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Villa Nova? Just like Szczecin!

Picture this, one Villa which can stand as a representation and symbol for the whole of Szczecin! Within the history of this building can be seen the history of the city, and therefore what has made Szczecin the city that it is today. Demonstrating growth and fall, greatness and decline, cultural highs and lows, political changes both local and international as well as standing witness to the great social changes that have swept the land upon which it sits. This multi-layered and contrasting fate of the Villa serves as a symbolic, and on times verging upon the grotesque’ interpretation of history.
August Lentz was a wealthy Szczecin entrepreneur and director of the fireclay production plant. It was at his request that the Villa was built during the years 1888-1889. Yet he was unable to enjoy his spectacular and sumptuous home for long as he died in 1895 at the age of 65. Still, his enjoyment lasted longer than that of its creator, Max Drechsler – a young, talented architect and holder of the gold medal of the Dresden Academy of Arts. In 1892 Drechsler conducted a business trip from Szczecin to Berlin and never returned. He fell ill with the flu whilst there and died (I'm writing this during the plague giving it some extra thought). Perhaps Drechsler, whose name bears some significance here as in German it means a turner, which can be associated with creative crafts and construction, could have created and built much more in Szczecin if he had not left for Berlin. It reminds me of Wit Stwosz. After all, Gałczyński – also from Szczecin – wrote: "Sonny, there is a great wind in the sky. Don't go to Nuremberg." Wit went and was worse off.

The Lentz family then handed over the Villa and it passed through the hands of another merchant (a grain one this time) before becoming the property of the City of Stettin. Things become even more involved and even more interesting. At some point, it was the location of the NSDAP (i.e. the Nazi party) and then of the 3rd Reconnaissance Aviation Regiment (Luftgau Nachrichten Regiment). After the war, naturally and maliciously, it hosted the Red Army and then – in way of contrast – the Roman Catholic Church (more precisely: the delegation of the apostolic administration based in Gorzów Wielkopolski).

However, it didn't last long as in 1950, to be precise – the7th November, another change occurred. This date is somewhat forgotten today. Yet It marks the anniversary of the October Revolution. Still, the Villa built for a fireclay specialist, but having all the features of an aristocratic palace, was for the first time officially named a Palace. What's more: the Children's Palace. At the request of the Society of the Friends of Children, this institution was established in it by the town hall. The chronicle of the Palace that has survived to this day consists of an album with photos, cutouts from the press, and also handwritten entries, this undoubtedly valuable initiative was quite amusingly explained in an entry that began with the words: "During the interwar period, there were no activities in the field of extracurricular education taking place. It happened only in Poland, liberated from fascism.”

The point is that there is not a word in the entry about the Villa as an interesting or noteworthy place that had these activities taking place there for so many years, thus dismissing this part of history as irrelevant. Two years later, on the next anniversary of the Revolution, the Children's Palace had already been renamed as the Youth Palace. As such, it survived in Szczecin until 2008.

It would of course be very interesting to have a symposium or convention where the achievements of the Szczecin Palace was discussed and highlighted maybe with interviews and recollections of witnesses and people who had been involved in the past. Not necessarily on November 7th. And maybe because the leading studios, and then the Palace's departments (maritime! but also aviation! – by the way, did anyone think about the "tradition" of the 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment?), were somehow not in the sphere of my main interests.

From that point on there were many and varied forms of extracurricular activities for children and adolescents yet this did result in the Youth Palace losing its ideological meaning and inevitably saw the decline in importance and relevance of the Youth Palace as a tradition and cultural icon in the life of Szczecin. Yet it remains a strong memory in the minds of many local people, in fact recent discussions regarding the renovation of the Lentz Villa saw many people comment that the name Youth Palace should be kept.

The renovations have proved to be of a standard unseen to date in Szczecin and thus it would be a shame if the Villa was not open with young people in mind. Although, perhaps the bigger issue is that the Villa should simply be open for all of the inhabitants of Szczecin to enjoy.

The spaces there are vast yet remain intimate. It should not be closed off like a monument and just written about as an example of a by-gone age and as an example of a distant bourgeois luxury as a sign that the bourgeoisie used to be different!

Yes, it can be a "pearl", as people like to write about it today, of Szczecin's architecture and, as such, proudly displayed on brochures for tourists, but above all, let it just be. It should not be just for show. It would be put to far better use as an extraordinary place where natural human energy can come alive and fill the rooms and spaces with life, energy and excitement. Where the human spirit can soar whilst being nurtured. In short, long live the Villa!

The Villa should be widely available to everyone and could also be used to host such events and initiatives as Theatre, such venues are hard to find in Szczecin currently, concerts, literary meetings and many other cultural events.

This would not be the first time for there was a very famous event, allegedly the first literary meeting, reported in the "Kurier Szczeciński" in 1953 with a large title that read "Mr. Brandys was late".

However, the Palace chronicle recorded the following details: "He was late. We waited for two hours. We lost hope. He has not failed." On the one hand, the record was calligraphic (as it was written in such chronicles then) whilst on the other, interestingly, it does not seem to be clear whether "Mr. Brandys" was then late and did not disappoint, or he never appeared at all. Yet it can be assumed that Kazimierz, the author concerned, and then an ideological communist, was not talking about his books at the time. He had recently published his series, "The Untamed City", which was an expression of his deeply party-supportive views on the Polish intelligentsia during the war. The chronicle informs that ... "he told about the sad experiences of little Koreans in an interesting way".

This and many other interesting historical anecdotes could, of course, also be told if the building at 84 Wojska Polskiego Avenue was not allowed to deteriorate slowly, year after year, as has been allowed to it happen, sometimes only remembered by some media story and to stand in ruins waiting for someone to remember it . Waiting for some private investor to rescue and renovate and see the Villa for its potential.

Without some form of action the Lentz Villa will be yet another dead monument, dying before our very eyes…

We would walk past it with a sigh, saying:
Once this house was teeming with life, many children learned skills and had fun in its environment and many cultural events took place... The building housed the centre of the "Szczecin 2016" initiative – an idea to make Szczecin the European Capital of Culture in 2016. The Villa's fate in this context would be as significant as the defeat of Szczecin in that race for being the cultural capital.

I am consciously drawing the black clouds of this catastrophic prophecy over the Villa to make its actual fate sharper. Despite the fears, we did not live to see any ruin. On the contrary, the City did a lot to maintain the Villa and make it what it already is. One of the cities most excellent, and with time perhaps the most emblematic images.

Let's be clear: it was possible to simply renovate the Villa, make a functional yet only distant copy of its original shape. And probably there would be no significant protests if this had occurred. Yet the City bravely chose a more challenging, and in reality not such an obvious path. They decided to recreate the palace villa as close as possible to its original shape. It is worth remembering because it is an architectural phenomenon in the history of Szczecin .

So today Villa Lentz is – as architectural specialists and cultural historians claim – "the greatest factory residence", "a great example of the style of the second (French!) empire", "a wonderful bloom of eclecticism" (baroque, mannerism, renaissance and additionally ... the "Moorish hall" – initially being a bathroom). The Villa can probably be described as a very complex jewellery mechanism. Still, all this – along with its rich, paradoxical history – simply proves that it is a gem that has long been used to unite contradictions in itself. It can make an asset from its variety which at times is beautiful and at others motley.

So let it make this asset for itself and its new life. Out of respect for the past and tradition, let it go by the name of the Lentz Villa and implicitly, symbolically as Villa Nova. And let it fit in with Szczecin as such.

With the history of the city, its culture, its non-obviousness...

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