Friday 23 March 2018

Bratislava Diaries, Part 3: Curious Statuary

Here's the final instalment from my recently unearthed diary entries about a visit some years ago to Bratislava, capital city of Slovakia...

I encounter some odd recently-placed statues on my way through the Old Town today.

This seems to be a Central Europe trademark, whimsical bits of statuary interacting with the cityscape.

First there’s a moustachioed guy dipping his top hat, then a delightful paparazzo statue leaning around a corner with a long lens, eternally snapping the outdoor sippers at a street cafe.

Then finally, and most famously, the guy who looks like he’s down a manhole, though he’s leaning on its rim and having a rest. There’s even a sort of ‘man at work’ sign next to him.

Like a lot of Central European decor, these statues fit within their context, rather than seeming as cute as they might elsewhere.

It’s sad to realise that communism would never have put up anything like these – that in even in this cheeky, lightweight, irreverent humour there would have been a threat to its existence. Tragic that even humour couldn’t be tolerated. Or, more precisely, the individuality behind the humour and individual reactions.

I duck down an arcade full of fashionable clothing boutiques, to emerge next to U Jakuba.

I’d been looking out for this – an old-fashioned cafeteria of the type that once fed the proletariat in the communist days. And in fact, feeds all kinds of workers now.

It’s about time for lunch, so I go in, grab a tray and cutlery and join the queue. Reaching the counter, I pull the “I’ll have what she’s having” trick, and end up with what must be the lunch special – a schnitzel, mashed potato and pickles.

It’s excellent, simple food – and only costs me about $6.

Just down the road I hit a square, NĂ¡mestie SNP. In the centre is a set of statues: a man in a robe with a rifle, and two women standing behind him.

Erected (I guess) in the communist era, it commemorates the Slovaks’ national revolt against Nazi rule in 1944. For such an emotional event, the blocky statuary seems strangely lifeless, lacking dynamism.

Though communism lacked a sense of humour, it is itself an enormous font of material for comedic treatment. Anything that took itself so very seriously is naturally asking for it.

And so it is that mock communist nostalgia bars have blossomed across the former Eastern Bloc. Bratislava’s version is a bar named KGB.

Descending to a basement off a busy pedestrian strip, I admire a portrait of Stalin flanked by US and Soviet flags and an electronic darts machine, then enjoy a good Slovak beer just across from a bust of a lecturing Lenin.

And so to the Slovak Radio building, my final communist-era highlight of the day.

It’s amazing, a huge rust-coloured inverted pyramid containing multiple floors of radio workers, each level wider than the next.

Perhaps this was a communist comment about overturning hierarchies? Whatever, it’s so absurd that I'm grinning as I take a photo of it. The structure is absurdly typical of what I expect from that era's architecture.

The communists mostly did bland, but every so often they’d go crazy and do absolutely, absurdly, ridiculously, impractically, over-the-top stuff like this.

No-one’s going to miss them, but at least they’ve left behind some relics from which we can get a good laugh.

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