|Explore Eastern Europe Slovakia|
Bratislava (population 428,672) is the capital of Slovakia. It is located on the banks of Danube river (the second longest river in Europe) in SW corner of the country, where the borders of three countries meet: Slovakia, Hungary and Austria.
In abroad, the people do not realize that Berlin was not the only urban landscape where the former iron curtain was passing through. Also here, a lot of people invented the most bizarre ways how to escape from the communist side of this line that divided countries, municipalities and even worse – families and individuals. The people used to swim accross the Danube at Devin castle or fly with Rogallo gliders from the close wineyards to Austria in search of freedom. Such ways were very dangerous, but the human search for freedom was stronger. After the communist coup d’etat in February 1948, the border became hermetically closed and the guards were instructed and trained to shoot and send dogs after everyone who would make any attempt to cross it. The law from July 11th, 1951 even ordered them to use the fire-arms to stop such persons. Since April 1950 it was not possible for current citizen to come closer than 2 km from the border in rural areas. It was necessary to obtain a lot of permissions and you should state exactly the purpose of your stay there. No holidays, no recreation – just for the most unavoidable work which should be carried out there. In 1949, a barbed-wire fence was built alongside the border with Austria and Germany. This fence was charged with electric current of voltage value 1000 V. A road for guard motorbikes was built alongside the fence. In 1953, mines were laid in the border zone. Nevertheless, the mines were removed in 1956, since also a lot of guards were killed and injured this way. This was no human act, since the voltage remained switched on until 1965 in the fences. There were laid four cables: the first one at 30 cm above the ground, the second at 80 and the third at 130 cm. The fourth was at the top of the fence. In urban area of Bratislava, these obstacles were made a little bit less visible, however, well operable. The people who wanted to cross the border, could study the situation from several places in the city, such as Bystrica café in Novy bridge tower. Between 1948 and 1989, at least 56 persons were killed when attempting to cross the border between Czechoslovakia and Austria in its Slovak section. Much more were injured, conndemned and arrested. The border was opened in December 1989.
Today, you do not need to travel from Bratislava to Austria to enjoy your freedom. The people may attempt to make true their own dreams and fortune right here and a lot of them do so. You can see it in the streets of the city: anyone who was in Bratislava before 1989 and who comes today, will be really surprised with the change of the environment. Stare mesto (Old Town) is the historic center of the city and it is pedestrian zone. Before 1989, you could see badly maintained and drab houses with dirty streets. Nearly no turists from abroad could be seen. Today you can see a lot of renewed buildings with priceless historic worth, a lot of cafés, restaurants with local and international cuisines, beer pubs and hotels. The life in the city became really international and a lot of tourists from all over the world are coming here. The number of people coming here even from the U.S. and some countries of Western Europe and living for longer periods is increasing steadily. Everone enjoys the breath of freedom: dynamic life of the city, low prices, low living costs and decreasing taxation rate for the companies that took place in the past years. Bratislava has the highest per capita income from among the post-communist cities except Prague. This income is even slightly higher (102%) than the average value in the old 15 member states of EU (while the Slovak nationwide average is 52% only). I am just afraid a little bit that the city might become, step by step, a tourist trap like some places in Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Today, it is still also about the real life, not only about the business for tourists. I recommend, do not miss it – today is the right time for visit.
The pictures were made during the 2003/2004 winter period, with mostly cloudy weather. The light was soft and some of the streets look quite dark. However, I published just those photos showing the streets where there is never enough sunlight. I think with sharp light (such as during the sunny weather), the effect would be no better in any narrow street with high buildings. I intend to go on with more pictures from Bratislava also in summer days in my future articles.
article published 3/28/2004