It is one the richest regions of Europe although its public spaces suggest nothing like that. Bratislava offers its visitors an unprecedented view of majestic buildings from the socialism era built to stun, but their functionality and long-term use were lagging even at time of their construction. During a two-kilometer journey from the Main Railway Station to spooky and abandoned Hotel Kyjev near the city center you will get to know embodiments of communist megalomania as well as dark side of the city nicknamed the Beauty on the Danube.
When coming to Bratislava by train, forget hypermodern railway station or historical building like those in Budapest or in Prague. The building used by railways is composed of two disparate units – one was the original station with insufficient capacity, which has been extended with another building in a completely different architectural style.
The older segment of the building is decorated with huge painting showing doves of peace, space satellite, people of all races, working class, engineers – simply a work of socialistic romanticism.
The newer portion of the station is dominated by fast food facilities, but according to my guide I should go find my food in the city center instead.
Caught unaware by the interior of the train station, we walk out where Peter stops and points me to enjoy one more look at the facade that shields the historical building. A moment later, he directs my attention to a yellow and white taxi with large initials VB and jokingly goes on explaining: “VB stands for ʻVerejná bezpečnosť’, Public Security (he was kidding of course).
During previous regime, “VB” were the police force and seeing these letters today still sends shivers down some people’s spines. The Public Security used to be misused by the government to strengthen their power, bully the people and so on,” he explains.
Freedom Square Just Like From Post-War Era
Walking several hundred meters towards the city center you arrive to the so-called Freedom Square. It is dominated by a fountain that, I was told, has not operated for many years. It is one of the largest if not the single largest public square in Bratislava. It is a shame the city cannot take care of it. Several years ago, it allegedly sported an old sign saying you enter at your own risk.
Peter tells me he used to spend a lot of time here as high school student. Back then, the square was meeting place for youth who drank here on Friday and Saturday nights. Later, they were driven out by the police and ever since, after the sunset, the square has belonged to homeless people and weirdoes. He does not recommend going there in the night.
However, in daylight it is a fabulous spectacle where you can, for instance, walk over a fountain falling into ruins. And if you tread carefully not to trip over the damaged floors or holes in the footpaths, you can enjoy the specific atmosphere of the spot that used to host large communist manifestations.
Today, people celebrating socialism have been replaced by protesters because the square is overlooked by a palace (indeed maintained in very good condition), the seat of Slovak Government.
Rats Under Windows of Amazon
Crossing an intersection of streets, we reach another square. This one is dominated by an administrative building housing the local office of Amazon. During our visit, homeless people were drinking vodka on ruined benches. My guide swore he once saw a cat-sized rat running around, as he was waiting for his bus nearby.
This square too is in dire condition. What is surprising, even a large and wealthy company like Amazon is not interested in revitalizing it and making the neighborhood more attractive.
Peter took me to a local pub named KOP SALON to taste the Slovak national alcoholic beverage, juniper brandy. They drink it with beer. The pub was full of smoke, small, dark and its walls are decorated with paintings of nude women.
He says they used to spend a lot of time here as well because no one never asked for ID when buying alcohol.
Hotel of Ghosts, Subject of Legends
After beer and the juniper brandy, we set off for the city center but before reaching our destination, a gigantic abandoned hotel, we have to fill up at a fast food bearing a cool name: Richman. “Belgians have fries, in Madrid you can buy Bocadillo de calamares, and Bratislava offers Richman. This fast food has been here for some twenty years and still has the same name. It is a bun with mayonnaise, cabbage, pickled cucumber and ham or luncheon meat. It is the legendary food of Bratislava,“ Peter explains and recommends the version named “Peasant’s Richman”. Filthy of the mayonnaise, we walk some hundred more meters to find ourselves on the Rocky Square, dominated by the Hotel Kyjev.
Before its construction a whole block of houses had to be torn down. It was completely wiped off the face of the earth. The former hotel used to be very popular, he says, immediately adding that it was because in 1970s, Bratislava did not have rich offer of accommodation.
Architects were also awarded for original approach but later it was found out that more than two decades earlier, similar hotels had been built in Copenhagen (Radisson SAS Royal Hotel) and New York City (Lever House). Former hotel, named after the capital of Ukraine, was previously a popular meeting place for political elites as well as mafia. It hosted the renowned Havana bar with side-elevators leading directly to rooms to which those, who could afford it, took their female companions.
One of the stories describes a whole floor being tapped by secret service.After the fall of the communist regime, this hotel could not sustain itself. It has 19 stories and more than four hundred beds. Unfortunately, no one has invested in it and soon it was outmatched by competitors.
Since 2011, it has decayed, no one lives there, nothing happens there and windows have began to fall out. It looks really spooky here. Today, it stands as a memento of megalomaniac communist plans in the proximity of the Bratislava’s historical center. Ironically, the former luxury hotel last operated as hostel.