Of humble Communist palaces and in-between spaces

Our day began with an early appointment with Cristi Borcan from studioBASAR, an architecture office and public space practice based in Bucharest. We met with him in front of the parliament and walked with him through the city all the way to Piața Universității. Cristi showed us the spaces behind Boulevardul Unirii in the back of Piața Constituției, the in-between spaces, as he called them. Those spaces are mainly being used as parking lots and pedestrian walks in between the tall buildings on the wide boulevards, that in turn house governmental departments, and the smaller houses, that got left over from the old city or that have been built after 1989.

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These in-between spaces were not created on purpose, they are rather a side effect of the creation of the spaces of power and propaganda and their buildings. In a way, the former spaces of power and propaganda still function as just that, especially Piața Constituției.

The in-between spaces in the back however are the complete opposite: they are not expressions of power and propaganda and could thus evolve in an uncontrolled and somewhat wild manner. But that’s not enough: the back side even offers some glimpses into the remains of the old city centre and all those layers are overlapping spectacularly.

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During our stroll around we discovered many little green spots, surrounded by heavy unnecessary fences. Cristi assumed that those fences are there for two reasons: Firstly, because the fences made were good for the economy.

Secondly, because they are a reaction to the fall of Communism. During the Communist era everything was in public hands, people should not own any private property. After the fall of the regime it seemed just natural that people wanted to get their hands on some private property or to get their once socialised properties back. Turbo-capitalism descended on the country and even small green spaces in front of residential buildings were seen as private spaces. That’s why, in order to protect their property and at the same time show who it belonged to, people fenced in everything, even the smallest green spots. That does not mean though that these green areas are being used and well-kept, most of them are neglected and covered in trash. Due to the fences we experienced these green spots as negative spaces.

Arriving at Piața Universității, Cristi pointed out once again the importance of this square and its public space when it comes to protests. During the Revolution in December 1989, the people, listening to Ceaușescu’s last speech at Piața Revoluției, ran to Piața Universității when the situation escalated because the square is an important transportation hub and surrounded by international hotels that are hosting journalists.

This is why Piața Universității was always an important space for protests, also because it is located directly in the middle of the city and at the crossing of two major boulevards. As most powerful gesture in public space blocking these boulevards is a handy tool for protesters and also for the use of public space. Many people overthink their understanding and use of public space, once there have been part of protests right in the middle of the street, where usually cars run by.

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After we had said goodbye to Cristi and had had lunch, we spontaneously snatched a place at a guided tour at the former palace of Ceaușescu, which he hid for 28 years from the Romanian population, to learn all about Communist humility. As our guide, who reminded us of Dracula, always used to say in the funniest and, at the same time, weirdest way: “A very humble palace”. Out of 150 rooms we managed to see 50 in just over an hour, including the swimming pool, the private cinema and the wine tasting cellar – most of it barely ever used due to Ceaușescu’s paranoia so that he wouldn’t invite people to the house.

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Later on we went to Parcul Herăstrău, a park in the north of Bucharest. Caterina Preda had recommended the park and its public life to us yesterday. The park was well alive with people. Along the paths through the park are little shops, selling popcorn, ice cream or cotton candy, small cafés, crowded with people, playgrounds, where kids and their parents played, skateparks, populated by teenagers, and boat rentals at the big lake in the middle of the park. All this liveliness confirmed the statement of a lot of our interview partners, that public life is often lived out in parks.

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We decided to stay in the park, take a break from the city centre and let the relaxing atmosphere sink in. Finally an attractive, multi-faceted and accessible public space with a huge lake where we could dangle our feet in the water!

After a while we stumbled upon the the largest beer hall in Europe, called Berăria H, situated with a lovely view of the lake. Coincidentally there was even a wine festival on the terrace in front of the beer hall complete with wine tasting. So we decided to forget about our tiredness and stopped to have some wine.

 

At the wine tasting we ran into three girls from Germany and Romania who invited us to go dancing with them in the evening. We joyfully agreed and met with them in the city centre. As we went to the old town to go to a club, we were surprised how much the old town had changed during a few hours. Where we had just a couple of hours earlier sat to have lunch on a quiet street, the party was going on loudly. The street was crowded with people, being loud, drinking, dancing and very funny to watch. In front of the clubs music was blasting through the open windows onto the street. All of a sudden the city centre had completely changed its face: almost every house in this part of the city is either a club, bar or a fast food restaurant, everything seemed like one big club. This is why we were wondering: is this also a kind of public space? What do our readers think?

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Building of the day: Ceausescu’s house

Insider joke of the day: “We may visit the humble tea room now” (phrase our guide at the Ceausescu house use)

GIF of the day: #traffic #cars #nosidewalks

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