I grew up in an industrial city in the north east of what was then called Czechoslovakia. “Black” Ostrava was the city of coal and iron, the steel heart of the republic.
Black soot and dust, always present in the air, the smoke darkening the sky, the smell of mine gases and chemicals, the chimneys churning coloured fumes, the noise and rumble, were all parts of our everyday lives. We accepted the world of factories, coal mines, slag heaps, coking plants and blast furnaces as a part of the town’s urban landscape.
You could be walking in the street and suddenly find yourself in the middle of a factory with flames blazing out of chimney stacks; or you could be walking in a park with trolleys slowly moving above your head, carrying coal from a mine into a coking plant. It wasn’t unusual to come back home and find out that you had been walking around with a big black smudge on your face.
Those days are long gone. All the mines have been closed, the slag heaps are overgrown with grass, the ironworks near the city centre have been switched off, the coking plant knocked down to give space to a new, super modern shopping centre.
Strangely enough, I miss the town’s rough and raw character. It had its charm that had been a very strong source of inspiration for a lot of artists, writers and poets. Now I wish I had appreciated my home town more and captured the essence of it while I was still living there. But as with everything in your life – you never know what you have until you lose it.
Fortunately not all of the town’s character is lost. The dark, imposing silhouette of the blast furnaces of Vítkovice ironworks remains the town’s most significant landmark. Due to the efforts of its management, the area was turned into a centre of science, technology, education and arts. The enormous gas holder is now a concert and exhibition hall. The central energy station has become an interactive science museum. You can go up the oldest blast furnace and get an idea of how complex the process of iron smelting was. At the same time you can admire a unique view of the city with a beautiful backdrop of nearby mountains. The coal mine is coming to life and being converted into art studios and a space for alternative theatre performances, film festivals, concerts, educational seminars.
All this in the middle of industrial decay. Beautiful and inspiring decay that brings out the real character of the place. Fortunately being preserved and developed into a national heritage. I feel lucky I had a chance to see a glimpse of it and capture a few images that will always remind me of the old world I grew up in…