Invisible cities. Czernowitz, where people and books lived

“A Czech architect who studied in Vienna and became immersed in the characteristics of Bukovinian folk architecture and art, builds up with the help of local Hutsul, Polish and Romanian craftsmen and artists the palace of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolite in Czernowitz – can you imagine a more convincing example of a mutual cross-fertilization of cultures?” (Martin Pollack: Mythos Czernowitz)
Czernowitz, wo Menschen und Bücher lebten. This is how Paul Celan, the great poet of Czernowitz remembers his native town, and it’s not sure which of the two is rarer and more flattering for a city. The easternmost large city of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was created almost from nothing at the end of the 18th century, when Galicia and Bukovina became part of the Hapsburg empire. The Viennese government intended it from the beginning as a model city, where the representatives of all the nationalities of the Monarchy would harmoniously live with each other, united by the enlightened Hapbsburg government and the common German language. Each of the forty-two ethnic groups constituting the population of the city had their own social, religious and cultural institutions, societies, streets and newspapers, while they were proud that in all the empire, it was in Czernowitz where the most beautiful German was spoken. This diversity and unity of the city’s spirit was also reflected in its built texture, where the planned structure, the large public spaces and public buildings were in a harmonious balance with the quarters and institutions of the single nationalities.

This is the structure we will walk through on the next occasion of our “Invisible cities” series, on 17 September 4 p.m. in the FUGA Center of Architecture (Budapest, Petőfi Sándor u. 5.). In contrast to the previously examined cities, Prague and Tbilisi, Czernowitz became invisible not by destruction. Its old town still preserves its turn-of-the-century fabric virtually without change. Only its diverse and sophisticated culture disappeared, which had created this fabric and filled it with meaning. In our presentation we reconstruct this life and these meanings with the help of contemporary photos, descriptions and local press, thereby showing how Czernowitz indeed became a Hapsburg model city, and later a nostalgic “myth of Czernowitz”, still alive in the memory of its former inhabitants.