Bratislava: Condensed 20th Century History of Central Europe

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Slovak capital Bratislava is a perfect destination to discover the turbulent history of the 20th century in Central Europe. The city’s location on the Danube river, foothills of the Carpathian mountains and at the border with Austria and Hungary is unique. It is closer than you think – it takes only one hour to come here from Vienna!

Our expert guides Brano and Peter will take care of your best moments wile touring Slovakia!

Historically, Bratislava has not been predominantly Slovak for centuries. Earlier name of the city was Pressburg in German, or Pozsony in Hungarian. It was a melting point where Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks and Jews lived together. Inhabitants often spoke several languages and it was common to have signs in German, Hungarian and Slovak, too.

Everything has changed after the First World War, when Czechoslovakia appeared on a map of Europe. This was an important moment for Slovaks as a nation in terms of its self-determination. However, inhabitants of Bratislava, mostly Germans and Hungarians, were not happy when Czechoslovak troops marched into their multinational town. A new city name needed to be chosen, too. The initial idea of the “Wilson City”, which was supposed to pay homage to the US president supporting Czechoslovakia as a new democratic state, was replaced by a more Slavic name “Bratislava”. 

A relatively short period between the two World Wars brought enormous changes in terms of lifestyle, design, culture and economy to inhabitants of Bratislava. Influence of a functionalist Bauhaus architecture is still visible when you walk across the streets today. Buildings as the first “skyscraper” of Bratislava Manderla or a modern shopping mall Bata belonged to important business owners. Evidence of an Importance of Czech intelligentsia is the name of the largest university, “Comenius University”. Jan Amos Komenský was an important 17th century scholar born in today’s Czechia.

Czechoslovakia was dissolved as a part of the Hitler’s plan in early 1939 and Bratislava became the capital of the Slovak Republic, a puppet state of Nazi Germany. Southern part of Bratislava was even occupied by Germany, so the only bridge across the Danube river became the state border, too. The bridge was demolished in 1945 by escaping German troops during the liberation by the Soviets.

Czechoslovakia was reunited after WWII again and the country got into the Soviet sphere of influence. Communist took power in 1948 and Bratislava became the so-called “City of Peace”. Intelligentsia was wiped out and thousands of working-class people from all over Slovakia were moved to the newly built concrete apartment blocks, to work in the expanding heavy industries.

The famous Prague Spring events hit Bratislava severely as well. Soviet invasion in August 1968 in a cooperation with the armies from Poland, Hungary, DDR and Bulgaria, was a brutal reaction to a democratization process in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The streets of Bratislava were suddenly filled with tanks and thousands of soldiers, who came believing that they were suppressing a revolution. Soviet troops remained to occupy Bratislava until 1991.

The late 1980’s led to a collapse of the Eastern Bloc in Europe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Czechoslovak fight for democracy peaked on 17th November 1989 in Prague. For the following weeks, the SNP Square of Bratislava became the venue for the so-called “Velvet Revolution”, too. After four decades of communism, Bratislava was left grey, depressing, damaged, but with thousands of new housing estates as well. A lot was needed to be repaired in later years.

The wild 1990’s were the years of establishing democratic principles in a society that had to learn it again. It was an era of new opportunities in business and growth, but many people were left behind and unemployed. Mafia and oligarchs popped up and became strong influencers in the city’s development. On the other hand, houses of the Old Town were refurbished and life was brought back to the streets of Bratislava.

Today, Bratislava is still an evolving story of a surprisingly laid-back and welcoming young capital. If you´d like to take an insider´s private tour of this hidden gem of the Eastern bloc, don´t hesitate to contact our experts: Authentic Slovakia!

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