Continuing with our tour, we walked by the oldest University in Slovak territory, which was founded in 1465. Not this particular university, but public schools of higher education are free to students in Bratislava, which made me start thinking about potentially sending my children here for school in the future!
During World War II, 160,000 Jews were taken from Slovakia, and only 70,000 returned, but left again shortly after. Currently, there are only 4,000 Jewish citizens in Slovakia, and a mere 600 residing in Bratislava. With that being said, we passed a family owned bookshop called “Steiner”, which had been in business for close to 100 years in Bratislava before the government confiscated all Jewish property. Selma, one of the daughter’s in the family was the only member who survived the Holocaust. Her parents and siblings were all killed, and by the time the war ended, she was 20 years old with no remaining immediate family. Selma’s surviving family left Bratislava after the war, except Selma and her cousin decided to stay. Although the bookstore was rightfully returned to her, it was confiscated once again shortly after due to the course of communism. In 1991, Selma was able to reopen her family bookstore with a simple oval sign, “Steiner” that has shown its resiliency since the first reopening after the war Selma passed away in 2010, but her employees own and run the store, still under the Steiner name, with the sign continuing to hang outside.
There are 5.4 million people living in Slovakia, with a 14 percent rate of unemployment and a 4 percent rate of unemployment in Bratislava. The monthly average salary is around 800 euros, which comes out to around 910 dollars.
Many of the traditional restaurants here serve gnocchi covered in cheep cheese and bacon bryndza, which is the city’s typical meal. Creamy garlic soup and cabbage soup are also both typical for important holidays such as Christmas and New Years.
Continuing with our city tour, we came across Michael’s Gate, which was built in the 14th Century as one of the four main entrances into the city. It is currently the only gate in the city that has been preserved after all these years.
We kept on walking and stopped at the Main Square, which was used for executions during the Habsburg monarchy in front of the old Town Hall. There is a statue of a “Watching Soldier,” and it is said that this soldier from Napoleon’s army came into town and found a beautiful woman, but somehow lost her. So he continues to stay right where he is, with hopes of finding her again. The public fountain in the Square has been around since the 1500’s. We then came across an old-looking measurement stick and butcher’s knife which were both used by the government during the Habsburg monarchy. The government used the stick to check sizes of meat and vegetables to make sure they were good enough to sell in the markets. The butcher’s knife showed the size requirement of the knives to be used during this time period as well. Knives used by butchers couldn’t be any bigger than this hanging knife or else they’d be considered weapons, and the owner would be arrested.
In 1989, the Velvet Revolution was hosted in Bratislava, and it received its name because it was a peaceful revolution where no one died. People went outside with their keys dangling from their hands to make noise, in an attempt to show that they wanted to break away from the communistic regime.
In 1993, the government decided to separate from the Czech Republic, which is when the country became Slovakia. The decision came from the Prime Minister, and some say it was for money and others say it was for power. The idea was thrown around too that Czech likes beer and Slovakia prefers wine, so a separation was destined to happen.
We spotted the former summer place of the Arch Bishop which distinctly had an arch bishop hat atop the building. As we continued with the tour, we spotted a peace treaty between the Habsburg Monarchy and Napoleon/France from the 1800’s. We then passed a statue of St. George successfully fighting a dragon. On the street, we came across a statue sticking out of the sewer which has been there since 1997. It is said that he is smiling because he gets to watch all of the women walk by. It is good luck to touch his hat and nose, and this happens to be the original statue since it was built first, whereas the one in Russia is actually a copy.
We also walked past the Slovak National Theatre as well as the American Embassy, consisting of two neighboring buildings, making it the largest embassy in Bratislava. I wish we would have had more time to spend in Bratislava because it truly is a beautiful city, but it was time for us to return to Vienna.