Jews played key role in Riga’s architectural revolution

Eistenstein designed building in Riga (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Eistenstein designed building in Riga
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
RIGA – If you’re curious to learn how Jews have left an indelible mark on this bustling Baltic capital dubbed the “Paris of the North” and the “Amber City,” the answer may be staring you in the face – literally.
On a tree-lined street in an affluent neighborhood of Riga lies a row of unusual edifices.Over-sized faces stare eerily at you from the walls and statues of bare-breasted women adorn the elaborate facades.
The Art Nouveau buildings and their intricate designs are the work of architect Mikhail Ospivoich Eisenstein (1867- 1921), famous for extraordinary structures that grace Riga and for being the father of Soviet filmmaker, Sergei.
Eisenstein, whose father was Jewish, was arguably the most prominent figure in the architectural boom Riga experienced at the turn of the 20th century. His colorful creations, built to accommodate a budding bourgeois class, evoke all sorts of fantastic images and elaborate details.
At the Riga Jugendstila Museum, which showcases Riga’s Art Nouveau treasures, visitors can take a peak at how families lived in the unique buildings 100 years ago.
“They borrowed from everyone and created very elaborate artistic creations,” Juris Berze, a local tour guide, explained. “But it didn’t last long, only 20 years.”
Only a handful of the architects who created the local brand of Art Nouveau known as Jungendstil were Jewish, the rest being German, other Latvians and Russian. Still, they had an important place in this revolution that rocked Riga.