Last month, we travelled to Poland to visit my wife’s family. That meant a stop in Katowice, a fast-changing city in Silesia that has had its fair share of historic ups and downs.
Years ago when I lived in Katowice, my apartment was in an enormous building called Superjednostka (super unit). I’m not sure about now, but at the time it was the second largest residential building in Poland. 764 apartments in one long, grey block on concrete stilts (to facilitate the wind flow and minimize tectonic shocks). Just imagine the sheer quantity of potatoes (either in their raw state or in vodka form) that must have past through its main doors since it was built in 1972!
I have no idea how many people lived there, but it never felt overrun or claustrophobic. And it helped that the building was full of characters. A handful of American Mormon Missionaries on the 15th floor bracketed by apartments of the red light variety (an interesting moral mix that I still find amusing) with the rest of the building filled with workers, families and an army of angora beret-wearing grandmas.
I once bumped into someone on the stairs who I vaguely knew. A Polish girl in her early twenties. She told me she lived in a one-bedroom apartment the size of mine. The difference? She lived there with her mother and father and brother. Her brother slept in the narrow kitchen, she slept on the sofa near the bathroom, and her parents took the only bedroom. It was then I realised just how good I had it.
My wife and I started dating when I lived in Katowice and last month we decided to do a kind of sightseeting tour to visit some of our old haunts. Today, Superjednostka is clean and gleaming. It’s changed for the better no doubt. But I wish I’d taken more photos when I had lived there. Back then it was very different.
In 2014, the Polish film maker Teresa Czepiec made a short film about Superjednostka called Super-Unit. The production company Wajda Studio kindly gave me access to the full film, but I was unable to get their permission to post it. Here is the trailer for the film instead.