
Anna Piotrowska, Director, Bytom Theatre ENERGY said, “The energy is very important, because our interest is to build the physicality and to tell the stories through the physicality, and the conscious of the body. So to compare the work, which was done underground is very important and inspiring.”
Preserving the social fabric, while reaching out to new generations, is the century-old Nikiszowiec district, built next to a mine. Henryk Mercik, Curator of Monuments, Chorzow said that part of the effort is to avoid erasing the past, and instead, make it part of the future.
“These older people who were in this mine, who were associated with this mine, they still live here, but now it’s a very trendy place, very fashionable. You can meet not only tour groups but most importantly new inhabitants, those who want to live here, young people,” added Mercik.
Redevelopment – Euro Centre
It also makes good business sense to redevelop coal mining areas, retraining an already skilled workforce and using new tech, like Euro Centre, powered by renewable energy, near the still-operating Wieszowiec mine.
Patryk Białas, Director of Innovation, Euro-Centrum said, “We provide testing for small and medium-sized enterprises, in the field of energy efficiency, in buildings and efficiency of renewables, solar technologies, smart grid tests.”
Euronews traveled to the capital of Warsaw to speak with the Environment Ministry about Katowice, and how it can serve as a model for other cities. Katowice hosted climate talks last year and will host the UN’s World Urban Forum in 2022.
Michal Kurtyka, Secretary of State, Environment Ministry said, “Right now there are more people employed in this region in the automotive sector than in the mining sector. There are new services, there are start-ups. People are betting on research on development, on nano-technologies. What is symbolic also is that in the region of the ancient mine, right now we have a cultural zone. So we have a congress centre, we have an opera, and we also have a museum which is describing the history of this region.”
Tech and culture – two driving forces behind the rebirth of Katowice.