Pressburg, Pozsony or Post-communism: what is Bratislava?

Let’s be honest for a while. Let’s take a short walk through the streets of Slovak capital and keep your eyes and ears open. What can you see? What can you hear? How your perceptions stand in confrontation with what you expected? What is Bratislava? How is its identity today?

Bratislava Filiálka former train station

„Bratislava is a contrast of ages“, according to Lonely Planet. Nothing but true. Bratislava castle, shining white since only several years ago, proudly stands in between 1980’s building of Slovak Parliament (story itself) and 4-lane road leading to SNP bridge, only a few metres from medieval St. Martin’s cathedral. Btw, former Vydrica historical neighbourhood is now a semi-official parking place covered by billboards – good opportunity to use Photoshop when taking the most spectacular picture of Bratislava skyline.

Bratislava Istropolis former House of Labour Unions

Enjoy walk through (after 2 years, finally renovated) historical Štúrova street and you end up gazing upon 1960’s modernist triangle of shopping mall and abandoned hotel. Not a bad thing itself, of course. Interesting architecture is now hiding under advertisement pollution, flashing lights of game rooms, broken flower pots, wanna-be street-art and random shanty-town fast-food stands.

Bratislava former Cvernovka textile factory

We could continue with the most modern riverside housing developments bordering some last pieces of industrial heritage and bushes (behing the billboards) that replaced other former more than a 100-years old factories.

This probably does not fit with your expectation based on official advertising of Bratislava destination. You have seen Vienna, Budapest, Prague. Promotion trying to sell Bratislava as Little Vienna fails, because it is not connected to reality.

Bratislava Old Bus Station

Story of Bratislava is peculiar. But not because of our history connected to Austria-Hungarian empire and Habsburgs. Bratislava can amaze visitor by its growth and changes it experienced during 20th century and recent transformations. Five different political systems, changes of its border, unique location, brutal transition of its identity, all this create an intiguing blend that make this city extraordinary. It would be a pity to censor it.

Text and images by: Braňo Chrenka, Authentic Slovakia