My parents met at a grange hall dance. I’ve heard the story a hundred times. It was March 13th, a Friday night. Whenever a Friday the 13th rolled around, my mother reminded me what a lucky day it was – and once again I heard the story of meeting my father at the dance. Had my parents been Slovak, they’d have met at Korzo. It was the meeting place for young men and women in the 1950s and 60s Czechoslovakia. In each town an area was denoted as “Korzo” – a block or two of cafes and milk bars. I asked my friends to describe a milk bar. They laughed, “a communist McDonalds”. These government restaurants provided cheap and fast meals for working people. Korzo provided the framework for friends to meet up and catch up. In Bratislava, Korzo extended from Michael’s gate down to Old Town Square. The Korzo rock memorializes the midpoint.
The tradition of Korzo has died and so has the grange hall dance. The Korzo restaurant in Bratislava lay vacant this entire last year. I’m not sure where couples meet today – no doubt in some suburban coffee chain or virtual reality place where they can LOL til dawn. Korzo has been dispersed to malls and movie theaters and the Starbucks on every corner. Korzo is relegated to the virtual world of Facebook and the “can you hear me now” universe. Time marches on, cultures change, traditions die.
We toured Bratislava a few months ago. Our tour guide, Eva, was a spry woman of 80. She sadly recounted how she and her girlfriends bemoan the end of Korzo. Bratislava is a different town, more touristy and more expensive. Czechoslovakia of the 1950s wasn’t a tourist destination. It was a country of friends meeting other friends as a captive audience. Eva speculated the low pensions of today (300 Euro per month) conspired to end Korzo. A coffee or a beer is no longer affordable for her generation.
I dined with a friend’s grandmother, an octogenarian Slovak also named Eva. I asked her about Korzo. Her eyes sparkled as she described the tradition of meeting with friends at Korzo, sharing drinks and companionship. I mentioned the speculation that Korzo ended due to high prices and low pensions. Eva shrugged and replied, “I don’t think so. I believe there’s always money for a coffee with friends”.
Categories: Insiders Bratislava