Follow us through Petržalka, the neighborhood of Bratislava, which is Central Europe’s largest collection of concrete buildings from the Soviet period.
Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, may not be the largest in terms of population, but the city has Central Europe’s largest collection of large concrete buildings from the Soviet era, so-called “commieblocks”.
Petržalka is densely populated
In Petržalka live about 120,000 people. That is the most densely populated apartment blocks area in Europe.
When the picture is taken, we head towards Petržalka on foot and follow the busy first bridge of five over the Danube to the concrete palace. At first, we don’t let ourselves to be impressed. When we reach the district, we reach the concrete, but not concrete from the 1970s. Instead, there is a new and modern large shopping center.
Now we are in the middle of the high rises. Seemingly endless rows of identity-less housing as far as the eye can see, with the exception of a few that have been painted in bright colors. How do we get to know more about the area? What is everyday life like? Does this differ from other European concrete suburbs?
The local pub should be able to give us answers. Where else would people in this area spend their spare time?
We find a sign marked “bar”.
We go into the bar and are greeted by some middle-aged men who drink Zlatý. Our knowledge of the Slovak language does not extend further than to order a beer. We will immediately be identified as foreigners, and a man named Milos ask if we speak German, which means that we suddenly see communication problems vanished.
Milos is 56 and works at daily payment (I think) as a welder. Milos means “grace of God”, and there is nothing we hesitate when you see his furrowed face.
Milos has lived in Bratislava in his whole life. To Petržalka he moved with his mother at the age of 17. His father died young in a mining accident.
Milos talks about the future and optimism that characterized Petržalka in the 1970s.
You know, five-year plans. There was a constant overproduction of apartments. Residential lines were filled to the brim despite the fact that everyone had somewhere to stay. But their homes were built with quantity and not quality as watchword. After a few years, everything was torn or cracked, and they started to look for the next newly built concrete block. But the state did everything for us, we did not mind so much. And when the Soviet Union fell, they stopped the mass production of concrete buildings. Now we sit there in these shabby apartments.
Become a hard-working labor was early decided for Milos. Ideally, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and work in the mine, but no mine is located near Bratislava. He became a welder instead.
Nothing will last forever, and nowadays they build and renovating everywhere in Bratislava. But it’s plenty of buildings. It will take many years before the housing is similar to Western European standards. Some inhabitants try their luck in Vienna, which is just 65 km from Bratislava.
Petržalka has long been plagued by some social problems, but according to Milos, it is only a small fraction of the people who have a criminal lifestyle. But alcohol is for many difficult to resist.
We thank Milos for the chat and move on through the concrete. At Milos gate, we shake hands.
Milos living situation shared by many in the former Eastern bloc, and with the slow pace of new, relatively inexpensive rental units built, it will continue in this way well into the future.