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10 October 1999, Sunday
1999 Photographs from Chonja and Szczecin | Poland Site Index | Home

After our late return from Berlin and dinner at Tomek's house, I did not return to the hotel until nearly 1:00am so I allowed myself a little more sleep on Sunday morning. At mid-morning, I spoke with Tomek. He arranged a meeting for me in Chojna with a priest who was overseeing the reconstruction of the town's cathedral. I was back on the train and arriving in Chonja by noon.

We met at the smaller town church and rectory, located about .5km from the main cathedral. Four unmarked buzzers were at the door. I pressed them all. After a few minutes, I heard footsteps echoing on the tile behind the heavy wood door. Father Antoni Chodakowski greeted me in Polish, French and German. Both of us spoke a little bit of German so we used it to communicate for the rest of the afternoon. He invited me inside the rectory and showed me a collection of photographs and articles on the cathedral. It was quite an impressive array of information on the history of the building; I hope he realizes how valuable it is. The collection included historic drawings and photographs of the town and images of the aftermath of the war. Most of the town was destroyed and only a few of the outer walls of the cathedral remained. The surrounding land was rebuilt with low-rise apartment blocks though very little work was done on the cathedral during the communist era. During special religious events, the ruins of the building served as an outdoor gathering place but otherwise sat neglected. The day communist troops left the town, the building's future changed. Father Chodakowski even had a photograph to document the event. As tanks and jeeps rolled away from town, the building was the site of another celebration. In 1994, a foundation was formed with Polish and German interests to fund the reconstruction of the cathedral.

All above historic and construction images reprinted from the archive of Father Antoni Chodakowski.

Physically, all of the existing walls were shored and stabilized. The design for the reconstruction replaces the destroyed columns around the apse and one side of the main aisle with concrete columns clad in brick masonry. Currently, only the concrete columns are in place. This construction phasing allows installation of the steel roof framing and clay tile roof cladding. When I first saw the concrete, I thought they would be left exposed, a progressive and very bold design. After visiting the interiors, I could see the first few meters of cladding being installed around the concrete and understood that the concrete would be encased in brick masonry. It also explained why the concrete cross members did not align with any architectural feature of the building; they are not meant to be seen.

The topmost portions of the belfry are also reinforced with concrete and I saw a videotape documenting the upper areas of the tower. Constructed solely of brick masonry, severe cracks developed over time and wartime damage threatened to collapse the structure. An early 20th century installation of reinforced concrete through the center of the tower is insufficiently designed for the present-day structural needs and is failing. Since this reinforcing filled much of the interior of the tower, the only remaining location for reinforcement is on the exterior. Criss-crossing reinforced concrete bands wrap the tower and bind its bricks together. Aesthetically, the reinforcing is a unique pattern and the bands are large enough to be seen for several kilometers around the cathedral. Like the interior concrete columns, the tower's concrete reinforcing system will be covered with another exterior cladding material, a metal roofing type yet to be determined.

By the time my walk-through and discussion with Father Chodakowski had ended, I just missed the early afternoon train returning to Szczecin and had a few hours to wait for the next train. Fortunately, the rain paused during my stopover and I was able to make a few non-hazy photographs. I wandered through the town and before I knew it, I was in the countryside. Cows mooed. A pair of dogs ran the fence line and barked as I passed. I walked back to the train station and when I finally returned to Szczecin, the sun was about to set and the rain had started again. It was my last night in the city so making photographs of the Podzamcze reconstruction was now or never. I'd have to do the best I could in the current wet conditions.

For the evening, Witold Karwowski had arranged a meeting for me at the offices of Afix. It is a small urban planning office which is developing master plans for several smaller cities throughout the country. Mr. Wolender accompanied me to act as a translator; we arrived around 8:30pm. The designers first showed me a series of CD-ROMs documenting the urban elements of the city Kolobrzeg. Absolutely everything was indicated on this disc: the history of the city's development, the location of natural resources, industrial sites, docks, roadways, utility services, wetlands, community services, hospitals, military bases, zoning... you name it and it was documented. The information on the disc was collected and developed by the city during the past several years for future planning efforts. The interface was very good and made the information readily available and useful. I wondered why there was nothing like this for New York City.

The office uses these kinds of studies as a basis for their own research and design work. Apparently, a law was recently passed in Poland requiring a city master plan to be in place before any major new development can begin. As one of the few offices in the country with the capacity and ability to develop these plans, Afix is flooded with work. It's quite impressive for a practice which was established in 1992. They do not even have to market themselves or services, city governments come to them.

For my last night in Szczecin, Mr. Wolender and I went for a drink at a bar near the center of the city. It was nearly midnight when I returned to the hotel. I packed my bags and caught a few hours sleep before the 5:00am train to Gdansk.


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