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

Let’s be honest for a while, take a short walk through the streets of the Slovak capital and keep your eyes and ears open, what can you see? What can you hear? How does your perception confront with what you expected? Did you expect anything?

”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 (a story in itself) and the 4-lane road leading to the SNP bridge, only a few metres from medieval St. Martin’s cathedral.

Also, the former Vydrica historical neighbourhood, a great location for the most spectacular pictures of the Bratislava skyline, is now a semi-official car park covered by billboards.

Enjoy the walk through (newly renovated) historical Štúrova street and you end up gazing upon 1960’s modernist triangle of shopping centres and an 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.

We could then continue to the most modern riverside housing developments which border some of the last pieces of industrial heritage and bushes (behind the billboards) that replaced other, more than a 100-years old, factories.

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

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