Thursday, 22 September 2016

Konin - town of aluminium, electricity and coal

Little did I realise as I left home this morning that I'd spend the day in Konin - a town some 200 west of Warsaw, on the way to Poznań. By 11:30 I was on a TLK train, freshly-printed ticket in hand (51 złotys, about ten quid), ready to go to Konin to give a presentation to local entrepreneurs about exporting to and investing in the UK.

Before continuing, a few more words about Polish railways. TLK trains are the low-cost arm of PKP InterCity, giving you InterCity style speed with prices that are significantly cheaper - at the expense of comfort. Instead of a modern Pendolino or Dart train as in the full-price IC services, or at worst fully pimped-out old carriages refurbished with all mod-cons, the TLK trains offer no buffet car, no Wifi, no electric sockets, eight seats rather than six to the compartment and doors that need the heft of a sumo wrestler to open. My TLK train - in both directions - was a long-distance service from Białystok to Szczecin and back. No buffet car for all that distance. Still, the train was fast and punctual, and in less than two hours I was in Konin.

I've been to Konin before - in 1977, on one of our Montserrat holidays for the youth of our Ealing Polish parish. Konin is round the corner from Licheń, which we visited before it became the Disneyland it's become today. In Konin, however, we visited the aluminium smelter. From 1960 to 1975, the town's population tripled as the aluminium plant, the opencast lignite mine and the ZE PAK group of brown-coal burning power stations (three of the four are in Konin) were built.

I didn't have time to see the Old Town, but I had a look round the new town centre, to the south of the railway station, mostly built in the 1960s and '70s, and using lots of aluminum for facades, windows and doors, as one would expect.

Below: very period, ostentatiously modernist department store in the town centre. Kinda reminds of Marineville out of Stingray. Across the road, the Hotel Konin obviously once had lovely neons advertising its restaurant; the tubes have gone, the signs remain, sadly unlit, but a beautiful typeface. The smiling face on the cube with the clock is saying: "The happy don't count time. Smile."

Below: aluminum everywhere. Lots of shops clad in the stuff, and those PRL-era aluminum doors that rattle when you open them.

Below: "By their street names, thou shalt know them" Konin has a 1st May Street too.

Below: the 1970s housing was well laid out, campus style, and is close to the town centre and its amenities, which include Klub Hutnika ('Smelters' Club') which advertises dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. Socialist planning on a human scale. The aluminium smelter - Poland's only one - closed in 2009, when the price of electricity became too high to profitably produce aluminium from ore. Unemployment in Konin today is 10.1% (end July 2016).

Konin lies on the main east-west railway line running from Berlin through Poznań and Warsaw, via Minsk in Belarus, and on to Moscow. It's a busy line.

Below: before reaching Konin, I walked from the hotel where the conference at which I was speaking was held. I walked some 5km to the station, through lovely fields, parallel to the railway line, until I reached the industrial outskirts of the town. Massive flashbacks, those anomalous memories to... what?

Today was equinox day; from now until 21 March next year, the nights will be longer than the days. It was also car-free day - free public transport in Warsaw all day. Today, I walked over 23,000 paces (18 km).

This time three years ago:
Car-free day falls on a Sunday

This time four years ago:
Vistula at record low level

This time seven years ago:
Car-free day? Warsaw's roads busier than ever

This time eight years ago:
The shape of equinox

This time nine years ago:
Potato harvest time in Jeziorki


meika said...

This book might go with the carriages then.

Konin has the oldest milestone in Northern Europe. On-a-coin.

I've been on that platform twice, once 20 years ago heading back west to Cologne, and 5 years ago heading east to Warsaw with my family, a trip which took quite a while as we collected a suicidal cyclist about 30km west of Warsaw. While waiting for this train we were asked in English by a very bemused long distance track driver "But, but, but why here?"

Because Konin is near Ciazen (gets a mention in that book above) which is near Samarzewo (which didn't)(also on the Warta. We had been staying at an agroturystyka in Dłusk...

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Meika,

Interesting stuff. I realised after I got home that I should have gone to Konin's old town - there were no street signs pointing to it - only to Centrum. The story of the milestone is fascinating!

The Jewish history of Konin - I saw a monument on the site of a forced labour camp near the railway station; there was a prison rebellion there in August 1943.