A Walkabout in Riga

It dawned on me that in my first post about Riga below, I didn’t give you a single outdoor shot. I didn’t do this on purpose, rather I was trying to give a somewhat coherent introduction to the history of the place which meant including some things and thereby excluding others. But today I’ve got a moment to share some shots from my last four days of walking around. So I’m amalgamating my peregrinations (!) into one pseudo walk, but one which, I hope, gives you some insights into the place.

As I may have mentioned before, Old Town Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but like many of Europe’s historic center cities, the majority of the buildings and streets are quite recently restored. Here’s a shot (on the right) of the famous but unfortunately named “House of Blackheads,” the guild for unmarried merchants originally built by the Germans in the 14th century and named for Moors, I believe. It was bombed by the Nazis in 1941, demolished by the Soviets in 1948, and rebuilt by newly independent Latvians from 1995-1999:

Quick the Clearasil...

Quick, the Clearasil…

It’s currently surrounded by an photographic exhibit of Slovenia, of all random things. Melania would be proud.

Nearby, more faux olde culture in evidence. This statue, a present from sister city Bremen from whence many of the original German settlers came 800 years back, is based on a Grimms Brother fairy tale and represents the town musicians of that city. Erected in 1990, a pivotal moment in both German and Latvian history since the Wall had just fallen (1989) and Latvia was yet to become independent (1991), it was a promise of friendship and better times to come. Now it’s a civic lucky charm and tourist photo op:

The higher you reach, the luckier you may be...

The higher you reach, the luckier you get…

Continuing the animal theme, here’s a detail from the top of the “Cat House,” so named because the statues point their tails either (depending on which legend you hear) in the direction of the Great Guild OR the City Hall, one of which had deeply offended the owner. In any event, Kitty is clearly not amused (and looks to me as though she needs the box – STAT):

Made of tin?

Made of tin?

Riga has a sizeable population of free range cats and thankfully the ones I saw looked well fed and comfortable. (I saw a bowl of milk set out under a hedge near one of the museums.) So, missing my own dear fuzz ball as I do when I ramble, here’s a look at a couple of the locals:

Masters of all they survey

Masters of all they survey

Below you’ll find one of those “can’t make this stuff up” juxtapositions of art and architecture which, while not beautiful, truly makes one stop and pause. The statue in the left foreground is Soviet, commemorating the Latvian sacrifices in World War I. The hideous block in the middle is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, the contents of which have been moved to a different location (which I visited) during renovation. Behind the museum you see the spire of Saint Peter’s Church, an Evangelical Lutheran parish church built in stages from the 13th to the 17th centuries…but sporting the spire you see added during the Soviet era and built by…Poles. (There’s an elevator in it, and an expensive viewing spot, allegedly with the best panorama of the city):

Architectural vertigo

Architectural vertigo…

As is my wont in most cities I visit, I took the “free” walking tour to gain a little more of an insider’s perspective into the locale. My guide, Kaspars, was a remarkably well educated and articulate young man with a master’s in history and a day job as a museum researcher. Happily he supplements what is probably a pittance of a salary with this gig, and we were his lucky beneficiaries. Here he is explaining a little about Krišjānis Barons, a folklorist who systematized and published nearly 13,000 Latvian folksongs, thus memorializing this unique resource and allowing them to be used in the development of a national consciousness during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and thus restoring the ancient Latvian choral tradition, still active today:

Singing for his supper

Singing for his supper

As I mentioned below, Riga is known for its amazing collection of Art Nouveau architecture as well as arts and crafts – I’ll do a complete blog on that soon, inshallah. But in the meantime, here’s a shot of the staircase in the building that houses the museum – it’s pretty swoon-worthy:

Vertigo of the vertical variety

Vertigo of the vertical variety

Kaspars then took us through the Central Market, which, like others across Europe, has been showcasing “local” and “organic” since before anyone even knew or cared what that meant. As you can see, the harvest season is in full swing….

Gourdy gourdy

Gourdy gourdy

…but what is really impressive is an entire wing, a Soviet-era airplane hanger, filled with *fish and nothing but fish.* No surprise there – Riga is on a river leading to a sea, but according to Kaspars, along with the type of fish and the price, each of the hand-printed cards includes the exact location where the animals were caught. People are very particular about those things here, apparently. Since we were moving at a pretty good clip, I just snapped the most curious objects I could find. The locals take these, split them open, cover the innards with garlic and herbs, and smoke the heck out of them. Goes well with the local brew, I’m told.

Nature's bounty

Nature’s bounty

So on the walk back to the Old Town from the Central Market, we had to cross several streets, and while waiting for the light (like good Latvians – no one jay walks here), I couldn’t help but notice a side of Latvian culture that seemed a little less buttoned up, as it were. I’m thinking the young man is excited about some kind of tune-sharing or podcast ability, but it seems an odd way to drive consumer demand…

Munch he's not

Munch he’s not

So now I need to pack my tents and camels and get on over to Berlin where my German classes start on Tuesday (Monday being a public holiday celebrating German unity – interested to see how that goes down this year). I’ll be back to you soon with more as it comes over the transom. I hope you’ve enjoy this little view into this relatively unknown part of the world; I’ve certainly enjoyed sharing it with you.

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2 Responses to A Walkabout in Riga

  1. alandsberg2015 says:

    Thanks for the walking tour. I am amazed at how similar the “old” architecture in Riga echoes the “old” architecture in Poznan and other Eastern European cities as well, and some Northern ones as well. So interesting how the different parts of Europe really have wildly different styles. Love the staircase and the fish with red polka dots!

  2. Rachel says:

    School starts soon! Eeeeeee!

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