On a friend's suggestion I did a quick trip to Riga, capital of Latvia, independent again since the break up of the USSR in 1991. Now an EU member and in the € zone.
The city is quite well preserved with many blocks of late 19th century neo-classical buildings and, more interestingly, many art nouveau buildings as well, with great ornamentation. But there are still traditional timber buildings quite near the city centre.
The city seems fairly prosperous, all the Brands are here and there are plenty of funky bars, cafes, restaurants etc - but in 2 days one can’t really know. Free high speed wifi is widely available, unlike in advanced Australia.
And there are good manhole covers:
One of my measures of the degree of civilisation of a city is the quality of the manhole covers. Its important to acknowledge the creativity of overlooked clerks in whatever government authority who come up with manhole cover designs. It is a challenging design task – they must be practical, in that they allow water to drain off, as well as providing a gripping surface, plus be aesthetic. No small task – and around the world I think they do a great job.
I was also impressed with the range and quality of the works displayed at the Museum of Decorative Arts most of which date from the 20s and 30s. It is well worth a visit.
In the Riga old town there is a cute statue referencing a Grimm Brothers fairy tale - The Bremen Town Musicians.
I was delighted to encounter this because I have often read the story to my grandchildren, Umi and Atlas.
It is about 4 animals: a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster. They are past their use by dates and are soon to be consigned to the glue factory or similar. They don’t like that idea so they make a break for freedom and set out for Bremen town on the Weser River in Germany. They never make it because, en route, they encounter a house inhabited by robbers - they scare the robbers away and themselves live in the house happily ever after.
How did they scare the robbers away and why the reference to musicians in the title of the story? You should read it to find out.
The statue depicts the 4 animals peering through a gap in an iron plate - the iron curtain. The statue was a gift from the City of Bremen to the City of Riga given in 1990 - just as Latvia was making its break for freedom - independence being achieved in 1991 with the final breakup of the USSR. How prescient! And what a great thing to do! Congratulations to whoever it was that made the connection between the fairy tale and then current events in faraway Latvia - and also to those who made the statue happen. Bremen and Riga are twin cities but their connection dates back many centuries when they were both allied through the Hanseatic League, a powerful trade league around the Baltic. Bremen is still named "The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen".
The fairy tale is deeply embedded in towns along the Weser – the same motif of the 4 animals is embroidered into the carpet of the Hotel Stadt Bremen where I stayed in Beverungen central Germany on the Weser some 230 km inland from Bremen and 1500 km from Riga.