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The 12 Books of Abraham

    Stanisław's Corner 4

    Reaching for the Skies

    I have always been very fond of historical buildings. And thank goodness Europe has plenty of them that have survived destructive wars. I have to say that modern architecture and I have little in common - it lacks spirit, elegance, taste and a sense of the majestic. Though our society may be said to be technologically brilliant, it is artistically sterile.

    My favourite piece of architecture, the old German cathedral in Königsberg (see top), was a semi-ruin under the the Soviets who managed to destroy almost every other single piece of classical architecture as they swept over eastern Europe in 1944-5. But today it has been restored to its former glory and is the centrepiece of the city. Today Königsberg is called Kaliningrad (since 1947 when the USSR annexed it), a small Russian exclave sandwiched in between Poland and Lithuania. (It was from this area on the coast that the writer of Jurassic Park got the idea of extracting the DNA from a prehistoric insect trapped in amber). Seeing this will doubtless lead you to conclude (rightly) that I am a lover of the Gothic style.

    On the top of my Introduction to this page you will find a picture of the Rathaus of the beautiful East Prussian town called Allenstein (today Olstzyn) and former capital of Varmia. It's mediaeval charm I find beguiling. I will not, however, attempt to explain why to you as this is an intensely personal thing that has, in truth, as much to do with historical associations as with pure architecture. There is much sadness and nostalgia tied up in this and other places which does not warrant too much brooding over. More than anything the place captures a mood that I am able to identify with.

    Polish architecture stands in sharp contrast to the German Gothic style and I enjoy that every bit as much. Here is my favourite building in Lublin - the New Town Hall (see below) which is elegant without being ostentatious. The overhead electric bus lines spoil things somewhat but they are unlikely to change in the forseeable future. The whole of the centre of Lublin is full of beautiful historical buildings.

    One of my favourite French buildings is the famous cathedral at Reims in northern France (see below). There are, of course, fabulous Catholic church buildings across the whole of Europe but this one has a special affection for me. The mediaeval architects had a sense of proportion and beauty which makes modern architects look like infants with their finger paints.

    What in the second half of the 20th century has even remotely approached the glory of such a building? Eastern Europe is littered with Stalinist monstrosities. Look at all the grotesque buildings of modern Kaliningrad, like the 'House of Soviets' that replaced beautiful Königsberg Castle (see below), a monument of Soviet brutalism! To think that millions of people must live in souless cities alike this from central Germany to Vladivostok. No wonder people are half-dead from a lack of artistic inspiration to fill them with wonder. Much as I dislike the modern American-inspired skycraper cities, they are an improvement on the drab monoliths of Joseph Stalin. Worse, these Soviet-built cities are slowly disintegrating as there isn't enough money to maintain them. But enough of depressing things!

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    Author: SBSK

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    First created on 24 February 2001
    Updated on 3 August 2016

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