It sounds all exotic. Dracula! Dictatorship! Problematic EU accession! But really, it’s just a normal city. Restaurants, traffic, outlet stores, teenagers in trackpants drinking cider at bus stops.
I basically sat in cafes all week, watching it go by out the window.
The only actual like Thing I did was visit the Parliamentary Palace.
Which is apparently the second biggest building in the world, after the Pentagon. It’s basically the size of Rhode Island, and just as superfluous.
Ceausescu started building it in 1983. The idea was to have the whole Romanian Communist Party working in one place. He also built big residences next door so everyone could live in one place too. If this sounds like a good idea to you, you have never had a job.
Ceausescu was overthrown (and executed on national TV!) on Christmas Day 1989. The building wasn’t finished yet, so the new government had to decide what to do with it.
Most of it is grand corridors and rock-hard ballrooms. Great for a wedding or corporate conference, but not so great for the 98 percent of your life that is not those things.
By the time the new, democratic government took over, the country had already fed billions of euros, millions of man-hours, to this beast. Our tour guide told us these are the world’s heaviest curtains. And we told him that is the world’s least interesting fact.
The new government couldn’t just walk away from something 80 percent finished. So they basically said ‘haters to the left’ and kept building.
Now only about 70 percent of it is used, and it costs millions of euros every year to maintain. They’re constantly criticized for the cost, the waste, the sheer pointlessness of it all.
The rest of my time in Bucharest I spent repeatedly realizing how happy I am not to be a politician.
You work your whole life to get into the halls of power, then when you finally do, you find they’re full of unruly foster kids.
Messes you didn’t make, but have to clean up.
Suddenly a cafe window seemed like a pretty good place to be.
This weekend I got a tour of Le Corbusier's famous apartment block. I'll tell you what I learned:
Four identical buildings were built, two in Germany and two in France. Each is slightly adapted to its setting.
The French apartments, for example, have slightly lower ceilings since French people are shorter than Germans. Corbusier wanted the ceilings low enough so that residents could paint them without standing on a ladder.
I know it sounds like I'm making that up, but it's true. Architects are weird little dictators sometimes.
The Berlin apartments were built in 1957, as ammunition in a war of aesthetics between East and West Berlin.
Corbusier is often blamed—fairly or unfairly, what the hell do I know?—for the trend of up-built project blocks surrounded by empty green space.
In spite of all the criticism that idea receives, our guide insisted that this particular model was successful. The apartments are all occupied, there's a long waiting list.
Almost all of the apartments span two floors. Most of them consist of a narrow kitchen and living room above (or below, depending on which floor they're on) a big-ass bedroom.
The trim pattern is standard across all four Corbusier buildings, but the colors are customized to the location. These are apparently meant to evoke Northern Germany.
Indeed, staring at these you can almost smell a currywurst rotating.
All of the railings are specifically designed to be at chest-height of the average German.
The building is designed to face precisely north-south, to maximize the amount of sunlight that comes in.
The font is Corbusier's; the doodle, not.
The hallways have special corrugated roofs to reduce the echo effect you find in every other apartment hallway ever.
The walls between the apartments are thicker on the lower floors, since they're supporting more weight.
The apartments were built to isolate noise, but apparently Corbusier forgot about smells, and residents routinely complain about experiencing each others' dinners.
The laundry room was deliberately built too large for its purpose, so residents have to mingle with one another.
So the main thing I learned? If architects ran the world, our lives would be different in a number of ways. But mostly our laundry, our ceilings and our smells.
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