For those who have spent most of their lives in this city, it's difficult to feel the changes that have occured over the last decade. But for those who look at Bratislava with visitors' eyes, it's as plain as day: from a dead grey city at the beginning of the 1990s with some restaurants of dubious reputation and a few ravaged historical buildings, Bratislava has become a pleasant small big city.
Several key events have hastened the evolution of this spellbound ugly frog into a delightful little princess of east-central Europe. The major social and political changes implicit in the 1989 Velvet Revolution started it all. These were followed by a crucial yet invisible process of property restitution, which returned our 'collective' and decaying property to its rightful owners. Perhaps even more important for this city, one where in the 1970s only every third dweller was native, a change has occured within people's souls. Residents have come to accept this city as their home and have begun to live in and with it.
Then, a visionary project for reconstruction of Bratislava's historical core helped the downtown area. Old Town is Bratislava's most precious possession. It is something Bratislavans can be proud of, a site which gives them a place among European capital cities. Bratislava has always been a town of marches, parades and passionate welcome rallies. When it was brightened up before the Prague Spring in the late 1960s, Bratislavans returned to their 'Korzo', the Old Town pedestrian zone reportedly Europe's northernmost Mediterranean-type promenade.
Korzo's second revival in the mid 1990s was a bit more complicated. A whole generation had passed, and the historic Old Town now offered only a few attractions that could lure people to visit it. Consequently, the city's looks had to be improved by restoring its buildings and streets and paving the way for new shops, restaurants, pubs and cafés.
The 1997 return to Korzo after almost 30 years was a bit confused. The mayor had to invite people for the first 'Korzo party' over the radio. An astounding 30,000 people finally showed up, some with their entire families. Teenage daughters asked their fathers after a few minutes' stroll what the circus was all about, why people were just walking around and greeting friends. But after they too met all their peers within an hour, even those they hadn't seen for ages, even the skeptics fell under the spell of the Old Town promenade.
During its first months the Korzo revival was helped by staged events. At the beginning, the city hall staged them on its own, whereas now managers and promoters fight for vacant dates on the Main Square.
Don't get me wrong. Few people in this city are as happy as I am when I see my fellow Bratislavans quitting work to take off for a weekend's gardening. But I'm also happy with the boom in printed programmes offering instructions on 'how to use cultural Bratislava' because now there is finally something to write about.
At the same time, those magical impressions of the first open air concerts on Main Square are passing away. From early spring until late autumn, the city centre is now hit by continuous waves of concerts, happenings, special events and sales promotions. Only a few of them are attended by people who deliberately come downtown for that purpose. Most of them, on the other hand, rely on the curiosity of the passers-by who swamp the centre.
As the number of music events taking place in the streets and squares of downtown Bratislava increases, the resistance of city centre residents is climbing as well. So far, these residents have acted with reserve and tolerance. And there is an easy though cynical response to all those who complain at the noise and want to sleep: If you don't like living in the centre, place an ad that you want to exchange your flat, and in an hour you will have 10 offers on the table.
But although the city centre belongs to all of us, the concerns of its residents should be taken into account. City Hall does this by registering public cultural events. Those involving music are rarely allowed to be held after 10.00 p.m. And perhaps the time has come to reserve particular Old Town public spaces for certain acts. For example, after the Hviezdoslav Square reconstruction is complete, it would become a promenade with classical and jazz music concerts, similar to Main Square. The bands' managers have an important word, too. I love Slovak rock bands like Hex, Para and Vidiek, but seeing them at four different events during one weekend doesn't do their image any good.
It is impossible to please everyone. After many years, Bratislava' s Old Town is a place for the arts, for fun and entertainment, dedicated to its best traditions. For many years, people have striven for its resurrection. But now that we have achieved it, we must begin to consider how the living standards of Old Town residents have been affected.
10. Jul 2000 at 0:00