CAPITAL CHRONICLE Pt.2. A photo story on Riga Street Food Festival and Kaļku street.

It takes an event to revitalize a place; everybody knows it today and most of destinations use it. Riga Street Food Festival only started 4 years ago, so it is still too early to draw conclusions, but... Kaļku street, where the event takes place at, could already benefit from such rebranding at least during January. Especially, if the most central Old Town street has once been the main lane for stag parties and still is serving as a popular, yet anxious passage for locals.

This is the second article in a documentary photo stories called "CAPITAL CHRONICLE" now dedicated to this short, yet very long lived street in the heart of Old Riga.

capital r, kalķu iela, riga, tourism


Riga Street Food Festival first appeared in 2017 when it was organized as an opening ceremony to celebrate Rīga - Gauja Region becoming the European gastronomy region that year. Immediately, it also got quite lambasted when meals, offered by higher-class restaurants, could not technically be called an authentic "choose-pay-gorge-next" street food market as we know it - with compact portions, fast queues and low prices. Despite that, the festival gained a huge popularity among tourists and is still at great health this year.

Its location was always meant to be the junction of Vaļņu and Kaļķu streets. "It seems there is no one visiting Old Town without eventually coming down to this crosspoint," says Anna Blaua, PR Executive from the organizers Riga Tourism Development Bureau. "It proves that there could be lots of space in Old Town as well as there is the beautiful Freedom Monument by the end of Kaļķu street that just fits in everybody's emotional wheelhouse."

capital r, kalķu iela street, riga, tourism, 2020

The main challenge has always been the weather -  it was bloody cold for the first couple of years.  For some, seeing local chefs freezing their bottoms to death, was a painful view, but tourists could luckily find at least something to do and enjoy during this quiet month. 2020 is the first time the weather is a bit above 0°C, though, thankfully, chilly enough to feel the planned atmosphere.

Still it only took a handful of years to go from -15°C and dry to even above zero and slightly dank. Winter in Riga is not what it used to be, but, who knows, maybe street food is also changing, and the future of it will look like Riga Street Food Festival, offering higher class food from top chefs by default. Time will tell.

capital r, kalķu iela, riga, tourism, 2020

Although being the central street in Old Riga since its beginnings in 1407 and then lengthened block by block, there is nothing particularly old left on Kaļķu (Lime) street today. At most times, representing architecture only from the last 150 years, the street has suffered bombing, rebuilding, tearing, modernizing, and even becoming an arterial automotive street during the soviet reign from 1950s - 1990s.

Yet there are still a few angles singing a song of this city. So here is the second CAPITAL CHRONICLE documentary photo series with Blaumaņa (next Micromobility day) iela coming up next in February. Let's have a walk along Kaļķu street then and see what's on its mind:

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela, Rīgas Tehniskā Universitāte
Theoretically, the address of Riga Technical University (RTU) headquarters (1958) would be located on a different Svērtuves street before WWII. Then named Riga Polytechnic Institute, this social realism example was the first erected building in the heart of Old Town that got heavily bombed in 1941, while the ruins left after the war were wiped off until 1950 and a massive square was formed.

The present Town Hall (2001) was the last original replica constructed around Town Hall square (Rātslaukums) after its original (built mid-XIII century and updated in 1848) was also bombed during WWI and completely razed in 1954. Its foundations were used to support a massive, rational laboratory complex for the university built in 1964 also gone now. The deeds and misdeeds of today's town councillors - well, that needs a separate article.

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela, Osvalds Tīlmanis
After bombing, Osvalds Tīlmanis, then head architect of Riga, took creative control over the city's main projects (including the RTU headquarters above and Academy of Sciences). By ignoring old street layouts, Mr. Tīlmanis delivered two soviet realism induced neo-historicism buildings, including this, yet managed to keep a neutral colour theme and elements that would fit with the "the Old". From the first glance it might not look like it's really 1958.

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In this medievally stylized historicism house, the famous photographer Philippe Halsman, lived from his birth in 1906 until 1929 when leaving for the West. If you are known with the famous water-splashing-and-cat-jumping photo of Salvador Dali or the jumping Merlin Monro and others, you know - it's Philippe. The house itself, built in 1892 by the local Balt-German starchitect of the time, Wilhelm Bockslaff.

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela, Rīgas Melnais Balzāms, balzāmbārs
Riga Black Balsam is another story of success, having its run of fame among both locals and visitors. A legend says the famous darkish-brown and bitter herbal liqueur was actually extracted here in a chemist's store in 1752. Not to be fooled by the looks, though - it happened more than 130 years before the present building was erected.

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela, Krievu Drāmas teātris
Where the House of the Union "Uļej" was built in 1882 and where it was turned into The Russian Drama Theatre after WWII (until today), it is believed that a limekiln could be located around here more than 700 years ago already - right across the Rīdziņa river. Thus the name - Kaļķu (Lime) street. After Riga caught just another fire in XIII century, the limekiln was established in order to satisfy the need for such building material as the new construction laws came in force, ordering no wooden buildings in Old Town.

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela, kalēju iela, Budes Tornis, jaunais cietums
The Kalēju street that crosses Kaļķu street, was once already the edge of Rīga marked by the Rīdzene (or Rīdziņa or Rīga) river running to the right of it. The house in front was built by what once were the foundations of Kaļķu (Budes/Bendes) tower serving as a primitive incarceration place together with the New City prison (XVI century) and later Police station (1789) next to it (the yellow "SUVENĪRI" titled house on the left).

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela
Today one could only imagine Kaļķu street being the main automotive artery in Old Town during the Soviet era after WWII until the early 1990s, leading chauffeurs right down the main Brīvības street (then both merged into one Lenin's street). Where there are only people allowed now, the street would be full of rumble and smoke, and would noise the hell out of everything that's left for the romanticists in Old Town.

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela
This central junction where Riga Street Food Festival has the most energy focused at was also once covered with buildings that the city again lost to WWII. The area was and still is attracting to financial establishments - for example, on the right there would be a house run by Swedbank today; as on the closer left a 1934 building was and still is a bank (now run by SEB) while the furthest left was also built as credit union in 1913 - one of the first ferroconcrete buldings in Riga.

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela
Although coming from a now colapsing coalition created between two seemingly popular, but highly critisized and criminally involved pseudo "socio-democratic" parties "Harmony" and "Honor to Serve Riga (GKR)", the current city mayor Oļegs Burovs (in the centre) has managed to keep the mess together as left after his predecessor Nils Ušakovs. What Ušakovs (Harmony) managed to ruin in 10 years, is impossible to measure and will be impossible to fix by Burovs (GKR). At least, he tries his best to be approachable to the contemporary, concerned urbanists.

capital r riga, kaļķu street iela
Theoretically owning its address to Aspazijas boulevard, the first McDonalds eatery in Riga and the Baltic States appeared right here in 15 December, 1994. Still everyone hungry for an all-imported greasy bun and chips that don't get old after 100 years would get their summer terrace or night snacks right by the window counter located from the side of Kaļķu street (next to flower beds). That also includes the most drunk punch-ups in Old Town mostly taking in this place at nights.