TWO STORIES OF MEMORIES AND HOPE. Celebrating lost and returning people in Riga. Pt.1

Riga is celebrating its 818th birthday this weekend. The city's inhabitants have faced various tides of times: Riga slowly grew from an urban village through medieval times and plagues, then exploded during the industrial era 50 years prior to WWI, then lost dozens of thousands during WWII to reach three times its size during the Soviet era.

In the last 30 years, due to returning to ethnic grounds, work migration, the crisis, or downshifting to smaller towns, Riga has shrunk by 300,000 people. Criticized by some, many are returning back to the city with more impressive experience and different views to what Riga is today. We celebrate the birthday of our hometown by celebrating memories and hope of its lost and recently found citizens, and give you the first part of this article series.

rīga, āgenskalns, capital r, nometņu iela, soviet, padomju, 2019
Riga, Nometņu street. 30 years apart.


Returned on 15 April 2019 after leaving for Barcelona and then London on 31 December 2012.
My overall observation when I compare Riga to the same city some 10 years ago, is that Riga has progressed astonishingly well in many ways – both technologically, as well as in ways people think. I am absolutely happy about the many eco stores, zero waste shops, cafeterias employing people with special needs. In the far west it already seems mundane, and it’s great these vibes have moved to Riga, too. Such technological upgrades as the e-health portal or the Citizen card also surprised me positively.

There are so many culture events, concerts, festivals now, and it’s heartwarming many families visit them with the kids. Maybe it wasn’t the topic of my life back then, but it seems now children are beside their parents at events more than before!

Some things haven’t changed for the worse – the roads are still bumpy and full with holes, there is an absolute lack of bicycle roads, there are still many stairs and steps to many stores, even to those selling goods for child care; finally, I am terrified of how many plastic windows there are in all the restored historical houses. Old people are still super grumpy, and there is still an overall need to do things cheaper rather than more qualitative, and it is still sometimes supplemented by the need to scheme and plot some ugly business plans in order not to pay taxes or receive more social benefits.

It also came to my attention of how many foreigners are in Riga now. Not tourists, but people that have seemingly moved to the city to live or study here. The Wolt food delivery service couriers, for example. It’s pleasant to see many nationalities and races in Riga today, and hearing children speaking in various languages at playgrounds.
The younger generation undoubtedly grows up being more open to the unfamiliar or different, more than the older people ever did.
The first is a very vague picture from the July 2007 of the pier in Andrejsala, where we used to hang out pretty often. Back then this territory still looked rough, alternative, but it had this very special atmosphere, very creative and artistic. Today it belongs to some fancy cafés for people who only want to enjoy the view on the Daugava. Well, it’s exclusive, though.

Andrejsala during its lazy and subcultural hay time (left) and... now during it being finally turned into a site of exclusive and high-priced establishments after struggling for a decade (right). It's not worse, but it's totally different (2007&2008/2019; Aija Alsiņa, CAPITAL R).

The other picture is February 2007, looking at the house I used to live in then and its famous pub “Trīs vīri laivā” (Three men in the boat – CR.). As I’ve heard the place itself as well as the Avotu street have changed very much and become popular. I haven’t been there yet. In the picture, it also seems that winters haven’t been this snowy any more lately.

Some places never change, rain or snow... for the better. "Trīs vīri laivā" pub (2007/2019; Aija Alsiņa, CAPITAL R).


Returned in June 2019 after leaving for Edinburgh in 2010.
I was 22, and the life of Riga's pubs and bars was, no doubt, an important component of my daily life. Back then I most frequently visited places like "Up In Smoke", where we even participated in the protests against criminalization of salvia (image below), or the old "Gauja" and "Leningrad", or also other locations with informal atmosphere and cheap beer.

During these 9 years of my absence, it seems Riga has turned for the better in having more new places and getting rid of the old ones. Old Town, more than ever, leaves an impression of a impersonal and dispassionate hole; meanwhile, in places where one could seemingly get your face beaten up (Avotu street or Āgenskalns), there are now multiple places where one can get tasty drinks and also something to eat.

A snippet of the legendary punky, yet jolly "Leningrad" in Old Town and... the house still on sale for years after they got kicked out (2010/2019; CAPITAL R).

The cheap Aldaris beer is replaced by the next level Tērvete that is again replaced by fancy local craft beers. Now, more than ever, there is toilet paper and WCs with a seat and cover at the loos in bars. The audience has changed too. Queues of murky alcoholics have thinned out, but they are replaced with families with children, because places are not about drinking any more, if there's a good option to eat something.

A view to the entrance of the short, yet turbulently lived "Up in Smoke" in Old Town, and... the look to it's former backyard now finally being under construction after years of abandonment (2009/2019; Dana Priedniece, CAPITAL R).

Resume - the city, no doubt, has changed. At some point - for the better bringing hope or for worst not letting the good old memories to die. Despite that, people are returning and looking forward to meet with Riga again, and as long as it happens we will have this article running. Did you just moved back to Riga? We would like to hear your impressions and keep exploring the changes of the city before our eyes.