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Future Europe features a podcast episode from each of the EU’s 28 Member States. Each episode tells the story of a project that illuminates the way Europeans will live in the future. All the stories are told through the voices of people like Katarina Hajsterova—people involved in the projects.
In the basement of Bratislava Conservatory, dance teacher Katarina Hajsterova snaps on the lights to reveal a small but perfectly formed concert space, complete with grand piano, plush carpet and rows of gilded chairs. It all awaits the next recital from one of the resident musical prodigies studying at this historic institution. But it wasn’t always so.
“It was very ugly,” she tells the Future Europe podcast. “It had no energy. It was just a basement. Now it’s a beautiful concert hall, and students really enjoy playing here.”
These days this energy is abundantly present. The building is a bustling hive of artistic industry.
Next to the basement concert hall is a drama studio, where a group of recent graduates are spiritedly rehearsing a new theatrical work they plan to take on tour. Two floors up teachers and students work side by side at adjoining grand pianos.
Outside in the garden Paulina, a young opera singer, sits under a tree making careful annotations to the manuscript of an old Czech lullaby for a recital she is preparing.
She’s been here since seven o’clock in the morning and predicts that she will remain at the Conservatory until late evening. “It’s my second home”, she smiles.
A contribution to regeneration
After decades of neglect under the Communist regime and even later, the Conservatory is one of two academic institutions that benefitted from an extensive programme of renovations across the Bratislava region, largely funded by the European Investment Bank. These include:
- rebuilding and sound-proofing the Bratislava Conservatory
- repairing and modernising the historic Groslingova 18 Grammar school, while preserving the unique facade of this local landmark
- replacing outdated equipment in both institutions, including new pianos and a concert hall for the Conservatory
The much needed overhaul of the building’s internal sound-proofing was perhaps most important. Students and teachers are now able to concentrate on their work in a bright, positive environment without disturbing one another.
The cultural life of Slovakia also benefits. “In Central Europe and Slovakia there is a tradition of culture and music that is very rooted,” says Celia Alvarez, the EIB representative responsible for overseeing funding of the project. “It’s a nice contribution to the traditions of the country, financing the investments that can help develop these artistic activities in the right environment.”
Education and the old town
A couple of miles across town, Marek Vlcej, an economic analyst for the Bratislava region, gazes up at the imposing Art Nouveau facade of the Grosslingova 18 Grammar school, another celebrated academic institution and one of the architectural jewels of Bratislava.
“We can see that the outside view of the building was reconstructed,” he says, gesturing at the freshly painted walls and the distinctive curving windows and doorways. “Now it looks really, really good as part of the old town!”
The school was founded in the 17th century and includes the celebrated composer Bela Bartok amongst its alumni. The current building was constructed in 1908 by the noted Hungarian architect Ödön Lechner and is a highly prized local landmark.
Like the Conservatory, the school also suffered from years of neglect and dilapidation, but today it looks good as new thanks to the European Investment Bank’s investment of EUR 25 million.
”We like urban development,” Celia Alvarez explains to the Future Europe podcast. “For us it’s a nice piece of architecture that contributes to the regeneration of Bratislava. At same time it is a very prestigious school.”
Alvarez says that investing in the school and the Conservatory is important in preparing Slovakia for the future. “In financing education, we are financing the innovation of the future and this is what is going to give Slovakia a competitive edge. We’re putting the two sides of the story together, the infrastructure and the innovation that will be developed within it.”
Marek Vlcej agrees: “I think every country must think about their culture. And both sides, the grammar school and conservatory are contributing to Slovakia and to the people of Slovakia with their educating of young people. We will have more educated young people and greater artists in Slovakia, and we can show more to the world.