Bratislava: Slovakia’s time machine

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If communism fades from people’s memory in Central Europe, it is also because of the lack of remaining elements from this not-so distant time.

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If communism fades from people’s memory in Central Europe, it is also because of the lack of remaining elements from this not-so distant time. In most capitals of Central Europe today, most of the communist legacy disappeared. Statues of Lenin and Marx have been removed; street names changed –fortunately as some used to bear names of dictators-; typical large structures from the architecture of “Real Socialism” have been turned down and replaced by more contemporary ones.

Today, communism legacy is mostly to be seen in some museums, some bars or restaurants. The latter build their success by using sort of communist “nostalgia” – a term Germans have been keen to reinvent into “Ostalgie.” Try then once the “Lenin Pizza” at “Marxim restaurant” in Budapest to understand the craze about the communist world. The place is always packed with young people.

The liveliest vestige of the communist part is, however, to be found in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. Entering the imposing 65-meter-high building with its 15 floors rising over the ground, strolling around the cavernous lobby in dark brown wood and grey marble graced in its centre by a stunning spiral staircase and collecting your bedroom key hanging on an enormous and heavy bronze shaped key ring, you are transported 30 years back.

The Kyjev Hotel, in the Slovak capital, was built in 1973 by Ivan Matušík, a leading figure in Slovak modern architecture. The construction right in the heart of the city comprised the hotel and Bratislava’s most prestigious department store by then, Prior. Bedrooms were left as they used to be 30 years ago. Despite their small size, they are divided by a “mezzanine,” in reality a small podium welcoming a lounge consisted of a low table and two low seats. All details in the bedroom from the carpet to the jug on the table or the mirror in the closet are reminiscent of the seventies. In public places such as bars, restaurants or the lobby, craftsmen worked out fine details such as pyramid-shaped lighting, wooden sculptures and tapestries on the wall.

The only sign of contemporary times is the huge advertising picture covering entirely one of the hotel facades. The building’s transformation into a giant billboard might be interpreted as a sign of the hotel’s future. Sadly, the Kyjev Hotel is due to demolition to give way to Central Plaza, a glitzy development project from British real estate developer Lordship. For €190 (US$283) million, the area would then welcome a luxury hotel, a shopping center as well as condominiums.

However, the development faces some resilience from locals. An association has been created with the support of Docomomo International, a non-profit organization initiated in 1988 by Dutch architects Hubert-Jan Henket and Wessel de Jonge at the School of Architecture of the Technical University in Eindhoven. The association looks at preserving modern movement architecture from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, which are currently neglected as they are rarely considered as part of an urban heritage. For protesters, how brutal the silhouette of the Kyjev Hotel is in the middle of Bratislava’s old town, it is however part of the city’s history and also a testimony to some grand communist-style architecture in the seventies.

So far, the Central Plaza project has been delayed but completion is due for 2010.
For tourists, it is time to rush-up to experience a piece of authentic “communist –style” atmosphere. So far, the hotel has been a hit with young travelers, families and tourists with small budget as rooms cost on average €50 (US$75) to €60 (US$89) per night, including a giant breakfast. It could also now attract aficionados of the Seventies.

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About the author


Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.