Comment: Bucharest – the most interesting city in Europe and perhaps the last European city

Guest writer Paul Wood comments on the changing beauty of Romania’s capital city Bucharest, using photographer Davin Ellicson’s pictures as a starting point.

This picture by talented young American photographer Davin Ellicson from May 2011 captures some of the city’s oddness and vitality. He comments on it:

Bucharest possesses truly one of the more unique urban environments of any European capital city. Beautiful interbellic architecture is in a state of spectacular decay and laid on top of this erratically are various aspects of the 21st century.

Another great picture which could be of almost anywhere in the town – for in my opinion it is more a town than a city despite its two million inhabitants.

davin ellicson pic 2

I walk past this every day – there are so many scenes like this. When I tell Romanians that being in Bucharest makes me happy each day they think I am crazy or am lying and that I am here for the girls (who are indeed very beautiful). Bucharest is full of wonderful places, usually hidden out of sight and there are many lovely old churches and monasteries and interesting museums here, but the best thing about Bucharest is walking the partly derelict late nineteenth century and early twentieth century streets of the so-called historic center of town.

Many other people, foreigners and Romanians, tell me they feel the same. Only Havana and Tbilisi, of the cities I have visited, have the same poetic sense of decay. My father, a man who I am proud to say hated Communism, liked to quote Karl Marx’s critique of Romanticism: One man’s picturesqueness is another man’s poverty.

davin ellicson pic 3

I am a Romantic and probably fleeing from the neat and tidy lower middle class town in which I grew up. I possibly should feel guilty about the pleasure I take in the shabby streets of Bucharest, but I see no point on doing so.

Bucharest has been so cleaned and tidied up in the fifteen years I have lived here that I forget how sui generis it still is. These pictures bring that out. Paradoxically, and everything in Romania is a paradox, Bucharest is utterly uncool and yet the coolest place there is.

A film noir city. Where people still smoke in restaurants (Romania is still a free country) and where there are still femmes fatales (legions of them). Men here are men and women are women and everyone is happy about this. The most interesting city in Europe. You could almost say it is the last European city.

What other capital in Europe is nearly so unselfconscious, so unlike the rest, so full of energy and shadows and yes so un-European, despite the spawning malls, hypermarkets, highly paid foreign consultants and other horrors of democracy? I know the streets become unfordable rivers when it rains. I know I should be pleased when the potholes and the broken pavements are renewed with EU funding but I am not. Irresponsibly, I am elated by a beauty I find in the dereliction and have been since my first visit in 1990.

By Paul Wood, Guest Writer

Paul Wood is the owner of Apple Search, the executive search company, and is writing a book about Bucharest where he has lived since 1998. His personal blog is here.

Photos by Davin Ellicson.

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