By: Janet Steinberg
Dobry den. (Good day.) Welcome to Bratislava.
BRATISLAVA, the powerful capital of Hungary for more than three centuries during the Middle Ages, is now the bustling modern capital of SLOVAKIA. This picturesque city, situated where the Danube River meets the Carpathian Mountains, borders Austria in the west and Hungary in the south.
Formerly a part of Czechoslovakia, Bratislava became the capital of the Slovak Republic on January 1, 1993. It is the seat of the most important political, scientific, industrial, commercial, educational and cultural institutions of Slovakia. Bratislava, formerly known as Pressburg, is populated by some 599,000 Slovaks.
In 1972, when the Communists demolished the run-down Jewish Quarter, they justified their actions by claiming they were destroying houses of ill repute. The once-vibrant Jewish ghetto was destroyed by the Communists and replaced by the Novy Most (New Bridge)
A touching Holocaust Memorial, inscribed with the single word Pamataj! (Remember!) stands on the site where the old synagogue was destroyed. A likeness of the old synagogue is etched into the granite wall behind the memorial.
The baroque, historic, Old Quarter of Bratislava is in sharp contrast to the unsightly concrete structures erected by the Communists in the 1970s. The Old Quarter houses a wide spectrum of museums and galleries.
The Slovak National Museum (Slovenske Narodne Muzeum), a monumental building completed in 1928, features a department that documents and honors the culture of the Jewish people in Slovakia. The Museum of Viticulture, that documents the history of wine-growing in Bratislava, and The Clock Museum are also worth visiting.
The Museum of Jewish Culture (Muzeum Zidovskej Kultury) founded in 1991, displays an interesting collection of artifacts, and chronicles the lives of famous Slovak Jews. Among them are J.B. Bettelheim, who translated the bible into Chinese and Japanese, Eduard Mahler a renowned astronomer and mathematician, and Rabbi Chatam Sofer, one of the greatest Jewish scholars who lived in Bratislava from 1806 to 1837.
Every year, Jews from around the world visit the Mausoleum of Chatam Sofer to pay reverence and give thanks to this renowned scholar. The mausoleum is a component part of the former Jewish cemetery (1670-1847) where 23 graves and 43 separate tombstones are located on the original area.
For years, a train route ran over the cemetery and Chatam Sofer’s grounds were in a state of disrepair. On July 5, 1999, a historic agreement was made to divert the train route. The work on the route’s detour began on October 13 of that year and was finished on November 25.
In 2001, the reconstruction of the tomb continued with the construction of a memorial on the ground over the tombs. Its entrance wall was to feature the names of Slovak Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Jewish settlements in Slovakia (the home of Andy Warhol’s parents) are traced back to the end of the 1st century. The
oldest synagogues were made of wood, but at the end of the 18th century, they were modeled after those in Poland. The country’s Jewish cemeteries, and the few preserved synagogues, are the last material evidence of the religious life of the Jewish communities in Slovakia.
Bratislava Castle, built more than 1000 years ago on a promontory some 270 feet above the Danube, dominates the city as it stands guard over the river. The landmark castle derived its nickname of the “upturned table” from its silhouette that gives that appearance. From the castle grounds, one can enjoy a panoramic view of the city’s contrasting architecture.
If time permits, take in a reasonably priced performance at the Opera House of the Slovak National Theatre. In front of the theatre, designed by prominent Vienna architects Fellner and Helmer (1884-1886), there is a lovely fountain by V. Tilgner.
Hradna Vinaren, housed in the former Castle stables, is one of the best restaurants in town. With a panoramic view of the Old Town, huge chandeliers cast a glow on a feast of hearty Slovak and international cuisine.
Slovak dishes that go right to the hips and the arteries include: palacinky (crepes) served with chocolate sauce, ice cream or preserves; vyprazany syr (fried cheese with tartar sauce); and tatranska hrianka (Tatra toast), a sinful concoction of goose livers sauteed with sweet red peppers and served on thick slabs of homemade bread.
In addition to Slovak food, restaurants in Bratislava feature Italian, Asian, Balkan, and French food, as well as kosher dishes in Jewish restaurants.
Wine bars and cellars scattered throughout Old Town are the best places for tasting the Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and other wines (vino) of the region. Martiner and Gold Fassel are the beers (pivot) of choice.
Do videnia. (Goodbye.) Until we meet again in Bratislava.
|AUTHOR, HUSBAND, AND FRIEND BID FAREWELL TO BRATISLAVA|
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio.