Disposable and Usable Pasts in Central European Cities 


  • Agata Lisiak




Central Europe, Berlin, Warsaw, post-communism, cultural memory, urbanism


In Central European cities memories and material histories of socialist regimes remain particularly difficult to address and incorporate into the new democratic present. After 1989, city authorities in the region have chosen to emphasize some pasts and neglect others and, thus, (re)write their own versions of (urban) history and (re)shape their (urban) identities. In my paper I inquire into how post-1989 Central European urbanities are shaped by and communicated through various designations including signs and symbols on city streets, monuments, and buildings. Predictably, many material remnants of the socialist regimes have been destroyed or hidden from the public eye – my interest lies not only in which various designations on buildings and which monuments had to go, but also in why and how they disappeared. I discuss the most popular methods of hiding and/or effacing the remnants of socialism that range from subtle (surrounding of communist landmarks with tall buildings) through the obvious (renaming of streets, squares, metro stations; giving old communist buildings new names and functions) to the irreversible and, thus, most controversial (the razing of socialist architecture and monuments). The disappearance of the material capital of the socialist past has been accompanied by intense commemoration practices verging on memorial obsessions. New monuments, plaques, street names, and museums appeared almost as quickly as the old “disposable” ones were forced out from the urban landscape. The complexity of an urban identity as communicated through city streets, monuments, and buildings not only invites, but necessitates an interdisciplinary approach and, thus, my analysis includes elements from such diverse areas of knowledge as aesthetics, architecture, communication studies, comparative cultural studies, economics, history, and political science.


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How to Cite

Lisiak, A. (2009) “Disposable and Usable Pasts in Central European Cities ”, Culture Unbound, 1(2), pp. 431–452. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.09125431.



Theme: City of Signs/Signs of the City