Instagram “influencers” try to freshen up old Romanian buildings


BUCHAREST – A group of young art professionals moonlighting as online “influencers” are trying to reinvigorate the cityscape of the Romanian capital – and make it chic again.

Armed with cameras and curiosity, these urban storytellers and cultural influencers are crowdsourcing tips and using Instagram and other social media to share their appreciation for monuments and their stories, and hopefully save architectural treasures in the city. process.

“My goal was, in fact, to turn houses into celebrities on social media,” said Ana Rubeli, qualified actuary and senior insurance executive, at RFE / RL’s Romanian department. “I wish culture could have a place on this stage, and I think there is room for all kinds of influencers. I wanted to contribute to the growth of the cultural space on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, and I see that slowly, slowly I succeeded. “

Romanians undoubtedly have a lot of catching up to do.

Proud heirs to a country shaped by key roles in European Danube and Black Sea history, they spent most of a century watching their national heritage crumble into communist oblivion before the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

In the democratic decades that followed, Romania’s capital slowly rose through the ranks of prosperity.

But its cultural and architectural rejuvenation remains hampered by austerity, lack of transparency, uncontrolled development and a simple abandonment of the old, according to experts.

“Cultural”, not just “the influencer”

Passionate amateur photographer and prolific online sharer, Rubeli lives in the former home of her great-great-grandparents in one of Bucharest’s “slums”, where since her childhood she has been fascinated by the commemorative plaques affixed to many facades. His interest extended to monuments across the country.

One of the hundreds of plaques mounted on the buildings of Bucharest, the monuments that inspired Ana Rubeli’s early love for such a cultural heritage.

“In the beginning, a lot of people wrote to me: ‘Ana, you became an influencer, you invited to a museum and people came,” said Rubeli. “It sounds like a heavy word to me. “

Around the world, “the cultural influencer” more commonly conjures up images of a prodigal Kardashian, a 7-year-old Russian-born YouTuber Like Nastya, or the South Korean boy band BTS.

Rubeli therefore says that she decided to reuse the nickname for the benefit of cultural heritage in Romania, which she said “has gone through several dark decades, decades of communism, during which the emphasis on heritage was extremely precarious. “.

The Great Synagogue of Constanta, photographed by Rubeli. "I admit that I have had times when I stood and cried in front of monuments that were in ruins," she says.

The Great Synagogue of Constanta, photographed by Rubeli. “I admit that I have had times when I stood and cried in front of monuments that were in ruins,” she says.

In May, Rubeli and her husband founded a digital “cultural storytelling” project called Aici a Stat (Here She Stood) to raise awareness of Romanian monuments and the personalities behind them.

They describe Aici a Stat as a “virtual museum of collective memories” to “capture the beauty of ancient places” and promote tours and cultural events alongside occasional nods to sustainable local brands.

“What do we need to save something? First of all, knowledge, ”says Rubeli. “You can’t save what you don’t know. If you aren’t aware of the value of the house you spend every day on your way to the office, you don’t even know you have to save its woodwork. , his original plaster cast. “

The result is a rich cache of stunning photographs with painstakingly researched explanations of Romanian heritage objects and, frequently, a history of neglect. It has nearly 26,000 subscribers on Instagram and 7,000 others on Facebook, in addition to the readers of Aici a Stat website.

They hope to attract national and international funding for national heritage objects and other aspects of local culture.

The Art Deco house built by Silvia Serbescu, one of Romania’s first internationally renowned pianists
.

Overlooked landmarks

The Council of Europe (CoE) describes Romania’s cultural heritage, with its 30,000 listed historical monuments, as a victim of “wars, earthquakes, political decisions and neglect”.

This estimates that about 60% are “in poor condition”.

At the national level, the Ministry of Culture National Heritage Institute (INP) is responsible for the research, protection and restoration of Romania’s cultural treasures.

The Press House Compound (formerly Spark House) in the north of Bucharest. “This massive 1950s project shares a universe with the Seven Sisters of Moscow, the Druzba Hotel in Prague (now the International Hotel in Prague) or the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw”, explains Cristi Radu.

In a recent article for a heritage alliance Co-funded by the European Union, the INP deplored the state of the national “cultural heritage ecosystem”.

He described public, commercial and voluntary heritage preservation efforts in Romania as understaffed, and noted that the INP itself had “lost half of its staff over the past decade”. He also said that EU funding had helped but the public sector was “seriously underfunded” and the public and private sectors were facing “a decrease in the number of knowledge and personnel capable of creating and manage knowledge “in the field.

He noted that the Romanian government has so far not ratified the so-called Faro Convention, a CoE framework for the protection of cultural heritage and citizens’ access to it which was signed in 2005. and entered into force in 2011.

But the country is “gradually embracing” a broader participation in its attitude towards preservation, he said, instead of the “expert-led, top-down, institutionalized and centralized” approach of the communist era.

Lead the charge

Cristi Radu is at the forefront of this change.

He has pioneered post-communist “urban storytelling” about Bucharest online for almost two decades.

“In 2021, there are still people who look strangely at people who pose [for photos] in front of buildings or posing in the street, ”says Radu.

Posted as a raidenbucarest, Radu finds the sublime in the ordinary, like this span of a residential building in the capital.

Posted as a raidenbucarest, Radu finds the sublime in the ordinary, like this span of a residential building in the capital.

He says he was attracted after seeing a collection of old photographs from pre-war life which was published in 2000, titled Interbellum Bucharest, Victoria Avenue.

In 2007, he launched Urban Resistance, “a game that quickly turned into an online platform followed by a community with attitude”, to promote the Romanian capital. Now he has around 59,000 subscribers on Facebook.

His most recent projects include a participatory photo project called Bucuresti Realist, attracting over 11,000 subscribers on Instagram.

But these days, Radu’s larger audiences come for the eye-catching images of facades and other cityscapes on his raidenbucarest page on Instagram, which has more than 1,000 posts and 27,000 subscribers.

Radu called this 1920s resort “hands down one of the most amazing places I have ever discovered in Bucharest”.

He mobilized a community of like-minded individuals – architects, town planners, historians, even anthropologists – to help identify and document subjects, notably through films shot in Bucharest or archival photos that are increasingly emerging. no longer available online.

“The documentation involves a careful analysis of the urban fabric – perhaps of a lot on the street, of the buildings that line a street, a plaza or a shed – and noticing exactly what has changed there,” says Radu. “I learned to ‘read the city’.”

With the country and much of the world trapped inside in the coronavirus pandemic, Radu’s group followed last year’s silent demolition of a familiar Bucharest landmark, a 100-meter tower built in years 1980 to test the elevators.

Many Bucharest residents were unaware of the plans.

The structure was an eyesore, but Radu called it “Bucharest’s great industrial achievement” and lamented the loss of “another relevant industrial building” under cover of COVID-19 containment.

Home to the region's first steam mill, Moara lui Assan's turbulent history included the nationalization and alleged murder of Scion Basil Assan in 1948 by the Communists.  His family learned he committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the police headquarters

Home to the region’s first steam mill, Moara lui Assan’s turbulent history included the nationalization and alleged murder of Scion Basil Assan in 1948 by the Communists. His family learned he committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the police headquarters

He cites “absolutely heinous building mutilations and alterations” in the so-called “zero zone” around the Zero Kilometer monument and St. George’s Church in downtown Bucharest as emblematic of the problem.

“Beyond any involvement of the administration, a lack of interest from the general public can jeopardize the fate of [city] heritage, ”Radu said, adding,“ If you barely have the money to put food on the table, dress the children or buy them school supplies, you won’t be very interested in the fact that a house historic monument has been mutilated or demolished. “

Written by Andy Heil based on the report by Norbert Nemes in Bucharest



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