|Danubiana Museum from the Sculpture Garden|
|Town Hall, Hlavni Namesti, Bratislava. This square and a few old town streets around it are all that remain of Habsburg Pressburg|
This city has been squabbled over for centuries, between Austrians, Germans, Hungarians, Czechs and Russians. It was Pressburg in the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire; the Hungarians called it Pozsony; it became the second city in the former Czechoslovakia, devoutly Roman Catholic in contrast to the sturdy indifference many Czechs feel for organised religion. Painfully, it briefly became the main city of "independent" Slovakia in late 1938, a German vassal state from then until May 1945; its architecture was altered completely as the Red Air Force bombed the place relentlessly, then their army counterparts smashed their way in in the last days of the war. With that, Slovakia once again became part of the Czechoslovak state, and remained so until the "Velvet Divorce" saw it re-emerge as a legitimately independent country in 1993.
|Communist-era statue commemorating nineteenth century Slovak hero and codifier of modern Slovak, Ludovit Stur|
If this frantic contracting and releasing of the historical slinky spring isn't enough, it could be argued that the changes that the city has undergone since that point have exceeded any in the previous ninety years. Since the renowned Slovak dissident Alexander Dubcek emerged from twenty years of internal exile, to give his first speech in Bratislava, this place has transformed itself from being a rather drab provincial city into today's "Little Big City".
New shopping centres have sprouted as quickly as athlete's foot in an old trainer. Conspicuous extremes of wealth and poverty are visible; from old men raking the bins for anything sellable, to footballer's wives sweeping past in gleaming new BMWs, chihuahua precariously perched on the lap. Big business has taken over; Bratislava is now an engineering city, old smokestack factories left to fall down whilst the likes of VW, and Kia, further north in Zilna, have established hugely profitable new facilities. Wealthier Slovaks now find land cheaper on the Austrian side of the border than in their own capital; opera buffs go to the opera in Vienna on the Danube boat, just as would have happened a hundred and twenty years ago.
Everyone seems in a hurry, much more so than next door in the Czech Republic; Bratislava is ranked in the fifty most expensive cities in the world, and it seems like the locals have to work very hard in an attempt to keep up with the frantic pace of economic change in their city. For all the pressure they seem to be under, the average Slovak in the street is very friendly and helpful, although noticeably less English is spoken here, even by younger people. It seems almost comical, now, that there are still streets named after Soviet republics (Armenia, Kazhakstan, Uzbekistan); bar these lingering remnants of nomenclature, and the architecture, it's now hard to envisage how this place could have been so very different, very recently.
|Sculpture Park, Danubiana|
|Rudolf Sikora, Czechoslovakia 1969, 1969|
|Rudolf Sikora, From the cycle Grave for Malevich (Forward!), 2005-6|
Annoyingly, I missed out on what looked like two interesting shows at the Slovak National Gallery; one show in particular, a mixture of paintings, photographs and posters from 1918-49, looks fantastic. there is also a show of Polish painting c. 1900 on. Sadly, also, the HiT Gallery, the first artists-run space in Bratislava which has been building a real reputation for a few years now, is closed for the summer.
I had dallied too long today at Danubiana, but will try and nip into town and see the National Gallery shows tomorrow, before heading for Klagenfurt in the afternoon. I have just a night in Carinthia, before taking my first steps on former Yugoslav soil; I am spending four days in Rijeka, from Friday to Tuesday, so expect a few more updates from there. I had toyed with the idea of staying a couple of days more here, as it really is quite a unique city; I also looked into pushing on much further East, to Kosice in the east of Slovakia, near to the border with Ukraine, then unfurling a savage pincer movement down through Hungary and straight into Serbia. But, Klagenfurt was already booked, and couldn't be changed, so in a frankly shameful exhibition of mediocre conservatism, I went with Plan "A" afterall.
|Pisspoor Facebook self-portrait compositions no. 174: your humble correspondent in Danubiana's mirror glass|