Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Houses of the People

I previously considered whether the architecture of the former Eastern Bloc countries was as bad as made out, or even as bad as what was built here in the UK at the same time. There is, however, a lot of Communist era building in some eastern European cities. Why so?

Think of any large city in the UK. Most suffered some wartime damage, then had to do some clearance of older housing in the 50s and 60s, and had some high and medium rise blocks built, which may have been of a variable standard. But no part of the UK was actually fought over during World War 2.

It was very different across mainland Europe, especially in the east. There, many cities became battlegrounds, and the battles were between the Nazis and the Red Army. These exchanges were routinely savage: the results were violent, bloody, and destructive. Even without the Allied bombing, cities were often reduced to rubble. It was thus in Berlin. And it was equally bad in Budapest.

Hungary had chosen the wrong side in the conflict: only late on in the war was it clear that the Nazis were going to lose, and then the Government in Budapest started putting out feelers to the Allies. The Nazis put a stop to this and occupied the country. Then the advancing Red Army arrived: Hitler forbade withdrawal, there was a vicious battle, and when the dust settled, the city was a mess. All of the bridges across the Danube had been destroyed. The Castle area was mostly flattened. Whole suburbs lay in ruins.

From this, it would have been a massive job to rebuild, whatever dogma was held by the ruling party. So it was that the city centre was pieced back together, but outlying areas got the kind of medium rise housing that can also be seen in equally badly damaged parts of Berlin. What happened in the UK had to happen so many more times over.

Even today, the outer suburbs of Budapest have patches of barren and undeveloped land. There will be housing developments, then the tram passes through a couple of stops’ wasteland, then more built up areas. It’s not a Communism thing, but the sheer scale of recovery from a carnage we in the UK were spared.

Perhaps this is one reason that much of mainland Europe is more enthusiastic about an organisation – the EU – that keeps its members together, and in peace.

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