This Old Tree with Doug Still
Europe’s Tree of the Year: The Fabrykant Oak (Transcript)
Season 2, Episode 1
December 13, 2023
[Chopin piano music]
Hello, tree lovers. I'd like to draw your attention today to a special oak tree in Poland, a Quercus robur, which we call English oak here in the United States. It was named “The European Tree of the Year” for 2023, and it resides in the city of Łódź, which I learned is correctly pronounced “Wudch” in Polish. To win, it received over 45,000 votes from people all across Europe, more than the second and third place trees combined. That is mind blowing to me, that many people tuned in and were inspired to vote for a tree. I've got one of the contest coordinators here to tell us how it all works.
I also spoke to the entrepreneurial young man who nominated the oak tree, as well as the leader of Klub Gaja, the nonprofit that helped promote its cause. Lastly, the director of the environmental management division from Łódź describes how the people of the city identify with their old arboreal denizen. But clearly, it doesn't stop there, as its story captured the hearts of people across Poland and frankly, around the world. I try to find out why.
Coming up, The Fabrykant Oak. I'm Doug Still, and this is This Old Tree.
[This Old Tree theme]
Doug Still: [01:59]
“Fabrykant” in Polish means manufacturer or factory owner. In fact, the Fabrykant Oak is adjacent to a large old mill and two historic villas owned by the factory's owners that now belong to the Łódź University of Technology. So, you can bet we are going to get into some history. But first, a description so you can picture it.
The tree is the centerpiece of a small park accessible by the public, and it is magnificent. One guess is that it is 160 years old, or even older, but its age is uncertain. It stands 22 meters or 72 feet high, 179 cm or 57 inches in diameter, with a spread of 30 meters or 98 feet at its widest point. The open-grown oak tree appears to have never been pruned, except probably for dead branches, allowing its lowest limbs to spread far, wide and strong. In fact, one low branch in particular is a showstopper with a curvy S shape, described as sigmoid. It extends horizontally about 72ft across the lawn, ending with an upturn over the pedestrian path, making people duck. It's as if the tree is reaching for human contact, tapping you on the shoulder to say, “Hey, notice me over here.”
[03:24] People come from all over to visit for its beauty alone especially in the spring when the cameras come out to capture the tree surrounded by a carpet of blue Siberian squill blooms. Everyone I talk to mentions that. No question, the Fabrykant Oak is stunning. Is that why it received so many votes?
[03:45] To get a better understanding of what the contest actually is, I spoke to Adam Golub, the coordinator of the European Tree of the Year and all of its public relations. He works for a nonprofit called the Environmental Partnership Foundation, which is based in the Czech Republic and sponsors the competition. Adam actually lives in Brussels, where he represents the organization at the EU level. He was kind enough to talk to me.
[04:12] Hi, Adam. Welcome to This Old Tree.
Adam Golub: [04:15]
Hey, thank you for having me.
Doug Still: [04:17]
To start off, what is the Environmental Partnership Association and what is its mission?
Adam Golub: [04:22]
So, the Environmental Partnership Association is a consortium of several like-minded environmental foundations or organizations. They were set up in the 90’s with the help of German Marshall Funds and the CS Mott Foundation and several other philanthropic foundations from the United States. And their mission, their individual mission of all these different national foundations and organizations is, among other things, education in the broader sense of the word. In the environmental sphere, there's a lot of emphasis on participation of the public in the decision-making processes, again as they relate to the public space or the environment, together form this association, which then in turn is responsible for European Tree of the Year. But I'm sure we'll be getting to that soon.
Doug Still: [05:22]
Yeah. How did the European Tree of the Year contest come about?
Adam Golub: [05:26]
Well, the roots of the European Tree of the Year reach all the way to a city called Brno in the Czech Republic, in Moravia, Eastern Czech Republic. Where in the early 2000’s people working in the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation, the Czech mutation of these organizations had the idea to revive these local traditions that had to do with decorating and celebrating trees and to give it a bit of a more contemporary spin. So, in 2002, they came up with this essentially Czech Tree of the Year competition and started running it and have been running it since.
Doug Still: [06:12]
Sure. So, that's been going on for 23 years or 22 years.
Adam Golub: [06:17]
Exactly. And then as it started getting momentum in 2011, the first European level contest took place, which basically treats the national rounds, which have spread to 16, perhaps even this year, 17 countries, it treats these national contests as national rounds that select the participant trees for the pan-European. I say pan-European, the caveat being that no country is per se excluded, but it also depends on whether the country has an organization that participates.
Doug Still: [07:04]
So, each country needs to have their own Tree of the Year Contest first, and then the winner of that branches off into the European Tree of the Year Contest. Can more than one tree be submitted at one time? Or it's just the one tree?
Adam Golub: [07:20]
No, they only submit one tree at a time.
Doug Still: [07:23]
I see. So, this is a competition for trees with an important story. It's not just about a tree's size or beauty. It's about-- Well, what are the criteria that people vote on?
Adam Golub: [07:36]
You said it. If I were to really simplify it, it's about the tree with the strongest story. Now, these stories contain elements of the relationship of the communities that live in their vicinity to the environment, to nature. The stories have to also underpin some relationship within the communities themselves, or they don't have to, but they usually do. That is what is being appreciated.
Doug Still: [08:08]
So, it's about trees, people, and culture.
Adam Golub: [08:11]
Exactly. And the relationship between them.
Doug Still: [08:15]
How do the finalists get promoted and how do people vote? So, this is a voting competition?
Adam Golub: [08:22]
Yes. The organizations that nominate the trees that had organized their national rounds are also responsible for the promotion. They can do that in whatever way they wish. Social media is very popular. And there is of course also the promotion by the Environmental Partnership Association and the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation, which more generally promotes the contest as a whole and always mentions all the different trees that compete, for the lack of a better word.
Doug Still: [08:56]
Right. So, there's an online-- There's a website, I bet.
Adam Golub: [08:59]
treeoftheyear.org is the website for anyone who'd be interested. That's the website of the European level of the contest. And then, you vote using your email. It's been always the case that everyone was supposed to vote for two different trees. So, you have the finalists from all the different European countries. And in order to avoid everyone just giving it to their tree, we included this rule that you need to choose two trees.
Doug Still: [09:30]
And what happens when they win? Is there a celebration?
Adam Golub: [09:33]
There is an embargo on the results for a while, right until the end of March. The final phase of the voting is secret as well so that no one knows who's the winner. And then, end of March or second half of March, there is a ceremony, an award ceremony, which usually takes place in the building of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Doug Still: [09:57]
I see. And that's where you are?
Adam Golub: [09:59]
And that's where I come into it. That's when it becomes my responsibility to make sure that we have the relevant members of the parliament on board, that we have the representatives of the European Commission on board, ministers.
Doug Still: [10:15]
That's wonderful. I bet there are great photos of these celebrations.
Adam Golub: [10:19]
Indeed. And what's even more important for me about them is that it's these members of the local communities that reach out and nominate their trees to the national contest that are then invited to the European Parliament and they get to meet all these stakeholders, all these decision makers or co-decision makers, and it creates rather wonderful moments and opportunities for people who would not normally meet to come together and share their appreciation of trees and nature.
Doug Still: [10:55]
Yeah, it's an opportunity for advocacy.
Adam Golub: [10:57]
Absolutely, absolutely. That is what it is. And it's one of the main aims of the award ceremony itself to create such space.
Doug Still: [11:08]
What is special about the Fabrykant Oak?
Adam Golub: [11:11]
For me, an interesting thing about the Oak Fabrykant is that it does not immediately fit the usual tree of the year profile. If you look at the different contenders, you see that more often, you find them in rural areas or sometimes outright in the wilderness. The link between them and the local community is a looser one. It's not something that you see every day necessarily, or it's not an object, the tree that you would come into physical contact with so often. The tree in Łódź is a tree in the middle of the city and the community is the whole city, one of the biggest cities in Poland, by the way, and quite a breathtaking one, especially if you know its history. And it's a city that has been through ups and downs. At some point, it would have industries compared to which some of the most memorable industrial revolution cities in the UK, would be considered local towns.
Doug Still: [12:32]
And it was, in fact, on the property of a factory.
Adam Golub: [12:37]
Exactly. This magnificent little bit of nature is part of this vibrant industrial, post-industrial mosaic that stretches for me this imagination on behalf of our Polish colleagues, what the European tree can also be about in terms of the relationship of the community and nature, by placing it outright in the most urban context you can imagine. And I think it's beautiful because you can see that even there, it still fits, and even there the story is still strong. And even there, it still makes the point.
Doug Still: [13:16]
Why do you think this tree has special meaning to the people of Poland?
Adam Golub: [13:20]
I think that this tree has a special meaning to the people of Łódź. That is an important part of it. It is understandable. As I said, it's a tree that is a symbol of a city with a rich history, one that has gone through ups and downs. It connects to a strong sense of identity.
Doug Still: [13:44]
So, the Fabrykant Oak symbolizes a rich urban history, one with many ups and downs. After my chat with Adam though, I of course wondered, what is the history of Łódź and what's the tree's story? When I started to do some research, I discovered something curious. Websites and articles about the new European Tree of the Year were very celebratory, but specifics about its actual history were not to be found. Whose tree was this? What was the factory next door? What took place here?
Searching more, I did find that the tree is essentially sandwiched between two historic villas built around the turn of the 20th century and that still stand today as part of the park. They were owned by the Richter brothers, Joseph and Reinhold. They were factory owners and their grandparents came from Česká Lípa in the northern part of the Czech Republic, near the border with Germany, essentially Bohemia. The family built and managed several factories in Łódź, including the one near the tree, which was part of their garden. Beyond that, very little information was to be found about who Joseph and Reinhold were.
I thought I'd ask Przemek Bartos, the person who originally submitted the tree as a candidate for Poland Tree of the Year. I also just wanted to meet him and find out what inspired him to do so. Major respect is due for his bravery to be interviewed in English, although it was tough to include our whole conversation.
Przemek, welcome to the show.
Przemek Bartos: [15:13]
Doug Still: [15:15]
I'm so glad you could join me today to talk about Oak Fabrykant.
Przemek Bartos: [15:19]
First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to this conversation. So, it's a great honor for me, but it's also a little stressful situation because all my activities in Poland, I create in Polish language and my English language is still developing, but I try to be better.
Doug Still: [15:49]
Well, you're doing just fine. It sounds great. And sorry, I don't know Polish.
Przemek Bartos: [15:53]
It's no problem. [laughs]
Doug Still: [15:56]
Could you introduce yourself and what you do?
Przemek Bartos: [16:00]
Yes, of course. I am author and creator of a fan page and blog, Przyroda dla Sosnowca. In English, “Nature for Sosnowiec.” Sosnowiec is a place in Poland in the south.
Doug Still: [16:14]
In case you didn't catch that, Przemek is from a city south of Łódź called Sosnowiec and his fan page is called “Nature for Sosnowiec.” I'll include a link in the show notes. It translates to English.
Yes. You submitted the tree.
Przemek Bartos: [16:30]
Yes, yes, of course.
Doug Still: [16:31]
In fact, this was the fourth tree he has submitted for the Poland Tree of the Year Contest and he is becoming a self-made expert on the country's historic trees.
Przemek Bartos: [16:42]
I am also an ecological educator and during bird counting, I am a guide.
Doug Still: [16:51]
Oh, you lead bird-counting tours?
Przemek Bartos: [16:54] Yes, yes.
Doug Still: [16:55]
And do you also lead tours in Łódź?
Przemek Bartos: [16:59]
No, no. The Łódź is in central of Poland but I sometimes go there. In my opinion, nature has no borders. And I live in Sosnowiec and I go to Łódź and submit, for example, trees of this town.
Doug Still: [17:22]
I asked him what appealed to him about the Fabrykant Oak.
Przemek Bartos: [17:27]
For me, the Fabrykant Oak is an extraordinary tree and sometimes I think that is a multidimensional symbol. But for some, it will be an inspiration to take a beautiful photo. For others, it will be a symbol of urban transformation. But for me, when I first time saw the tree, it was a spring photo. Surrounding this tree was about a huge numerous of blue flowers. In Polish, Skrzyńskie and [unintelligible [18:06]. It's a small flower. I am a gardener and ecologist, so I decided to go there. Fabrykant Oak is a central tree of park of Łódź. The name of this park is Park Klepacza. Now, this place is Politechnika Łódźka, University of Technology in Łódź area.
Doug Still: [18:37]
Then, I asked him about the Richter Brothers. Now it's between two historic villas. Are you familiar with those?
Przemek Bartos: [18:45]
When I was looking for a lot of information about this tree, I'm looking for information about Richter Family. And the Richter Family is industrial people who built two villas in Łódź.
Doug Still: [19:07]
Now, you wrote a blog about this tree, right?
Przemek Bartos: [19:10]
When I first time saw Fabrykant Oak, I decided to describe this story. In my opinion, a lot of trees is multidimensional, is important to our area and I think that people should protect them. My blog is the platform where I create story about trees, animals, mammals.
Doug Still: [19:40]
When you wrote that article, did you look into the Richter Brothers at all? Any other information? I find very little information online about them.
Przemek Bartos: [19:49]
Yes, because the same situation is in detail with family in Poland. A lot of information about this and their family are destroyed. It is a puzzle.
Doug Still: [20:02]
I see, a lot of information was destroyed in the war.
Przemek Bartos: [20:05]
Yes, yes, yes of course.
Doug Still: [20:07]
Przemek's love for the tree, I would say is largely aesthetic and ecological, the beauty of nature in the city. That totally makes sense to me. But it looked like any stories connected with the Richter Brothers had been lost. He submitted his nomination for the tree to Klub Gaja, the nonprofit organization that spearheads the Polish Tree of the Year contest.
Coming up after the break, I speak to Klub Gaja's director, Jacek Boźek, where we take a deeper look into the tree's connection to the past more generally. It involves the industrial revolution and the yoke's survival through Łódź’s difficult past. You're listening to This Old Tree.
[Chopin piano music]
Doug Still: [21:10]
Jacek, welcome to the show.
Oh, to the show, sounds very good. Okay. I am very happy that I can be in show.
Doug Still: [21:20]
Welcome, welcome. Could you introduce yourself and your organization and what you do?
Jacek Boźek: [21:25]
Oh, it's a long story. I suppose now, I am leader of my organization because I established Klub Gaja. The Polish name is Klub Gaja. We can say Gaia Club in English. I established this organization 36 years ago.
Doug Still: [21:49]
Jacek Boźek: [21:50]
And it was a completely different situation because it was in communist time, and I established this organization in underground. And for us, for me and for my friends who cooperated with me, the most important thing was animals, trees, rivers, things like that.
Doug Still: [22:15]
Jacek Boźek: [22:16]
Yes, environmental and animal rights. We still work on the same level and we lead some programs, some campaigns on the environmental platform or animal rights platform.
Doug Still: [22:37]
And where are you based?
Jacek Boźek: [22:40]
Wow. [laughs] Maybe somebody will know. This is south part of Poland, very close to the border with Czech and Slovakia border, Beskid mountains, very close to Bielsko-Biała, very small village, Wilkowice.
Doug Still: [23:02]
Gotcha. And is Klub Gaia involved in the arts at all or is it mainly environmental?
Oh, this may be very important for ourselves, for people who worked in Gaia Club that when I was young, I was an actor of the pantomime theater and my partner is a painter and we still use theater, we still use the art for our activity. If we want to tell people about climate changes, about animal rights, different things, the art is very good platform for that and we still use art for our activity.
Doug Still: [23:54]
Great way to bring it alive for people, help them understand it.
Jacek Boźek: [23:58]
Yes. Yes. And especially if you work, and we work with the young people, we work with the schools, even with the kindergartens. And this is very useful and very easy way to involve people to social activity, because you have to show people that environment is very important. Many things are very important. They connect to each other.
Doug Still: [24:32]
Yes. And how did you come to the European Tree of the Year Contest? Or perhaps first it was the Poland Tree of the Year Contest?
Jacek Boźek: [24:42]
Have to be like that. This is a good question, because every country who are part of consent of European Tree of the Year, they meet the same competition. Maybe not the same, but the competition for the Tree of the Year on their countries. And Klub Gaja lead the competition of the Tree of the Year in Poland.
Doug Still: [25:15]
So, you must have been thrilled that you won.
Jacek Boźek: [25:18]
Wow, this is very good information. I tell people that this is not only our work, because the most important for myself, even personally, is involve people to social work. And if we make the competition in Poland, I told stories around the trees. The trees are very important for the local people. Have to be like history, culture, music, stories.
Doug Still: [26:04]
Jacek Boźek: [26:05]
This is most important. I say we try to build a social movement around the trees, because for me, it's not very important that the tree is very big, very old. No. The trees need the stories, the trees need connection with people. Of course, because for more than 20 years, we have the program in Polish language called Święto Drzewa. It's not easy to translate to English, but we call Tree Day. We have in Poland more than 21 years now, and we involve the whole Poland, many local authorities, big cities, small villages, and people plant the trees, make the gardens, many different activities. And one part of our work on this program is the competition about the trees.
Doug Still: [27:22]
It's sort of like our Arbor Day in late April.
Jacek Boźek: [27:25]
Doug Still: [27:27]
What's special about this tree? The Oak Fabrykant that caught your attention? What's the story behind it?
Jacek Boźek: [27:35]
Wow, this is the really, really important tree. This is not really important tree only for Łódź. Łódź is one of the biggest Polish towns. This is a really big city. And Oak Fabrykant is a part of the whole story because this is the part of the history of the Łódź. And the most important thing for that connects with economic history of the Łódź. Łódź was a very important city for producing wool, producing things like that.
Doug Still: [28:27]
In the Industrial Revolution?
Jacek Boźek: [28:29]
Oh, yes, yes. And now this park is part of the Polytechnika of Łódź, and for many, many people it is an important tree, because one of the branch shapes is 20 meters long. If you walk to the park, you have to even look for your head. This is a really, really big branch.
Doug Still: [29:03]
It's between two villas. Joseph and Reinhold Richter.
Jacek Boźek: [29:07]
Yes, this is true, because Łódź, like you said is true, was one of the very important parts of revolution. And most of the factories was built by Germans, Russians, Jewish people, Polish people, it was very, very important place like many different interests. And the story of the tree is very connected to the story of the business people from that period of the history.
Doug Still: [29:51]
A short aside here. In the 19th century, Łódź was a major manufacturing center and one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. Due to its rivers and supply of water, it was an ideal location for wool and cotton mills that manufactured textiles distributed around the world, but mainly for Russia. Most workers came from rural areas to experience city life for the first time. The importance of Łódź as an industrial center is described in this newspaper article from Manchester, Britain's Manufacturing Powerhouse, published on December 30, 1895:
“The most rapidly progressive industrial center in the Russian Empire, writes the daily news Odesa Correspondent is Łódź in the government of [unintelligible [30:37] in Poland, commonly and deservedly known as the Russian Manchester. 30 years ago, Łódź was little more than an overgrown village, whilst it now has a population of over 300,000 souls. In the town of Łódź, 118 factories annually produce woolen goods to the value of 28 million rubles, whilst the various products of 56 cotton mills are valued at 45 million rubles. The majority of the large manufacturers and manufacturing companies are foreigners. The old and important trade of Moscow is every year declining before the strong and successful competition of Łódź.”
[31:22] Is the factory that they owned right next door or nearby?
Jacek Boźek: [31:27]
Yes, this is true, because most of the owners of the factories in Łódź, they built their villas very close to the factories, because all Łódź was established from nothing. It was like meadows.
Doug Still: [31:50]
Yeah. It was just a tiny hamlet before the industrial revolution, I understand.
Jacek Boźek: [31:55]
Yes, yes, but they need a lot of water to the production of wool and other things. And the Łódź was a very good place because there were plenty of streams, small rivers. And they decided, “Okay, we want to build a completely new city on this place. We want to make money," [laughs] money of course. It was the culture story like people who live on the villages in our era, they build a house very close to their fields. And many years ago, I suppose, people have the connection, heart connection, with their business. This is not like today that business is international, that you're able to make business from village in the big city like New York. Yeah.
Doug Still: [32:50]
Right. So, that's how the tree got its name.
Jacek Boźek: [32:54]
Fabrykant means, in Polish language, the businessperson, owner of the place, the businessperson who owned the big factory, fabrykant.
If the factory owners came to Łódź to get rich, you can bet they built their fortunes on the backs of poor workers. Nowhere is this better captured than a novel published in 1899 called The Promised Land. It was written by Polish author and Nobel laureate Władysław Reymont, and it was considered one of his most important works. It was made into a famous movie in 1975 of the same name, and everyone in Poland knows it. It tells the story of three close friends as ruthless budding industrialists, a Pole, a German, and a Jew, who are struggling to find the capital to build their own factory. As portrayed by Reymont in vivid detail, it is a dark, heartless world. There is only one English translation of the novel, published in 1927. Remarkably, I was able to find it. Chin up. Here's how it starts:
The Promised Land reading (Maria McCauley): [34:09]
“Łódź was awakening. One first shrill blast, rending the silence of the small hours, and followed by the ululations of sirens all over the town, noisier and still more noisy, tearing and ripping the air to tatters with their harsh uncouth din. With long dark bodies and slender, upstanding necks, looming out of the night, the fog and the rain, the big factories were slowly rousing up, scintillating with many aflame and beginning to live and move amid the darkness. A thin March rain, not without sleet, was falling, falling covering Łódź with thick viscid mistiness pattering upon the iron-plate roofs, pouring thence down to the pavements and the black, miry, sloughy streets, streaming down the bare tree-trunks, marshalled in low rows close to the walls and shivering in the cold and tossed about by the wind. The wind that now swept the thoroughfares, buried in ooze, now rattled and shook the fences and now tried the roofs, or again would swoop into the quagmire or howl through the branches of a tree. Borowiecki, awakening struck a light just as the alarm clock set up, a furious wearing and ringing announcing 05:00 a.m.”
Doug Still: [35:40]
What would have been like for the workers in the factory? What was life like? There's a book called The Promised Land. That's a famous book in Poland, right?
Jacek Boźek: [35:51]
Ah, Ziemia obiecana, The Promised Land. Ziemia obiecana, yeah, it was the book and beautiful, beautiful movie. Very important for us. This is the long story, because in that time, Łódź was part of Russia, it was completely different story. The Poland not existing. A very important thing, it was that different people from different nations, like Polish people, Germans, Russians, and a lot of Jewish people, they cooperate together because they want to be rich, famous. Of course, at that time, for workers, it was something-- I don't know which way I will be able to explain, because most of the people who worked in these factories, it was people from villages, very, very poor people, and they have to change their life, their culture, everything, because they move from the very simple life in villages, very poor villages, we have to know, very poor villages.
Doug Still: [37:28]
Jacek Boźek: [37:29]
Yes, maybe even not farms, because people haven't land. They work for farmers, they work for farm owners, and they change their life. It was a very, very special culture time for this city.
Doug Still: [37:50]
And there was the promise of a better life, to work in a factory and earn some money.
Jacek Boźek: [37:56]
I suppose for those people who were very poor, it was possibility for change, maybe not their life, but life of their children, because they started completely new life for them.
Doug Still: [38:21]
This story hit home for me recently. I do some of my research and writing at a coworking space for writers called LitArts Rhode Island, a wonderful place for creators that even has a recording studio. It's not far from where I live in Providence. Like Łódź, Providence's population exploded during the Industrial Revolution, also with the textile trade as its major industry. Workers moved here from the farms, and there were large numbers of Irish and Italian immigrants. Mainly women performed the labor in the textile mills. LitArts is located in the old mill district in the Valley neighborhood, the factories now converted to condos, offices, and arts-oriented spaces. I decided to walk home after working on this piece.
I crossed the Woonasquatucket River, essential to the functioning of the mills. It became heavily polluted during that period, and in fact, one section of it downtown was completely covered over, running underground until it reached the top of Narragansett Bay. The river has since been cleaned up, and the river daylighted, spearheading the revival of our city.
Anyway, I crossed the river and walked past the old mills, imagining horse drawn carts and old trucks and groups of people and bosses shouting orders. Then, I walked up a steep street into a working-class neighborhood of triple decker homes. I thought of the scores of people making that exact same walk a hundred years ago after a long, grueling day of work, returning to a large family.
Then, my brain turned elsewhere, to my third great grandmother. Her name was Clarinda Pixley, whose story I researched about 10 years ago. She was one of the famous mill girls of Lowell, Massachusetts. Dirt poor, she came from a farm in New Hampshire to work the cotton mills in Lowell. There she met my third great grandfather, Benjamin Still, who came down from Southern Quebec for the same reason. They quickly got married and escaped back to New Hampshire. In other words, I thought of people everywhere hitching their wagon to modern industry on the promise of a better life, only to experience a different, equally intense struggle. The story of Łódź is not unusual. It's universal.
[40:49] I wish, I wish I could pivot back to the tree in the exciting things happening now in Łódź, but not quite yet. First, a moment to acknowledge the absolute darkest period for Łódź and for Poland after the German invasion of September 1939, the horrific events that unfolded are difficult to comprehend. Under Nazi control, Polish and Jewish establishments were closed, Polish language newspapers banned, and forced labor imposed on its inhabitants. Polish intellectuals were imprisoned or killed, and Polish children were separated from their parents. Worst of all, the Łódź Ghetto was established in 1940, populated over time with more than 200,000 Jewish people from the city and from the region. People either died within its walls or sent to extermination camps. Only 877 remained to be found when the Soviets arrived in August of 1944. While there were 230,000 Jewish residents of Łódź prior to the war, only about 10,000 survived the Holocaust elsewhere. For all of those people, they must be remembered.
We're taking a break. You're listening to This Old Tree.
[Chopin piano music]
Doug Still: [42:31]
After that, I think all will forgive me for skipping right to the last 10 or 12 years in Łódź, as the city is undergoing exciting changes. With new businesses, students, and arts organizations, it's a different, forward-thinking time. Trees and environmentalism underpin the city's new sense of itself. A key part of the future, says Jacek.
Jacek Boźek: [42:54]
This is very, very good because Łódź is one of the big cities in Poland which have plenty of forests around Łódź, a lot of beautiful forest, and this is very important. And Łódź wants to change their image for green city.
Doug Still: [43:22]
To find out more, I was lucky enough to speak with the city's director of environmental management, Anna Wierzbicka. Impressively, she and her division are taking on big projects. Could you introduce yourself and what you do for the city of Łódź?
Anna Wierzbicka: [43:37]
Yes, my name is Anna Wierzbicka, and I lead a department which is responsible for the climate and environment issues in the city hall of the city of Łódź.
Doug Still: [43:49]
So, you must be very proud of this tree for winning. What does the tree mean to the city?
Anna Wierzbicka: [43:55]
This is the 180-year-old oak, which is called Fabrykant, and it is one of the most original trees in Poland and the city's showcase.
Doug Still: [44:09]
It's been mentioned that Łódź is embracing environmentalism, and obviously you're very involved in that. Could you describe what you've been doing and what you hope the city could be?
Anna Wierzbicka: [44:18]
For me, we are saying in Łódź that Łódź is the last undiscovered city because it is a unique city in the entire Polish map, because I think that it's the only city that does not have a market. We are having the pedestrian street, which is the main street. So, if you go to Kraków or if you go to Poznań, you have a main market. In Łódź you have a main street called Piotrkowska street, which is connected with historical times because in the 19th century, Łódź was created as a kind of an economic zone, so every building was built along this street. And we were the second fastest growing city in the world after Chicago because of the fast development of the textile industry.
Doug Still: [45:12]
I see. And a lot of the factories were built along that street.
Anna Wierzbicka: [45:16]
Yes, yes. And it was like an industrial street. There is also a famous film called Promised Land, and it explains the textile and factory history of Łódź and there is a famous saying from this movie. It states, “You have nothing, I have nothing, and he has nothing. So together, we have enough to build a factory.” And this is the saying that for me is also very up to date nowadays. Because we are also involving in our city, for example, I deal with environmental issues and we do also involve business to cooperate with us in favor of nature, for example, we are doing some un-concreting actions together with business companies who nowadays they know more, they feel the essence of climate change, and they want to also involve. And this is also somehow historically dedicated, because everyone, if they started a business here, they're really connected to the city. So, this is like a natural historical for me, bond led from, I don't know, grandmother, grandfather and grand grandmother. So, it's also very unique. There's also a saying that in Łódź, everybody knows everybody.
Doug Still: [46:55]
Right. So, there's deep heaving work going on, removing the concrete and then planting trees.
Anna Wierzbicka: [47:03]
Yes, yes. We are doing lots of issues connected with climate change. We are un-concreting to put some flowers, to put some trees, and especially to focus on the retention issues, because Łódź is located on the water threat. So, we are the city that is in future in the threat of-
Doug Still: [47:28]
Anna Wierzbicka: [47:29]
Doug Still: [47:30]
Anna Wierzbicka: [47:31]
Drought. We have flooding, but when there is a heavy rain, but mainly the land is very dry. So, we do everything to un-concrete, to keep the water in the surface. We are also doing some workshops for beekeepers, and also inhabitants can take part in these workshops. This is top workshop in our city. We are also doing some social campaigns for air quality. We are doing some donations for the citizens, so they can plant some trees or some other greenery, or they can also install some devices for retention, or some solutions for further retention.
And finally, I think that the last project that is, I think, very worth mentioning, we call it Lamos. Lamos is a river. Because to explain you something more about Łódź. Łódź in Polish it means “boat,” exactly. This is the exact translation, the meaning of the name. But nowadays we do not have any river in Łódź, because all the rivers were put in the sewage system in historical times. So, nowadays, all the rivers that are small rivers, around 20 small rivers, they are going in the sewage system or underneath, but there are a few of them that can be taken out. So, we created a concept for one of such rivers. This is Lamos River. And we will put it out so that the water and the river can be visible. We will also-- I don't know if it can be said in English. We will meander it, means we will not make it straight. So, we will meander it, and it will be given back to people. We were also given in a special donation directly from the European Parliament.
This is the only Polish project directly in the budget of the European parliament, because they saw such an incredible value of this project. Like, on one hand, the ecological one, and on the other hand, we are also doing something what we call a model of managing the water in the city. So, next to this park, where we will put the river out, there is also a street where we will put a special system only to collect rainwater. And we've already involved almost all the stakeholders on this street to put their water from the roof water to this dedicated system, to put the water also to the Lamos River.
Doug Still: [50:46]
The daylighting of the river made me think again of my home city of Providence and how we're discovering similar solutions to a century and a half of environmental abuse. What's remarkable in Łódź is that business has come full circle and is now part of the solution.
That sounds like a wonderful project to uncover the river. It will be a centerpiece for the city, I think.
Anna Wierzbicka: [51:08]
Doug Still: [51:08]
I love that there will be a meander, and it's complicated because you're working with so many jurisdictions, and I love that the businesses are taking part in it.
Anna Wierzbicka: [51:18]
Yes, I think I will not lie if I say that our city has the biggest number of business partners for eco and environmental actions involved right now. Because my department was created three and a half years ago, and during the first year, nobody cared. When I spoke with the companies and they say, “Okay, okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, maybe someday.” But then for the last two years, we've involved 60 companies or even more.
Doug Still: [51:55]
Wow, that's a credit to you, I bet.
Anna Wierzbicka: [51:57]
I hope so. [laughter] I will not stop.
Doug Still: [52:01]
So, they get it.
Anna Wierzbicka: [52:03]
They get it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially, we also had such a small square because-- I mean we do not have a big square, but some smaller squares we do have and it was also one big concrete. I spoke with one company and I said, “Oh, maybe you will be involved, so we will do something to un-concrete it.” And then the other company said, “I also want to be involved in it.” And that's how I collected six companies for this square. So, I hope that in the coming years or maybe months, it will be passé not to be involved in such actions.
Doug Still: [52:48]
That's right. They don't want to be left behind.
Anna Wierzbicka: [52:50]
Yeah, the train is already on the move, so you have to get in or you will stay behind.
Doug Still: [52:57]
That's right. Taking into account all that you've said, what does the presence of this tree symbolize?
Anna Wierzbicka: [53:03]
Strength. For me, it symbolizes strength. It also symbolizes for our city that no matter what will happen, you can survive. Because if you see the tree and it still stands and it still blossoms and it's still so popular, it's for our city. For me personally, it means that you can survive everything. We were the country which was really badly treated in the historical times after world wars, and we were also the city which was in a very difficult times after the World Wars, because all the workers, they left, and the unemployment was so big, and all the cotton workers, which were mainly women, they were out of their jobs, they had nothing to do.
And in historical times, when there were also different cities with some problems, but they went to protest to the capital for the government to help them and women from Łódź they stayed home. So, we are also sometimes saying that we are left on our own, but we still had the strength to get up and to move forward and to survive. So, for me, this tree on one hand is a symbol of strength and a long-lasting journey that can be finally a journey with a victory at the end. And it also symbolizes the strength of nature, which personally is important for me.
Doug Still: [54:58]
Circling back to Adam Golub, the coordinator of the European Tree of the Year contest, I asked him again about its purpose.
Adam Golub: [55:05]
At the end of the day, it is not our aim to have a competition between countries submitting their trees. That's why the word 'competition' itself, I don't really like to use it too much in relation to the tree. And actually, if I talk about it in Czech, I usually use the word 'anketa' rather than soutěž, which would be competition. So, for me it's more of a survey, if you know what I mean. And it's about learning about those stories. That's why we have all of them there on the website so that people can actually learn a little bit about the communities and the trees and the places where they are growing. And if people understand it as such, then we've done something right.
Doug Still: [55:52]
And then, I asked Przemek Bartos, the original submitter and tireless promoter of the Fabrykant Oak. Check out the video he made in addition to his blog. I asked him what the tree means to him.
Przemek Bartos: [56:05]
For me, it's, for example, a symbol of situation when we can show that nature knows no borders, of course, but in my opinion, nature is the best teacher.
Doug Still: [56:24]
And Jacek Boźek had some final thoughts to share.
Jacek Boźek: [56:27]
It's very important what trees do in your life. When I was very, very young, when I was a child, I was very sick child. And for many, many years even, I stayed in the bed, and I saw only one tree from my window. It was a very important time when you see the tree in springtime, summertime, and then wintertime. We have really wintertime in my region with a lot of snow. And sometimes, it was only my one friend for many, many years. It was something like personality. And I feel that every tree has personality. But if you see tree like Fabrykant, big, really big, wonderful tree, and you see the power of this tree and you feel that this is the part of the history.
This is something, of course, tree cannot talk to you, tree cannot tell you stories. You are able to tell the stories. Your heart able to tell the stories. And this is the witness. This is witness of our life. This is witness of our activity. Sometimes, this is witness of our tragedy and this tree is still existing. This is incredible. Normally, it's not too easy to be a European championship. We have something special. We have the beautiful, wonderful Oak Fabrykant in our city, that the trees are part of our history and a part of our future.
Doug Still: [58:49]
There's a founding legend of Poland. Once upon a time, there were three brothers, Lech, Czech and Rus. Because of their wisdom, they led their families and they lived in harmony. But the time came when the land could no longer feed their people. There was no game in the forests and no fish in the river. So, they met and decided to seek new lands for their tribes. Rus found the area we now know as Russia, with vast plains and rivers, and Czech found fertile land to the south.
But Lech went eastward. His tribe entered dense forests full of animals and rivers that abounded with fish. Suddenly, Lech heard some noise and a huge shadow moved over the clearing. Curious people raised their heads. They saw an eagle slowly descending on a nest located in the crown of a large oak tree. In the early evening, the bird's silhouette stood out in sharp white against the red sky. "It's a sign from the gods," people shouted in unison. "It's a good omen," said Lech, smiling. "We'll settle down here and this wonderful bird will protect us."
A thousand years ago, this became the coat of arms for Poland. A white eagle on a red background. And don't forget that oak tree. Through hardship, the tribe saw a sign of a better future. Every pole knows this story. Without the need for long historical explanations on websites and promotional material, I think the people of Łódź and Poland know intuitively how the Fabrykant Oak fits into their story. Its long arm has reached out to remind them to tell it to the rest of us.
[Chopin piano music]
[01:00:42] I'd like to thank my inspiring guests, Adam Golub, Przemek Bartos, Jacek Boźek, and Anna Wierzbicka for coming on the show. I hope I didn't completely fail in pronouncing words from your language. Please find information about them and links to their organizations in the show notes, and visit Facebook and Instagram to see some great photos of the tree that they've shared.
Thanks to Maria McCauley for her reading of The Promised Land and for sharing her research into the history of Poland. David Still II was the consulting editor and D. Lee, sings theme music. The piano music you've been listening to is, of course, by the great Polish composer, Chopin. The last piece is performed by Arthur Rubenstein, born in Łódź to a Jewish family in 1887. His father was the owner of a small factory.
I'm Doug Still. Join me next time for This Old Tree.
[Chopin piano music fade]
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