Bratislava, my favourite birthplace

My dear readers, tonight I feel like telling you something personal about the town I was born in and where I spent 34 years of my life. Bratislava, the present capital of the Slovak Republic (since 1993). It’s not too big, it’s actually only a small/medium-sized city (465 327 inhabitants), in the same league as Gdansk, Lyon, Murcia, Bradford… Encircled by significantly larger central European cities, like Prague (1,288,696), Cracow (755,546), Warsaw (1,720,398), Budapest (1,733,685) or Vienna (1,713,957), it’s always been a sort of a Cinderella, but it has already been discovered by tourists, especially since the entry of our country into the EU. The city centre is especially charming in the summer with all the outdoor cafes! It feels like a seaside town then.

which way to the beach?

which way to the beach?


You don’t have the crowds of Prague here, it’s more down-to-earth, less busy…. When we were growing up, it’s nickname, “the Beauty on the Danube”, used to make us laugh. For years it was anything but pretty. In the 1980s, when I was an adolescent, it was a grey town. Buildings with run-down facades… a quarter of the inhabitants lived in a huge, purpose-built neighbourhood, with nothing but tall, concrete housing estates. A product of the Communist policy to offer cheap, no-frills housing.
Bratislava's "Bronx" - Petrzalka

Bratislava’s “Bronx” – Petrzalka


It’s funny but after six years of living abroad, the city’s name has received a strange exotic flavour for me. It sounds soft, smooth, almost onomatopoeic to me. The sound of a child wooshing down a slide…

Before the WW2, Bratislava was a typical central European town composed of Slovaks, Hungarians, Germans (including Austrians), as well as of a significant Jewish population. Sadly, most of the Jews were exterminated during WW2 and their population shrank from 4000 to 200…

Until 1919 it was called Pressburg in German, Poszony in Hungarian and Prešporok in Slovak. After the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, the town was almost named Wilsonovo mesto (Wilson City) in honour of the then US President Woodrow Wilson, who was a proponent of the establishment of the new Czechoslovak Republic, one of the nation-states rising from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

One of the best things in the city is the Danube! The huge river flowing from the Black Mountain in Germany to the Black Sea… We loved the river as young boys. Watching ships flow past, we guessed where they were headed, daydreamed about what it would be like to jump on the boat and take it all the way to the sea. Past the famous and (we thought), dangerous Iron Gates in Romania, a name as terrifying as Mordor in our children’s heads…

The other great thing about Bratislava are the Small Carpathians. A gentle mountain range to the north of the city. On its southern foothills there used to be (and to a limited extent still are) vineyards.

Deer Mountain, the Small Carpathians

Deer Mountain, the Small Carpathians

34 years is a long time. There were nasty things that happened too. Like when that 20-year old kid was killed by a group of blood-thirsty thugs on the bank of the river, a few years ago, just because he carried a guitar and wore long hair. It was sickening and disgusting. It felt as if the town itself was raped.

And then life goes on of course, for everyone, because it has to. And the generations succeed each other but the town remains… Changing its face, but the memories are there, passed on from generation to generation, written down, for years, centuries…