Meet Čumil. The Watcher. Bratislava superstar. Maybe he looks familiar. He’s appeared on a few lists of most creative/quirky/original statues in the world. As his notoriety grows, so do the crowds. Day and night. Summer and winter. It’s nearly impossible to get more than a second or two alone with him. Barely enough to take a quick shot, hopefully without a photobomb, and then it’s someone else’s turn. So, I was very glad to have brought my camera along during a routine walk around the old city one blustery February morning. For a few precious minutes, I had him all to myself.
Bratislava is known for its quirky statues. Every travel blog I’ve read about the city has the obligatory photo of Čumil, Napoleon’s soldier, and the little silver gentleman tipping his hat, Schone Naci. All of them smile for the cameras. They were created during the city’s post-communist renaissance. Bratislava was a brand new capital of a brand new country. Except for a brief period during World War II, Slovakia had always been part of other countries, other kingdoms. It was time to shine.
Vibrant colors replaced the gray. New shops and restaurants opened. Slovakia became the strongest economy of the former communist states. A country that broke away with success. Little by little, people discovered Bratislava. My husband and I would often visit when we lived in Budapest. We had our photos taken with the usual cast of characters. Another favorite, Paparazzi, peered around the corner of a restaurant with the same name. He was always there, waiting for prey.
By the time we moved here in 2013, he had vanished. We made a few laps around the old city looking for him. Maybe we didn’t know the city as well as we thought. And then we noticed the empty restaurant windows. The telltale footprints. He was private property, part of the restaurant. As a new resident, I probably didn’t have the right to feel so disappointed at his absence.
You can tell a lot about a place by the faces cast in bronze or chiseled into stone. A few weeks after I moved here, as I began to settle in and learn my way around, other faces became visible. Who were these people – the heroes and artistic representations of history?
The slightly bewildered looking gentleman above is Anton Bernolák, author of the first Slovak language standard, which was published in the late 18th century. Surprisingly recent for such an old language.
On the outer reaches of the old city, far beyond the charming cobblestones and souvenir shops, the face of Romantic poet Samo Chalupka gazes over a neglected field. His expression is dignified, but without arrogance. Statues and monuments in European countries tend to be stoic, regal, distant.
However, in the faces of Bratislava, even those of rebellion, there’s humility.
There is one character who remains a mystery. In a small courtyard, on the slopes of the hill below the castle, she sits. Unlike the others, I haven’t been able to find out anything about her origins or what she symbolizes, if anything. Some call her Medusa, others call her a witch. I call her the Bird Lady. She is an eerie, mesmerizing presence. An enigma amongst the famous.