I want my European vacation more brutal!
April 18, 2014 5:19 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I love pictures of old modern and brutalist weird architecture in Eastern Europe. We'd love to see it. But travel agents and tours focus on blue waters and quaint villages. Is there a "show me the concrete weirdness" travel option I'm missing for two people who don't like the traditional postcards, but both almost failed college Russian?

Inspired by finding a tour in Winnipeg as well as too many Pinterest and Tumblr pictures of gorgeously weird retrofuturistic buildings, I've been daydreaming about looking at lots of abandoned, moss-covered concrete in former communist countries.

It's clear that Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Bulgaria - they're full of amazing modern and brutalist architecture, but my husband and I don't speak any of the languages, aren't familiar with the culture and really, where we'd even center ourselves.

We don't necessarily need a package tour - although we'd take one. We're independent international travelers that have explored Asia and western Europe as well as most of The States taking public transportation, using maps and pointing at things we didn't know the words for. But this feels bigger to me than crossing Japan to see lots of arcades, taking the maglev in China or traveling via sleeper train from Paris to Rome just to take a sleeper car.

Also, given the abandoned nature of some of these buildings, how do we even tell what we might have access to or even if still exists?

Any tips, guidance, ideas as I start planning to see it before it's all gone?
posted by Gucky to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Don't know of tours, but don't forget Serbia. They also have (non-brutalist) buildings bombed by NATO and just left as they were.
Oh, and also Hungary.
The brutalism lies just outside the old city centers in both Beograd and Budapest.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:31 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

While I can't directly help with planning your trip I can contribute Architecture of Doom to give you some ideas of buildings to check out. The curator is good about tagging the locations by country for easier searching.
posted by sacrifix at 6:59 PM on April 18, 2014

An anecdote to share, which was a visit to Tallinn, Estonia with some family. After a day or so of wandering around the gorgeous old town, one member of the party suggested we go for a walk beyond the old town, with no real idea of where we were going. We ended up walking through the most bleak, decayed, industrial zone, which was sort of fascinating.

The Web Urbanist looks like it might have some good leads on "amazing abandonments", such as the abandoned Russian city of Promyshlennyi.

The wikitravel entry for Iaşi, Romania, describes a vast abandoned industrial zone as something to see there: The city's outskirts are dominated by an immense industrial zone, in which more than 90 percent of the factories have become abandoned. When the communist regime fell, these factories closed one by one, succumbing to foreign competition and internal political chaos. What is left are hundreds of factories, buildings, warehouses and fields which are completely abandoned, overrun with shrubbery, begging for exploration. It is unique, amazing and wild, and will not last long.

I find this stuff quite fascinating too - I found these examples by searching best places to see communist industrial architecture.
posted by AnnaRat at 7:23 PM on April 18, 2014

Sorry if this is unnecessary or incorrect, but it seems to me that the OP is asking for Brutalist architecture (an offshoot of moderism) and not simply, like, brutal buildings.
posted by cmoj at 7:48 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

In urban environments in those countries (I can only speak about Bulgaria from direct experience), I would anticipate that knowing the local language is more a plus than essential. Being able to transliterate Cyrillic (or how letters in Roman script are pronounced in the local language) will help quite a bit, though.

Skopje, Macedonia has some amazing brutalist architecture, and would be worth considering if Bulgaria is on your itinerary.

Maybe this would be worth putting to the Thorn Tree board for Eastern Europe?
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:56 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a map of awesome Yugoslavian monuments.

Here's a list of 25 awesome Yugoslavian monuments, along with city/town names.

The states of the former Yugoslavia are awesome, you should definitely go.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:06 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

cmoj, I was responding to the 'abandoned, moss-covered concrete in former communist countries' aspect of the question, of which some will be brutalist and some just brutal, but perhaps also fascinating :)
posted by AnnaRat at 10:40 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can have blue waters, nice beaches, good food, and an abandoned modernist concrete hotel.

Abandoned Modernist structures and graffiti. Which is why the Ospedale Marino, above, an old seaside hospital in Sardinia is such a find. The Ospedale appears to be a late or mid ’50s work of Sardinian architect Ubaldo Badas, considered one of Italy’s premier architects in the middle of the last century.

Also southern Sardinia is wonderfully undeveloped and wild. Lots of single lane bridges and dirt roads.
posted by three blind mice at 2:26 AM on April 19, 2014

As I read this, I'm thinking that maybe you could call up a few travel agencies that offer blue-water-quaint-village package tours in this part of the world, describe to them what you are looking for, and seeing if they can recommend a personal guide (maybe one for each country?) to help you build a custom tour. In my imaginary ideal world, that guide could help you plan the itinerary by taking the web links you've already found and then following up on the access permissions and logistics. The guide could also be hired during the travel time to take you around and show you the good stuff.

If the agency thought it was a good idea, they might create a package tour using your ideas but offer it to other groups of people, too.
posted by CathyG at 10:20 AM on April 20, 2014

I probably do not have much to offer to the discussion as, even though I find architecture rather fascinating, I have never done much research on this. I'm Latvian; have been to Lithuania, Estonia as well. Typing this up whilst residing in a Finnish hostel, so I don't have the best access to reference materials here.

As far as downright weird architecture with all these sharp edges and such, I guess there's nothing to beat the newly-built National Library in the heart of Riga. I'm not sure about the Soviet-era weirdness apart from the occasional building near Jurmala, the beach area not far away from Riga.

As about actual abandoned industrial structures? I recently found about this photographer's work and these fine people doing urban exploration (beware, a site done entirely in Adobe Flash) in potentially dangerous-to-life areas of abandoned industrial complexes in Latvia.

Lastly, the language barrier - here in Finland I am surprised by how many people in their 40s/50s and beyond speak English just fine. As far as I understand, in the Baltic states you can expect most people in their 20s to understand English whilst those in their 40s and 50s and beyond are much more likely to understand only Russian outside of their native Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian. Unfortunately in Latvia anything outside of the center of Riga has very scarce English resources available, and you can't expect many public service workers to be able to understand English when spoken to. Feel free to hit me up if you need any Baltic-specific advice - I'll try to help.
posted by 9080 at 10:39 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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