Communist Architecture Collection in Europe’s Dead Centre – Bratislava
Bratislava, Slovakia. Like the red-headed step-child in the middle of a three kid family, Bratislava is cruelly overlooked. Nearby city-siblings Prague and Vienna get all the glory, and Bratislava, apart from a short period in the naughties as a stag-party favourite, just doesn’t attract the same number of tourists.
Hardly off the beaten track, Bratislava is located geographically in the dead center of Europe, and only 34 miles from Vienna. The city has a rich and complex history (both ancient and modern), females known for having the most atypically “model like” features on Earth, hearty cuisine, and diverse architecture. Including many amazing examples of 1960’s and 1970’s communist-era architecture.
Communist Architecture is Not So Hot Right Now
I should preface this article by saying, I’m probably not going to win many Bratislava converts. Personally, I am a fan of communist-era architecture. With elements of brutality and modernism, and a pinch of dystopia, Bratislava has a unique collection of buildings and structures that represent a by-gone era that wasn’t so long ago, and yet, is now strangely foreign and distant.
Prominently situated in prefect juxtaposition to the 1000 year old Bratislava Castle, is the 1960’s “Nový Most” – the worlds first, and only, asymmetrical suspension bridge and UFO tower nightclub restaurant. Formerly known as the not-so-catchy “The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising”, Nový Most, or “the New Bridge” crosses the Danube from down-town Bratislava.
Perched on a two-legged tower, the metal clad UFO has been staring menacingly at the array of classical buildings across the river. Since 1960, it’s been as scary as hell. Not due to the appearance so much as the shaking. It moves. It sways. The bridge, the UFO tower, nothing feels solid. The very fibre of the bridge, concrete and steel, moves so erratically I found myself grabbing anything I could just to keep my balance.
More than once, as I watched the fast-moving Danube River flow under Nový Most, I didn’t think I would make it across. Creaking and groaning, I thought this inevitably would be the day the spectacular bridge and UFO finally comes tumbling down.
After a shaky journey up through the leg of a UFO to a viewing platform 95 metres above Bratislava, you too can have pleasurable day-dreams of crashing to your death atop an otherworldly sci-fi tower in the heart of Europe. Personally, I would be taking photos all the way down, with the spectacular backdrop of old Bratislava on one side, and about a million cookie-cutter Communist apartment blocks on the other. And, I would do anything for that moment to come true.
Bratislava holds one of the densest residential areas in Eastern Europe. “Petržalka”, clearly viewable from atop the UFO tower, is an area the size of a few football fields and home to more than one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants.
Built on a former Hungarian concentration camp, Petržalka has been called “The Bronx of Bratislava”. Countless identical Soviet-era towers do an admirable job at blocking sunlight for all those who inhabit the Stalinist reminder. Another tourist offered his opinion, somewhat crassly – “what a shit hole it must be living out there”.
Perhaps no other building represents the mis-directed ambitions of communist-era Bratislava more than the building that is home to the Slovak radio station. A giant pyramid, built upside-down. Taking twenty-seven years to complete, the building is one of the most inefficient uses of money and space in the history of architecture.
To my eyes, the structure is incredible. However, I can’t help but think it was quite a huge effort, just to house a radio station that blasted out a few hours of government propaganda each day.
Nearby is the worlds largest Post Office, of course. Contextually, the Post Office is a behemoth. Positioned opposite a virtually abandoned graffiti-covered marble-clad park, the socialist administrative building is brutally modernist in design.
Inside the Bratislava post office, exists a unique communist-era escalator. You may have seen one of these in the movies. A conveyor belt drags small wooden platforms up and down the building. You hop on, one person at a time. No door. No rails. Then, jump off when you feel like it. Does it ever stop? What happens when you reach the top, and the platforms turn around and make the return journey, upside down? Valid questions, for which I have no answers.
For the moment, visitors to Bratislava can stay at Hotel Kyjev (pronounced “Kiev”). A masterpiece of communist-era architecture, sadly, the entire block is due to be demolished. Constructed in 1970, the Hotel remains almost unaltered, with funky organic furniture, an overdose of wood paneling, and bullet holes in the door of room 1212. It’s a long sordid story, don’t ask.
Once the Bratislava main-stay for visiting government workers, and even the occasional capitalist pig from the west, Hotel Kyjev is now a little tired, but remains 100% authentic to the mid-century communist architectural aesthetic. Frankly, the hotel building, and adjoining shopping complex are one of the architectural highlights of Bratislava.
UPDATE: Hotel Kyjev Bratislava has now closed down, and awaits demolition.
PS, I visited Bratislava during a failed attempt to make it from Singapore to Oslo overland. I’m now travelling permanently, having visited over forty countries so far.
PPS, bonus trivia – Bratislava and Vienna are the World’s closest Capital cities.
47 thoughts on “Communist Architecture Collection in Europe’s Dead Centre – Bratislava”
Absolutely loved those pics! The first photo is awesome! It’s like the Soviet architects were reading George Orwell’s 1984 for inspiration.
Thanks Eugene – the first photo is one of my favourite photos I have ever taken. Film can be a pain in the ass compared to digital, but when it gives results like this, it’s all worth it.
That building as well as the other ones are not built by soviet architects…sorry – they were slovak…and mostly very good!
Im not talking bout Petržalka, that s a shitty place to live…
Thanks Ludwig. I use the term “Soviet architecture” to denote the period where Slovakia was effectively a satellite-state of the Soviet Union. There are clearly strong “Soviet” design influences. The builders were no doubt local Slovak, and I’m sure many of the architects were as well. Unfortunately, I do not have the specific information on who the architects were, but would be happy to update the article if you (or anyone else) has accurate information.
One thing we do agree upon – yes, the buildings are VERY good!
I got to say – it makes me think Zombie movie, but that’s exactly why I want to go. Who needs a bunch of tourists anyway!
Great pics Nate! Classy! And Thanks for putting another Soviet shithole on my list. I really love these places!
haha thanks Justin. Always a pleasure having your input around here. It’s a really cool part of the world, I recommend spending some time in Bratislava, and all points East of there!
As always, incredible shots! You know this post is right up my alley :) I actually stayed in Petržalka while I was in Bratislava. So interesting- I didn’t know it was built on a former Hungarian concentration camp. Nor that it was considered “the Bronx”. My perception of it was much more colorful, literally….”a residential area of candy colored concrete apartment blocks” I think is what I said. Funny how we can capture such different moods in exactly the same place.
Btw, thanks for including me in your directory!
I knew you would like these photos ;) To be honest, I only travelled though Petržalka, and I had no idea it was known as “the Bronx” until after I left. Personally, I’m a fan of high density areas, and Soviet architecture, so whats not to love about Petržalka! Hopefully it didn’t come across as negative, that wasn’t my intention. Next time, I’ll saty in Petržalka, and get a genuine feel for the place. Also, no worries re: the directory, it reminds me to keep checking your Transnistria articles whenever I feel like a good day-dream ;)
Let us know when you’ll be coming next to stay in Petrzalka! You might be interested in unfinished Metro station on the southern side of Petrzalka and the location of the remains of that concentration camp (even though there’s really not much to see nowadays except for a few tiles on the ground…)
I’ll disagree here with Ludwig. Petrzalka is a shitty place for sightseeing (if you are not interested in “Soviet” architecture of course, like the author here), but a great place to live. And I say this after living several years in Old Town and then moving to Petrzalka :)
Juraj, thank you. I’m very interested in Petrzalka, and will email you when I am next in Bratislava. I would be very keen on taking some photos there! Nate.
The “brutal post office” is actually Slovak technical university. I do not think it was ever a post office, it would really be of no use for this purpose. (The main post office is actually quite nice old building in downtown.)
Thanks Tomas, I very much appreciate the input of a Bratislava local. It appears the building is used as an administrative center. The wikipedia article on Námestie Slobody indicates that the building is “Post Office Palace (Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications of the Slovak Republic)” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C3%A1mestie_Slobody
This article, in Slovak, explains it better : http://sk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Administrat%C3%ADvna_budova_spojov So, indeed, the building may not have ever been a Post Office (although, I do seem to recall there is a small post office on one end of the building), and is just an administrative center. However, the claim of “World’s Largest Post Office” has made it into many guide books and articles around the world!
PS – I entered the building on the opposite side of the square, that seemed to be the Slovak Technical University, but this was difficult to determine 100% when I don’t speak Slovak ;)
I think your one-hundred percent right! I went to Bratislava last smmuer it was the highlight of my trip, i loved how beautiful it was and the weather was excellent, people where friendly, the food was great, the music was awesome and the city had a small town feel and wasn’t over run with tourists. I think only Slovenia could compete with Slovakia for title of most underestimated country in Europe.
Damn, sorry Tomas, I just realised I was talking about a different photo! The photo with Phillipa waving, is the one with the Slovak Technical University. The photo further up the page, with the fountain in the foreground, is the Post Office. I’ll adjust the article now, thanks again for your input!
Ok, I believe there is slight confusion, note that this:
are two different buildings.
The one on your picture is the University.
If you turned 90 degrees left when making that picture, you would see the Ministry of transportation, post and telecommunication / Deutsche Telekom (that one has the small post office at the corner and is directly across the street from Slovak Radio).
You are right that this building was originally planned as post office, so I guess is not such a huge stretch to call it the biggest post office, although the actual post office there might have only something like 25 square metres :).
Anyway, thanks for great photos!
haha – yes Tomas, I figured it out whilst you were typing your reply, and updated the article. I’m glad you re-enforced my memory, that’s exactly what I was thinking “so, the post office is in front of me, if I turned to the right, I would see the University”. I actually love the architecture, and entered all of the buildings for a look. I’m glad you mentioned there actually is a Post Office in there, even if it is only 25 square metres ;)
And, thanks for the compliment on the photos, you live in a very unique and amazing city.
Love this take on Bratislava. It’s one of my favourites as well, unassuming and quietly hiding some real pearls.
Totally agree Sophie. It’s one of my must-return-to destinations.
Hello there, i just finished reading this article and i must say that i found it very interesting, I am from Greece but i study in Bratislava the last 4 years. The pictures you took are simply amazing, i also love this soviet architecture style that the whole city involves and all these “brutal” sight seeings according to your point of view. I should add some things, in case someone is interested in visiting Bratislava and might be “confused” about the whole description of the city above in the article ; Bratislava is an amazing city, with proper night-life, interesting places to visit and go and actual romance, specially during Spring time! I suggest you come again! Petrzalka is another subject and i am not willing to speak for it! Bratislava is the epicenter!! Enjoy
hey Nate, Im really sorry to burst your bubble, but it seems like you have some significant misconceptions about architecture in general. I don’t know how much you have traveled across Europe, but if you deem high modernism as “Soviet design influences, you are terribly mistaken. I come from a suburb in Stockholm and I can assure you that none of our dystopian architecture has anything to do with Stalin or communism. Seriously, check out Le Corbusier, the father of modern architecture, and you’ll see what I’m taking about. The main reason why Bratislava and many East European cities have more high modernist buildings is because of the growing urbanization in that area after the WWII – the peak time of the architectural movement. When I visited Bratislava, I did not notice any specific Soviet buildings apart from the few socialist motifs on the facades. If you seek Stalinist architecture, go and visit the Seven Sisters in Moscow or the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. Other than that, please, don’t attach false historical significance to buildings just because they appear ‘dystopian’ and are in Eastern Europe.
Anyways, kudos for taking such beautiful pictures!
The article stated modern Soviet Architecture as having *elements* of Modernist Architecture, and therefore, is influenced by Modernism. Not the other way around. You seem a little confused on this point.
As I mentioned, I use the term “Soviet” to denote that at this time period, Slovakia was effectively a satellite state of the Soviet Union, and therefore, the Soviet Union had an incredible influence over everything that occurred during this period – including architecture.
All of the architecture featured in this article is post-Stalin, and nothing in this article was described as being “Stalinist architecture”, which of course, is it’s own defined styles of architecture. However, the suburb of Petržalka, which I referred to as a “Stalinist reminder” was in reference to the Soviet planning under Stalin of building all cities to a pre-defined development plan.
Hope this explains a few things.
Oh, and thanks for the compliment on the photos.
Not so sure about pre-defined city plans being a Stalinist thing, though during his time they did go in for very large scale reconstructions, though mostly of the grand boulevard type.
Petrzalka sounds like a very kruschev era innovation of precast quick-built all the same tower blocks, very western modernist in inspiration. Everyone calls them Stalinist, but they’re really post Stalin.
I love the grittiness the black and white gives the place, looks fascinating.
It really is fascinating, Ayngelina. One of the highlights of central Europe, without doubt, in my opinion.
I really like the architecture – super interesting! And is that a new logo? Love it =)
Hey Andrea! Yes, new logo! Nice ay? I had a local Perth design group whip it up for me, and I’m very happy with the outcome. Will stick to it for a while, the first logo was just me rushing to get anything up there ;)
Hi there, I’d just like to clear up one misconception you seem to have about the “conveyor belt” lift. The cabins of a Paternoster (that’s what it’s usually called) do not flip upside down when they reach the top, in fact it is possible (though usually forbidden) to pass through the top and bottom machine rooms of the lift. They are usually lit to prevent an unknowing passenger from panicking. We have one at my university in Brno and many people in fact ride through the top machine room just for the fun of it. After all, it’s quite an uncommon experience.
Great photos, it’s so interesting because it gives a whole different perspective to the city.
I’ve been to Bratislava twice, and never quite had that impression, so it’s fascinating to see how the same city can look really “pretty” and at the same time gritty and sort of cold like in this photo essay. Thanks for sharing!
The architecture may not be in vogue, but that’s kind of what I like about it. :) It speaks of a time long gone. I like how you captured the place!
Thanks Audrey, totally agree – the architecture is recent and yet quite distant, it really takes you back to another time.
great photos, love that soviet-era style.
Thanks, and so do I!
Just saw these pictures via Twitter link. I was in Central Europe for most of September of this year, and visited Bratislava by boat from Vienna. I was really glad that I carved out those 2 days in my itinerary, because I share your assessment.
Did you get up to Slavin, the Soviet War Memorial?
If not, and if you do get back to Bratislava, I’d recommend a trek up there. On the way up, you are treated to some really good residential architecture (very desirable location with its views, so definitely reflects the affluence of those who are able to live there). Also recommended: 2 Jewish museums (Jewish Community Museum and Museum of Jewish Culture) and the City Museum in the Old City Hall (beautifully restored).
Hey DGH, thanks for the tips. A return to Bratislava is on the cards, and I really appreciate you taking the time to give me some more travel ideas. I didn’t see the Soviet War Memorial, but I had read about it before. Bratislava really is an amazing destination for fans of Soviet-era architecture.
Your photos are great .
I want more brutalist architecture ,social realist/soviet architecture articles pls
Great photographs. Beautiful. I have visited Bratislava only once, but loved the city. We stayed in Hotel Kyjev – and I am so sad to hear it is being demolished. I have researched this online, and there is nothing to say that it has been removed – do you know if it has? I would love to visit again. It really struck a chord with me, architecturally. Inside was like stepping right into the (only?) beautiful side of communism in Eastern Europe. A bit like the German feeling of ‘Ostalgie’, except I never lived in the communist times; but could feel what it must have been like from visiting the Hotel Kyjev.
I would also love to hear the story of the bullet holes?!
I was telling my sister last night about some “elevators” I saw in the Novak Department Store on Vodickova Street in Prague. And you got a shot of the same thing in Bratislava! I wish I had taken a picture, but now I can send her a link to your blog page. What the hell DOES happen when they get to the top? That’s why I didn’t get on either.
ok so now i have to go to slovakia too.
” you too can have pleasurable day-dreams of crashing to your death atop an otherworldly sci-fi tower in the heart of Europe. Personally, I would be taking photos all the way down, with the spectacular backdrop of old Bratislava on one side, and about a million cookie-cutter Communist apartment blocks on the other. And, I would do anything for that moment to come true.”
THIS. I would feel exactly the same way.
Breathtaking photos, Nate! You have discovered very unusal kind of beauty there. Bratislava is very fascinating city for people bored of european touristic standarts and pseudohistorical buildings from 20th century. Reminds me atmosphere of Berlin, before the atmosphere of the city was demolished by tourism. Bratislava is one of the few European capital cities with ,,authenticity”. City of amazing contrasts, incomparable to anything in region.
The hotel Kyev is still there, so instagram tells me, in 2015, but still closed.
Hey Ryan.. yes, I visited Bratislava on a day-trip again during 2015 – and pretty sure I saw the Kyev from a distance, but I heard also that it’s closed. Cheers!
We have those types of escalator in Prague too :)
I have just found your article with stunning photos of my hometown and Wow i am really amazed. You have pictured what most of Bratislava citizens can’t see. It’s a fact that also communist era architecture has something really unique and special and can be beautiful.
Btw Hotel Kyjev has new and unusual facade made by local artist. You can look at it here https://youtu.be/gSXvaTyk3BM
Once again, nice article and perfect photos.
Greetings from Bratislava :)
I love the pics Nate, but i am very dissapointed about your comment of our radio building. It is sure notthe most inefficient uses of money and space in the history of architecture. In fact, it is a masterpiece, with a unique studios, and unique concert hall (about 12 000 m3) which is completely and uniquely suspended and sprung in a whole-concrete body for better acoustic. Inside of it there is also one of the largest organs in Slovakia. The project of the building originated in 1967 and its construction was finished in 1983. It is an exceptional building bearing the testimony of the era that was favourable towards generous solutions, so the creators could experiment, use progressive technologies and design principles. Next time you are in Bratislava, please let me know, I can definitely show you around and I can take you inside of the building (as well as others that are exeptional, although they were built in communist soviet era – there were a lot of horrible things during that period of time, but some of the architecture is exceptional, and I dont think we should hate it just because it was built at that time). There is a building of Slovak national archives f.e. https://www.google.com/search?q=narodny+archiv+bratislava&client=firefox-b-ab&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwip0ZHl8arcAhUSwAIHHYRODboQ_AUICigB&biw=1920&bih=966#imgrc=mN_nd9A9SBPmhM: and others.
Hi Zuzana, I agree, the building is a masterpiece, and I also agree that we should not hate something just due to the political era of it’s construction. One day I’ll be back in Bratislava (I have passed through once or twice since this article was first published). Thanks for your comment, really appreciated the info.
Nice pics of Bratislava before. You should explore it now. Certainly the fastest developing city of Central Europe with completely changing face. Not anymore overlooked by tourists.
Sometimes I find older times when the centre was almost empty as more pleasant. And also see more architectonical value in these older era blocks than westernized glass-concrete architecture.
As an example…https://scontent.fbts6-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/53320004_1879208865524061_4793285288765947904_o.jpg?_nc_cat=107&_nc_oc=AQnJdcRTtSKmHdKDWgSVPYxnWyQyWo9ECEmAuTj__E0EYLnFhiwRxh7p4h5xiV9IuUA&_nc_ht=scontent.fbts6-1.fna&oh=b975a9aa2f41df0bbb88f67d9287b493&oe=5DD1E1E0