My trip to Bratislava meant that I got to cross an item off my bucket list: Listen to the Bratislava Hot Serenaders in Bratislava. I first saw them in 2016 (I think) and the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. They were amazing and fun. If you’ve never heard of them enjoy:
I’ll admit, when I went to see them I was painfully ignorant about Bratislava. The only thing I knew was it was the capital of Slovakia. I enjoyed the performance so much though that I thought it would be great to one day visit the city and experience a little Slovakian culture.
Flashforward to 2022. I hopped on a bus in Vienna and 1 hour later I was in the town square. According to Wikipedia:
Bratislava is in southwestern Slovakia at the foot of the Little Carpathians, occupying both banks of the River Danube and the left bank of the River Morava. Bordering Austria and Hungary, it is the only national capital that borders two sovereign states.
The city’s history has been influenced by people of many nations and religions, including Austrians, Bulgarians, Croats, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Jews, Serbs and Slovaks. It was the coronation site and legislative center and capital of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1536 to 1783; eleven Hungarian kings and eight queens were crowned in St Martin’s Cathedral. Most Hungarian parliament assemblies were held here from the 17th century until the Hungarian Reform Era, and the city has been home to many Hungarian, German and Slovak historical figures.
Today Bratislava is the political, cultural and economic centre of Slovakia. It is the seat of the Slovak president, the parliament and the Slovak Executive. It has several universities, and many museums, theatres, galleries and other cultural and educational institutions. Many of Slovakia’s large businesses and financial institutions have headquarters there.
My first stop was a Synagogue because Bratislava has a very proud Jewish culture and history. I started at ŽIDOVSKÁ STREET (JEWISH STREET). This was the only place that Jewish people were allowed to live from 1599-1840. There is a memorial there to commemorate the space. The synagogue wasn’t open when I was there, but I made sure to go by for a visit. The next spot I went to was the CHATAM SOFER MEMORIAL. According to their website:
The Chatam Sofer Memorial in Bratislava is a unique Jewish heritage site – the sole remaining part of the centuries-old Jewish cemetery that was destroyed in 1943 when the nearby tunnel was constructed. Only the most important section, with 23 graves surrounding the Chatam Sofer’s tomb, was preserved as an underground compound. In 2000-2002, the whole site was redeveloped and the gravestones were restored. The architect Martin Kvasnica designed a striking new complex that adheres to the strict requirements of the halakhah (Jewish law) as well as to the highest standards of contemporary architecture.
Chatam Sofer is said to be the father of Orthodox Judaism, and his tomb is a pilgrimage site for many Orthodox Jews.
At first, I was a bit confused about the memorial. I wasn’t sure if it was something that anyone could visit, or if you had to be guided. I passed a very serious Hasidic Jewish man and then a family who was being guided by someone who worked nearby. When I asked him if it was a place that anyone could visit, he immediately launched into a well-practised spiel about how it was not a museum but a very serious place of worship for Jewish people. He explained that he had a bus full of Hasidic men from Tel Aviv about to arrive on a pilgrimage and that it was a very serious place. I explained to him that I was Jewish, that was part of the reason for the visit and that I had done my homework before coming down, so I understood the importance of the memorial.
I’m not sure he was convinced, but because I was wearing modest clothes and my head was covered, he was willing to take me into the women’s section and allow me to pray for a bit. He made me feel like I wasn’t Jewish enough to be there, and I was a little embarrassed that I had misunderstood the space, so I thanked him for his willingness to let me in, but I would respect the seriousness of the place and not enter. As I walked away, I felt really strange. I am Jewish, but having to prove my ‘Jewishness’ made me feel like I was somehow an imposter. I would say I am more of a cultural Jew, the history and the importance of the culture is more important to me than the religious aspects, but the fact that I was made to feel like an ‘other’ for that didn’t sit well. So, I did the most Jewish thing I could do and felt guilty for even thinking I could enter the space. I let my imposter syndrome win. I may not be as learned in the Torah, and not as deeply religious as those men on the bus, but I had every right to enter that important space and take in the history.
I continued my wander around the city, visiting the Blue Church (The Church of St Elizabeth), the castle and looked for two famous statues, NAPOLEONIC SOLDIER (NAPOLEÓNEC), and RUBBERNECK (ČUMIL)
All in all, I enjoyed my day in the city and even found a rubber duck to represent my visit. The people that I met in the shops when I got lunch and when I got the duck were nice, but not overly friendly, and I am not sure if I would need to visit again, but I am glad that I made the trip.