When you ask someone on the street what they think of when they hear the word “Bratislava”, they will most likely answer “where’s that?” or “that’s a real city?”. It is true many people have never heard of Bratislava, the capital city of a small country that is one half of the former Czechoslovakia. Its a beautiful, mountainous, and pristine country, with a small but bustling capital city, complete with a quaint Old Town to draw in the tourists. Its one of the four major cities that line the Danube, along with Vienna, Budapest, and Belgrade.
Unexpectedly, Bratislava’s big tourist draw includes a series of humorous bronze statues, and it is a pilgrimage to take pictures with each of them. I became fascinated by them on our first night in Bratislava and tried to do some Google searches to learn their background. Each website told a different story, each gave a different title to the statues. Some English-speaking tour guides at one of the statues, told yet an a different story. The best I can give you is a Slovakian tourism website’s description, but I find some of the other folklore to be equally telling.
1. The Workman
The most unique of the four, the workman, aka Cumil-the-Peeper, aka Rubberneck, is subterranean, hanging out from a manhole cover underneath a “Man at Work” sign. He has a grin from ear to ear, and looks like he is enjoying the view, perhaps up ladies’ skirts as they walk by. It is good luck to rub his head, which is the shiniest part of him. I knelt to rub his head, and afterwards saw a website warning not to do so. It is where dogs go to do their business. The Man at Work sign was added in recent years because at least two cars drove over him, and he nearly lost his head.
2. The Frenchman
The French Napoleon Soldier leans over a bench, prominently in the main square, outside of the French Embassy. Some websites call the statue Napoleon, but it was obvious that it was not meant to be a statue of Napoleon – just one of his minions. Napoleon’s army attacked Bratislava twice and Napoleon visited the city in the early 1800s. An urban legend, perhaps, tells that one of the soldiers, Hubert, fell in love with a local woman, and stayed behind to produce wine. It is the most famous sparkling wine in Slovakia, called what else, Hubert. His location behind the bench seems to draw ire from many tourists who get frustrated when someone has the gall to sit down and relax on the bench, disrupting everyone’s photos.
3. The Paparazzi
Leaving aside the Italian grammatical error, in which there is only one photog, but yet he is called the plural paparazzi, rather than the singular paparazzo, the paparazzi is one of the newer statues. He seems to be named after the restaurant on which he leans. It is unclear whether the restaurant added him to their building to gain foot traffic, or if the statue came first and the restaurant later. He also may not be made of bronze, but of wood, painted to resemble bronze.
4. The Loverboy
The fourth seems strangely out of place with the others. He is brighter silver, and apparently was a real person – Schoener Naci, or Beautiful Ignaz. He used to tip his hat to the pretty ladies as they walked by. The stories of him range from being a romantic, to mentally ill, to near homeless. He roamed the city for 40 years, always well dressed, often in top hat and tails. Some tales say that he was in love with a woman, but the love was not reciprocated, which caused him to go a little crazy.
These statues are not the only reason to visit Slovakia – there is hiking and nature to see, Bratislava Castle, a tall and strangely placed UFO looking bridge, Slovakian wine to taste, but the four statues provide a fun little mission that just does not exist in many of the other Old Towns in Central and Eastern Europe.
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