Bratislava … a wobbly bridge shaped like a UFO, a church obsessed with the colour blue, and a radio station housed in a huge upside-down pyramid: romantic pre-war façades and minimalist Communist architecture in the capital of Slovakia

Walking around Bratislava is an exciting architectural lottery: one constantly wonders whether the next corner will reveal another fairytale palace from a bygone age or a modern concrete monstrosity from a recent nightmare era. Slovakia’s extreme political switch in the twentieth century from Empire to Socialism, is clear to be seen in its capital’s preserved architecture. In and around the city’s Old Town, strikingly minimalist structures from the city’s post-war Socialist era stand shoulder-to-shoulder, or rather gutter-to-gutter, with ornate baroque and neoclassical examples from Slovakia’s Austro-Hungarian past, as can be seen in my short film here.

 

The imposing Saint Michael’s Gate, the remaining medieval gate tower – with a few baroque modifications – in Bratislava’s Old Town. With parts of it dating back to 1300, it is believed to be the oldest surviving building in the city

The eighteenth century clock tower and Apponyi Palace along Hlavné námestie in the heart of the Old Town. Look at those cute dormer windows

Pretty in pink: the neoclassic Primates Palace, built between 1778 and 1781. It is now the office of the Mayor of Bratislava

The beautiful and quirky eighteenth century Church of Saint Elizabeth…

…fondly known as the ‘Blue Church’ for obvious reasons

…and yes, it’s predominantly blue on the inside as well

The most iconic structure in the city: the New Bridge née Most SNP, built during the city’s post-war Socialist era

There is not a single column built on the Danube river-bed to support the bridge from underneath

Instead, suspension cables from the overhead land-based pillars hold it up. The design is aesthetically striking but structurally the bridge is prone to shaking, vibrating and wobbling whenever heavy traffic drives across it

The pedestrian walkway underneath the traffic lanes of the Most SNP, looking south

One can appreciate how very different in style a Communist-era structure like the Most SNP is to the more decadent medieval, baroque and neoclassic structures standing along the banks either end of it. Surprisingly though, the Most SNP appears to complement its opposing architectural neighbours. The precise straight lines and minimalist construction of the bridge actually draws one’s attention to these pre-war buildings along the banksides, and from certain angles, frames them rather beautifully.

The eighteenth century St Martin’s Cathedral seen from underneath the UFO observation tower of the Most SNP

Bratislava Castle as seen from the cycling lane of Most SNP…

…and from the viewing platform at the highest point of the bridge (reserved for patrons of the expensive but very nice restaurant and bar up there)

Looking east from the top of the UFO observation tower towards the Stary Most bridge

Looking south from the top of the UFO observation tower. Sadly, the evening was misty so the huge array of tower blocks making up the infamous Petržalka housing development built during the Socialist era, can not be seen very clearly in this shot

Slavín is a Soviet memorial monument that sits on a hill a short distance north-west of Bratislava’s Old Town. It was inaugurated in 1960, fifteen years after the Red Army liberated the city from Nazi occupation which hailed the beginning of the end of the Second World War. The six-and-a-half thousand soldiers who died during the liberation are all buried here.

The final few steps towards Slavín

A carving of Red Army soldiers showing their allegiance to the Soviet Union, by the steps of Slavín

The grand Slavín monument

At the top of the monument stands a triumphant Red Army soldier trampling over a broken Nazi Swastika

Some of the statues around the Slavín monument and cemetery celebrating the Red Army’s 1945 triumph in what was then Czechoslovakia

The view of Bratislava Castle – and the rest of the city if it wasn’t so misty – looks stunning from Slavín hill

The vantage point Slavín offers over the city, allows one to see just how strikingly jarring Communist-era architecture could be… and still is. To the right of this shot is…

…the Slovensky Rozhlas (Slovak Radio) building. It is hard to miss even on a grim, misty evening

Showing the ancient Egyptians where they went wrong: the Slovensky Rozhlas building was constructed – at great expense – in the 1970s during the height of the city’s Socialist period. It was built to house the city’s local radio station and is still used for this purpose today

Like it or loathe it, the Slovensky Rozhlas pyramid building makes its presence known

Along the horizon of Bratislava’s tranquil Forest Park stands the Kamzik TV mast

Arguably, this structure, also built during Slovakia’s Socialist-era, is not as brutal as its radio counterpart

I have seen a lot worse. This actually looks rather modern

If the weather is clear and one can convince the rather inquisitive waitress at the entrance of the tower lift that one’s intentions on going up to the viewing platform above is solely to buy an expensive drink from the bar up there, then stunning panoramic views of Bratislava city can be enjoyed from the top of the Kamzik TV tower.

The view, albeit spoilt by the wintry mist, across the Forest Park back down towards Bratislava’s Old Town, as seen from the small, enclosed viewing platform – and bar area – of the Kamzik TV tower

The Forest Park has always been a great spot to escape to for the people of Bratislava

All kinds of pursuits and sporting activities take place here. There is even a chair lift that takes passengers down the Koliba hill to Železná studienka in around ten minutes

Maybe the fact that most people would prefer not to be dangling above the ground in sub-zero temperatures for several minutes, would explain why I seemed to be the only one riding the chair lift that day

Where the chair lift terminates on the way down: Drieñovská luka station and Železná studienka

Back in the city, not all of Bratislava’s surviving relics from the Cold War era are being preserved. Although Czecho-Slovakia was not part of the Soviet Union, its Socialist-Communist status positioned it firmly behind the Iron Curtain resulting in, amongst other things, a paranoia and distrust for Westerners on a par with its Soviet neighbour. Just as in every major Soviet city at the time, western visitors to Bratislava during the Cold War were only allowed to stay in one, albeit most lavish hotel in the city. Standing just outside Bratislava’s Old Town, the Hotel Kyjek distracted and disarmed western guests with its opulence in order to secretly listen in to their every conversation. This key building in Slovakia’s Cold War history however, has recently closed down and is due for demolition. The adjoining 1960s PRIOR shopping complex however, survives for now at least.

The PRIOR department store built during Bratislava’s Socialist period now houses a number of Western high street brands and the Capitalist’s favourite supermarket chain Tesco.
The tower block Hotel Kyjek can just be seen peeping over the complex in the background

This three-sided block in front of the department store is not only a handy stone billboard for the complex…

…it also displays the original floorplan of the complex as designed by Ivan Matušík, although it doesn’t point out where the exits or toilets are

Close by, and almost hidden from view in the bushes is evidence of Socialist Bratislava’s close ties with the Soviet Union
(PS: the tower block in the distance is the old Hotel Kyjev)

This monument is one of three similar pieces dotted around the city celebrating the twinning of Bratislava with Kiev in 1977. Various celebratory events took place here in Stone Square and elsewhere in the city between the 12th and 18th of September that year to mark the occasion

TLT x

Useful information

The Blue Church is located on Modrý kostol sv. Alžbety, just off Gajova and is a short walk east of the Old Town. It is usually marked out on tourist maps of the city. The church is opened daily but usually only for a couple of hours in the morning and early evening in preparation for mass.

Pedestrian access to the traffic lanes of the New Bridge/Most SNP/UFO bridge is prohibited. Walkways underneath the traffic lanes are designated for pedestrians (east side) and cyclists (west side) and are accessed from the Old Town via Rybne nám at the far end of Hviezdoslavovo nám, the grassy boulevard in front of the National Theatre. Walking/cycling/driving across the bridge is free.

To gain access to the UFO observation platform on top of the bridge pillars requires having a meal or at least a drink inside the UFO restaurant housed inside the platform. Understandably, the restaurant and bar are popular with tourists and if choosing to eat there, it is wise to book a table at least twenty-four hours in advance. Presently (2017), I cannot find a working website to reserve tables there, so the best thing to do is book one with the bilingual receptionist sitting in the small enclosed area by the lift at the foot of the pillars along the south bank. Once allowed entry into the restaurant, access to the platform above is free and unlimited during your stay.

N.B: the UFO restaurant has gone to great lengths to give its customers every opportunity to enjoy its panoramic views, and I mean every opportunity. One can enjoy the view through the partially frosted floor-to-ceiling windows in the toilet cubicles, although bear in mind that if using the cubicle for anything other than admiring the view, one will in turn be ‘on view’ to the outside world.

Walking up to the Slavín memorial is – and no doubt deliberately – like a pilgrimage involving stamina and good knees. The most direct way to it is via the long steep steps by Puškinova, a short walk south towards the Old Town from the main train station, along the busy Stefaniková highway. There is a bus – the number 147 – that stops just by the final steps to Slavín. Unfortunately, I don’t know where in the city this bus can be picked up from and going by the timetable on the bus stop, it only passes by Slavín a few times a day. Entrance to the cemetery and around the monument is free and both appear to be open to the public twenty-four hours a day.

The Slovensky Rozhlas pyramid building is just north of Nám Slobody (Freedom Square). Strangely, it is not often marked out on tourist maps but cannot be missed whilst walking along Mytna. The number 23 bus towards Koliba from Hodžovo nám opposite the east wing of the Grassalkovich Palace passes close by. Apparently, the reception area is open to the public and it often hosts exhibitions about the history of the radio station.

Koliba is the southern entrance to the Forest Park and the same number 23 bus terminates there at least twice hourly every day. From the terminus, follow the road up into the forest and follow the path towards Kamzik TV Tower. There are few signs to point visitors in the right direction but there are plenty of people around to ask and follow. Entrance via the ground level bar of the tower is free. As soon as you wander over to the lift, someone working at the tower will try and discourage you from going into it. Say you wish to eat in the restaurant bar at the top. This should be enough to convince them to allow you to carry on into the lift and up to the viewing platform. The enclosed area is small and the bar is more like a manned vending machine, but you are not obliged to buy anything if you are unfazed by the barman’s pushiness. Apparently, the toilets here also have windows so you can always escape to the loo and enjoy the view in peace there.

Frustratingly, there appears to be few signs in the Forest Park to point people to the chair lift. It is not far from the TV Tower, but don’t mistake it for the ski lift next to the adventure park. It runs from morning to sunset Tuesdays to Sundays. Single and return tickets can be bought from the kiosk next to the chairlift stations. The return journey costs around €6 (2017).

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Bratislava and the Austrian-Slovakian-Hungarian tripoint. The exact geographical point that looks more like the middle of nowhere

 

 

 


Tallinn, the Hotel Viru and the KGB museum 


 

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