Time: about 3 hours
Throughout the 19th century Bydgoszcz experienced an economic growth, which resulted in a transformation of its architectural landscape. The year 1851 turned out to be a crucial year, when the first railway and the local railway station were opened. The city’s area and population expanded.
The flourish of industry and trade, and Bydgoszcz burghers getting rich were conducive to intensifying construction. The pride of contemporary Bydgoszcz is its excellently preserved street plan, reflecting the process of transformation of a small town into an important industrial and trade centre with a huge, diversified complex of burgher buildings from the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.
A walk around the city centre of Bydgoszcz is an excellent opportunity to see the changes in architecture that took place within these few decades. Neo-classicist buildings fashionable at that time and later date back to the third quarter of the 19th century. Their facades are characterised by balance and equilibrium, simplicity of composition, and economical usage of architectural detail. In the late 19th century, magnificent tenement houses were preserved in main streets and more modest tenement houses far away from the city centre. Company owners, craftsmen, merchants and clerks developed the suburbs with houses and industrial facilities, and the increasing number of residents was conducive to development of the infrastructure of public buildings, especially educational and ecclesiastic buildings. At that time, all possible styles of historicism were dominant in architecture. This trend made use of forms adopted from gothic, Renaissance, mannerism, baroque and rococo in a creative way. In the city landscape, we will also see examples of the picturesque trend from the late 19th century, represented by tenement houses with characteristic, asymmetrical facades, distinguished by arrangements based on light and shadow contrasts, with breaks, bay windows, loggias, triangular and step gables.
Big city tenement houses from the early 20th century belong to two stylistic trends: Art Nouveau and early modernism. What’s characteristic of Bydgoszcz, in spite of the popularity of Art Nouveau in European architecture ca. 1900, the buildings in Bydgoszcz do not represent the typical of Art Nouveau combination of architectural body and pliable, flexible decoration. However, the exterior attire was changed, enriched with flowing plant motifs and masks of long-haired women.
Did you know that...
In 1834, when the convent was disbanded, the Church of the Poor Clares became the city’s property. From that time, the church housed the municipal scales, was a warehouse of alcoholic beverages, and in 1872 it was turned into a fire station. Next, on the initiative of Herman Franke, the choir gallery was designated for the needs of the Noteć River District History Association. The collections gathered and exhibited here became the beginnings of the present-day museum.
The next period, the twenty-year inter-war period, has left in the architecture of Bydgoszcz a visible trace in the form of numerous tenement houses in the style of modernism and functionalism.
Going around the city centre, it is worthwhile starting from the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (colloquially called the Church of the Poor Clares), which was occupied by the local convent of the Poor Clares in the past.
Did you know that...
The city bugle-call, composed on the 600th anniversary of the city of Bydgoszcz, resounds from the church tower each day at noon, at 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm.
A neo-Renaissance portal leads to the church interior (1925, designed by Stefan Cybichowski), where we will see relics of frescos from the 17th century, first of all, an excellently preserved wooden ceiling from the 1640’s decorated with painted rosettes, amidst which we will not find two identical ones. Noteworthy are also the furnishings from the 1920’s, with a mannerist high altar.
There is also a painting by Leon Wyczółkowski, depicting Saint Stanislaus Kostka.
Going out of the church, we turn right in Gdańska Street. En route we pass several classicist buildings, amidst which the house at 5 Gdańska Street stands out, converted by Rudolf Kern, who made ornaments referring to the forms of Berlin Art Nouveau, with a frieze decorated with stylised swans. The tenement house features the “Pharmacy under the Swan” , with a gilded swan on the façade, operating continuously here since 1853. One must go inside, see part of the preserved décor and visit the unique Museum of Pharmacy at the back. Going further up Gdańska Street, at the intersection with Dworcowa Street, we will see an old modernist department store dating from 1910-1911 designed by Otto Walter of Berlin. Ferroconcrete was used for its construction for the first time in Bydgoszcz. The building was famous in the inter-war period as the Bydgoszcz Department Store Be-De-Te, and much later as the Department Store “Jedynak” . The decoration of its façade features figures of Greek goddesses: Aphrodite, Eris, Hera and Athena, and in the tympanum above the corner window a relief with a depiction of Silenus. At 17 Gdańska Street, at the corner with Pomorska Street (a street with medieval provenance), is the area’s oldest two-storey tenement house dating from 1852 (designed by B. Brinkmann), topped with crenels, reminiscent of a fortified castle.
Opposite the Department Store at 14 Gdańska Street, the edifice of the Pod Orłem Hotel rivets your attention – the building with neo-baroque forms designed by J. Święcicki dates back to 1892-1894.
Did you know that...
In the façade decoration of the Pod Orłem Hotel we find a single portrait masque, which for years was regarded to be an image of the hotel’s designer according to the suggestion of a certain art historian. Nowadays, when it is known what Józef Święcicki looked like, the question of who this masque depicts still remains unanswered.
Looking inside, we will see the glamorous lounge with stuccowork, stained-glass windows, and gilded wrought-iron balustrades. In 1921, Józef Piłsudski stayed at this hotel to relax for a few hours.
From under the Pod Orłem Hotel we go right towards Wolności Square, passing no. 16 – the classicist tenement house designed by Carl Semphel (1882). Next, we see the dominant tower of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, designed by Berlin architect, Friedrich Adler. The cornerstone was placed in 1872. The old Protestant church, now Catholic, was constructed on the plan of the Latin cross. In the spacious interior decor, our attention is attracted by stained-glass windows in the chancel, made at the Imperial Stained Glass Institute in Berlin, funded by Emperor William I.
Did you know that...
The church was provided with an innovative (at that time) heating system, consisting of a gas boiler room placed under the chancel, two heaters and ducts distributing hot air.
Did you know that...
It is also worthwhile looking at the green tenement house at 3 Wolności Square, on which huge blue jeans hang. This unique sculpture by Piotr Wagner is a tribute to the eminent graphic artist and painter, Andrzej Nowacki, who had his studio for fifty years in this tenement house. The sculpture is a reference to the artist’s famous series “Jeans Wearers”
Near the church, the next big city tenement houses delight with their beauty. The first one – a neo-baroque house was designed by J. Święcicki, dating back to 1896 – 1 Wolności Square. On the other side, at 27 Gdańska Street (head office of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, among other things) – there is a modernist tenement house (1908, designed by Adolf Schleusener) with a renovated interior featuring a working historical lift.
We go further along Gdańska Street northwards, to the intersection of three streets: Gdańska, Śniadeckich and Krasińskiego. Here, we see a little bench (designed by Michał Kubiak) of Marian Rejewski – a famous mathematician and cryptologist, who contributed to the breaking of the code of the German cipher machine ”Enigma” during the Second World War. From here, we can choose one of the three versions of the further walk around the city centre.
We go further northwards along Gdańska Street. The long walk along the grand street is more attractive thanks to a diversified architectural landscape. Looking to the right, the even part of the street, and to the left, the odd part of the street, we will find out the main productions of the local designers. Right behind the intersection, our attention is drawn to tenement house no. 34 (1a) representing the scenic trend, dating back to 1914, designed by Fritz Weidner, contrasting with the neo-baroque house no. 36 designed by J. Święcicki, from the late 19th century.
Further, we will face two magnificent villas occupied by the Polish Radio Station. The first one, no. 48 with a “cafe au lait” colour reflects the original colour of the facade. The villa “Flora” owes its name to the now non-existent polychromes decorating the loggia. The facility was designed by Berlin architect Heinrich Seeling.
Built in 1898, the villa is one of the most beautiful examples of the scenic trend in the architecture of the late 19th century in Bydgoszcz. Its interiors feature relics of rich décor: grand woodwork, wood panelling, and a ceiling with gilded ornamentation, made using the papier-mâché technique. In the old garden, at the back of the house, is a historical fountain from the late 19th century with a unique, polychromed sculpture of a heron. Ernst Heinrich Dietz (1840-1901), city councillor and co-founder of an inland navigation company (later Lloyd of Bydgoszcz), enjoyed this residence for a short time. However, it remained in the hands of his inheritors until the outbreak of the Second World War. Later, it was used by the PPR Polish Workers’ Party, and since 1951 it has been occupied by the local radio.
The neighbouring villa, no. 50 , was constructed in 1900-1902 (designed by Hildebrandt from Berlin) for Wilhelm Blumwe, the then owner of the Woodworking Machines Factory.
Did you know that...
Heinrich Seeling earned his name in Europe as the designer of theatres. The now non-existent Municipal Theatre in Bydgoszcz, which had been located in Teatralny Square, was also his work. In his career he designed only two churches: the Protestant Church of the Saviour (1896-1897) in Zbawiciela Square and the present-day Catholic Church of St Andrew Bobola (1901-1903) in Kościeleckich Square – both are the pride of Bydgoszcz.
The designer provided the residence with Renaissance attire inspired by the famous Villa Rotonda by Andrea Palladio in Vicenza. Unfortunately, only an elegant room with a glazed plafond has been preserved on the ground floor in the converted interior.
Did you know that...
Until 1940, the urn with the ashes of the founder of the local Woodworking Machines Factory – Carl Blumwe – was placed at the top of the tympanum of the villa at 50 Gdańska Street, at the top of the façade.
Starting from 1930, it was occupied by the Polish Club House, and during World War Two by the head office of the NSDAP. On May 1, 1945, the first Polish radio programme after the Second World War was broadcast from here.
Now we are at an intersection of streets, at the corner of Cieszkowskiego Street, on the left-hand side we see at number 63 the exceptionally rich neo-baroque house of builder Józef Święcicki, who was born in Bydgoszcz.
If you want to feel the atmosphere of his days, we recommend going for a while into Cieszkowskiego Street, marked out and developed with grand tenement houses within only 10 years (1894-1904). The sculpture of a halberdier at the corner of house no. 22 (1898, designed by F. Weidner) watches over the street.
Going further down Gdańska Street at numbers 75 and 52 we pass buildings with façades inspired by classicism. At number 56, is the convent of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration with a public chapel located in an old villa. In accordance with the convent observance, the nuns live in seclusion from the surrounding world.
Did you know that...
F. Weidner appeared in Bydgoszcz as a representative of an installation company of his father-in-law, but he made his name as an architect, and propagator of modern forms in the architecture of Bydgoszcz, who himself converted from neo-baroque to exceptionally impressive projects in the scenic trend.
Before we reach the intersection with Mickiewicza Avenue, marked out in 1903. Noteworthy is the tenement house at number 60 designed by Carl Meyer for himself; he was the city’s construction counsellor (for 26 years he managed the construction administration, making decisions on the architectural shape of Bydgoszcz). The façade décor features a statue of a female personification of Architecture and Construction.
We reach Mickiewicza Avenue, on the right-hand side from Gdańska Street. Here, at the corner, we see a tenement house, which was built in 1903-1904 by Rudolf Kern, designed as his own house.
Going further along Gdańska Street, we pass another house at number 91 designed by F. Weidner, using the chiaroscuro typical of architecture of the scenic trend.
Did you know that...
In 1912, Bydgoszcz City Hall announced a competition for the most beautiful façade from among newly built tenement houses. The two first awards went to local architects Fritz Weidner for the house at 12 Dworcowa Street and Rudolf Kern for the tenement house at 20 Stycznia 1920 Street at number 29.
This style is represented also by a grand villa (1898-1899, designed by Karl Bergner) located at number 84 , designed for the Police Club in 1962-1992.
Next, we go past a group of houses number 86-96 with solutions inspired by the Italian and Northern Renaissance, designed by J. Święcicki. At the intersection with Chodkiewicza Street, at number 100, we go past a functionalistic tenement house (1935, designed by Paweł Wawrzon). Further, at number 190, we see the edifice of the old War School, constructed right before the First World War, later the Officer Cadet School from 1913 (designed by Arnold Hartman and Robert Schlezinger). It neighbours the building of the Land Forces Museum (1973, designed by Zbigniew Kortas). Further, on the same side of the street, we see blocks of flats covered by a line of trees; seven of these buildings dating from 1935-1939 represent the functionalist trend.
At the end, after the intersection with Modrzewiowa Street, behind the J. Święcicki viaduct, it is worthwhile stopping to visit the Waterworks Museum located in an original complex of buildings from the late 19th century. After a long walk, it is good to relax at the Myślęcinek Park .
Did you know that...
Until recently, some Bydgoszcz residents had thought that the famous actress Pola Negri was the former owner of the building at 84 Gdańska Street. However, the actress owned the tenement house located nearby, at 8 Zamoyskiego Street, which she bought for her mother. The building wall features a plaque commemorating Pola Negri.
Turning left into Śniadeckich Street, on the left-hand side we stop by a bewitching neo-Renaissance villa at number 1, the present-day offices of the ADM Municipal Buildings Administration, dating back to the 1870’s, which was a property of Louis Aronshon, the founder of the “Archer Lady” statue. The villa interiors feature many elements of the original décor, with particularly impressive stoves. Further, at number 25 we go past a big city tenement house (1911, designed by Georg Baesler), and beside it a small single-storey house with a gable roof, from the days when construction of the district was started. On the opposite side of the street, at number 36, it is worthwhile paying attention to the neo-Gothic house of worship of the Apostolic Union from 1864. The house at number 42 is another neo-Renaissance tenement house with an interesting detail, designed by Józef Święcicki (dating from 1882-1883). We reach Piastowski Square, which was marked out as a market square of the so-called Elizabethan district established in the mid-19th century, named after Elizabeth Ludovika – the wife of the then Prussian ruler, Frederick William. There was a park and a marketplace, which functions to this day.
It is worthwhile taking a closer look at the western frontage, at the intersection with Chrobrego Street; at number 23, there is a corner tenement house with a characteristic corner crowned with a cupola. At 6 Wileńska Street, Marian Rejewski, already mentioned, was born. This building features a commemorative plaque. Moving back to Śniadeckich Street, which is the main compositional axis of the district, at number 45 we see a bewitching tenement house guarded by a bear cub sculpture, and the wings of a gate with wrought-iron grille, since metal craftwork companies operated successfully in Bydgoszcz. Going further in the direction of Matejki Street, we see the neo-baroque Church of the Sacred Heart (1910-1913, designed by Oskar Hossfeld of Berlin), in the past designed for the Catholics of German origin. It is worthwhile looking inside the church to see the preserved decor dating back to the time of its construction. Continuing the walk towards the railway station, we reach the Protestant church in Zbawiciela Square – designed by H. Seeling. Behind the church is an interesting complex of barracks from the 1870’s. Turning left into Matejki Street we reach Dworcowa Street, and turn right into this street. Our attention is captured by the monumental neo-mannerist building, with a front garden, erected in 1886-1889 for the then Eastern Railways Authority – designed by Martin P. Gropius & Heino Schmieden, modified by national construction inspector Bergman. Impressive brick façades contrast with a rich, sculpture detail made of light sandstone. This construction solved premises problems of this important city office. In 1849, Bydgoszcz became the seat of the Royal Eastern Railways Board, transformed in the same year into Europe’s first district railways authority. Starting from 1853, its offices were located in the railway station building, which – in spite of extension – was constantly too small.
On the opposite side of the street, at number 82, is the building of the old elementary school with a structure unchanged since the period of its extension in the middle of the 1870’s, with forms characteristic of education buildings in those days. Further, in the direction of the railway station, on the left-hand side at number 65, is the head office of the State Archive, located in a grand residential-office building, with an excellently preserved classicist attire. It was erected for the brothers Teodor and Adolf Wulff. In 1865-1876, they managed a river shipyard and a steel structures factory. A brick production facility at the back of the plot dates back to that period.
Did you know that...
In the year of its establishment, the Wulff brothers’ company built in their river shipyard the “Germania” steam river boat with a chain drive. It was used to tow barges and rafts, and in 1970 the company prepared the structure of a steel bridge on the River Brda, the predecessor of the present Bernardyński Bridge.
Further, at number 67 we see a modernist tenement house in all its glory (dating from 1912-1913) erected for Berlin bookseller Erich Hecht to a design by Otto Walter of Berlin. The façade with unique decor features fantastic and mythological creatures, and above the main entrance a bas-relief with a rider on a horse. Above the bas-relief, there is a cartouche with an image of a pike –referring to the investor’s surname (German “Hecht”, Polish ”szczupak”, English ”pike”). Crossing the intersection with Królowej Jadwigi Street, we reach two interesting tenement houses located opposite one another at number 77 and 100, designed by Karl Bergner, which seem to form a gateway open to the city centre. Standing here, with our backs to the railway station, we see that from this point Dworcowa Street becomes narrower. Its further route corresponds with the medieval track of the former road to Koronowo. We turn back and, going straight ahead, we go to the edifice of the Main Railway Station, where our trip ends.
We turn right into Krasińskiego Street, where at the corner with Gdańska Street, at number 2, it is worthwhile taking a closer look at the tenement house representing the classicising modernist trend, designed by Julius Knüpfer. Going eastwards, passing the sub-lieutenant Leszek Biały Square, with a characteristic concrete sculpture, we will get to the exceptional garden district, the history of which dates back to the mid-19th century. At that time, the city authorities bought a vast area as a reserve for the future extension of the city. In the late 19th century, the concept of a spatial arrangement based on the garden city idea began to be created.
In 1912, the final design was prepared by Joseph Herman Stübben, which became the foundation for marking out a district gracefully called Sielanka (English “idyll”). The district’s green square (the present-day Marian Turwid Square) was placed in the centre. The district was popular among the Bydgoszcz elite. Physicians, lawyers, architects and factory owners used to live here. At 16 Kopernika Street, in the corner plot by Ossolińskich Avenue stands a villa called Netherlander, built ca. 1933 by Antoni Weynerowski as a wedding gift for his son Witold and his wife Julia (who most probably brought the design from her homeland – the Netherlands). This house, distinguished by a de l’Orme roof, surrounded by a beautiful garden, appeared in a newsreel about Bydgoszcz in 1937. After the war, the expropriated villa became a kindergarten. The family which owned this house also owned the famous footwear factory “Leo” that after the war was changed to “Kobra”. The old residence (1933, designed by Jan Kossowski) of merchant Czesław Borys, located at 8a Sielanka Street, was intended for the local Registry Office – Civil Registry Office. We leave Sielanka, going back along Krasińskiego Street to Gdańska Street, turn left and go down Gdańska Street, reaching the Old Town.
In the distance one can see the dome of the largest church in Bydgoszcz, St. Vincent de Paul Basilica Minor (designed by Adam Ballenstedt), which is modelled after the Roman Pantheon. The church dome was decorated with rosettes featuring motifs of Polish flowers.