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The dictator’s shrine takes on a new meaning

Built in the 1980s to commemorate a dead tyrant in a pharaonic style, the concrete and glass pyramid in the center of Albania’s capital Tirana collapsed when engineers and builders arrived to rescue it.

The windows were broken. Homeless people slept in the cavernous hall, which was covered in graffiti and stank of urine. Empty bottles and syringes lay on the floor, which was covered in polished marble, when the pyramid – a shrine to Albania’s late communist dictator Enver Hoxha – first opened in 1988 but had since been denuded by vandals and thieves.

“The place was a wreck,” Genci Golemi, the civil engineer, recalled on his first visit. “Everything was stolen.”

Now, after a two-year refurbishment, the building is a gleaming temple to Albania’s ambitious hopes for the future.

The dictator’s shrine takes on a new meaning, Crypto Trading News

Llesh Biba, an Albanian artist and sculptor, seen in his workshop. Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

For Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj, the $22 million (771.4 million baht) renovation of the pyramid hints at how he envisions the capital – as “the Tel Aviv of the Balkans,” high-tech -Centre that offers jobs and promise Land so impoverished and cut off from the modern world under Hoxha, who died in 1985, that typewriters and color televisions were banned.

“Instead of being a blast from the past, it’s being blasted into the future,” the mayor said of the pyramid, brushing aside the fact that Albania is still one of the poorest countries in Europe and better known as the place of origin of economic migrant software engineers .

But after decades of failed grand plans for the pyramid, hope is high. It will be repurposed as a space for classrooms, cafes and offices for tech companies, and is set to open to the public later this year.

“Hoxha will be rolling in his grave to see his monument transformed into a celebration of capitalism, jobs and the future,” said Mr Veliaj, who is on top of the roughly 21-metre-tall pyramid near an earlier one Hole in the roof stood out to be filled with a huge red glass star. The star’s outline is still visible in the concrete it was housed in, an eerie reminder of Albania’s four decades of brutal communist rule.

The dictator’s shrine takes on a new meaning, Crypto Trading News

Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj, center, atop the Pyramid of Tirana, has long been a reminder of both a brutal regime and the decades of disappointment that followed. Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

Many countries on Europe’s former communist eastern edge have wrestled with what to do with the massive structures left over from a past most people would like to forget.

Winy Maas, the principal architect at MVRDV, a Dutch firm that led the redesign of the Tirana Pyramid, said dealing with buildings erected to celebrate tyranny has always entailed “difficult choices,” but added that the demolition of a building is “rarely a good option” regardless of how ominous the beginnings are.

He said he was inspired by the rebuilding of the Reichstag in Berlin by British architect Norman Foster, who added a glass dome to a building long associated with Germany’s Nazi past, turning it into a light-filled symbol of the country’s modern democracy transformed.

Albania was the last country in Europe to throw communism overboard, in 1991 with a series of attacks on statues of Hoxha, his memorial hall and everything he stood for.

The dictator’s shrine takes on a new meaning, Crypto Trading News

Construction work on the Pyramid of Tirana. Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

But hopes for a new era of democratic prosperity quickly turned into another upheaval when in 1997 a network of financial Ponzi schemes collapsed, sparking violent nationwide protests that drove the country into civil war.

Sentiment eventually calmed, paving the way for Albania to apply to join the European Union in 2009 and in 2014 to gain candidate status for future accession to the bloc it has yet to join.

During this turbulent journey, the Hoxha Pyramid towered over Tirana, slowly decaying, seemingly taunting each new Albanian government with its memories of a Stalinist system that few wished to bring back but whose replacement had caused so much disappointment.

“The spirit of Hoxha was everywhere and terrifying to everyone,” recalled Frrok Cupi, a journalist appointed in 1991 to head the pyramid that would become a cultural center.

The dictator’s shrine takes on a new meaning, Crypto Trading News

Downtown of Tirana. Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

One of his first and most daunting tasks, Mr Cupi said, was somehow getting rid of a 22-ton marble statue of the late dictator in the main hall. its distance bot in his opinion the only hope of saving the pyramid from angry anti-communist mobs who wanted to destroy the entire building.

The statue was so large and heavy that moving it risked breaking the floor and collapsing the pyramid. The Italian embassy suggested using a helicopter to lift the statue through the roof. Others suggested cutting it into pieces with a special saw.

In the end, Llesh Biba, a young theater director who is working as a carpenter on the pyramid, lunges at Hoxha with a sledgehammer and enthusiastically smashes his head and body.

“It felt great to beat Hoxha,” Mr. Biba, now a sculptor, recalled in an interview at his Tirana studio. “No one else dared. They were all concerned to save their own skins.”

The dictator’s shrine takes on a new meaning, Crypto Trading News

A basketball game at a weekend competition, right across from the Pyramid of Tirana. Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

After finishing his work, however, Mr. Biba was taken to a hospital suffering from severe lung problems from inhaling marble chips and dust.

Mr Biba’s health crisis resulted in a long pattern of calamities linked to a building that “seemed cursed,” according to Martin Mata, the co-head of the Albanian-American Investment Fund, which helped fund the reconstruction work.

With no money to continue operating the pyramid as a cultural center, the authorities turned it into a rental property.

Albania’s first nightclub found its place there in the early 1990s. The US aid organization USAID, a television station and Pepsi moved into offices in the basement, followed by NATO, which set up an office there during the 1999 war in neighboring Kosovo.

Over the years, the pyramid began to fall apart, was taken over by squatters and swarmed with young people who used its sloping concrete outer walls as slides. Bold plans to give the structure a new purpose have come and gone, including a failed project promoted by Albania’s former Prime Minister Sali Berisha to turn the pyramid into a new national theatre.

By 2010, the pyramid had become such an embarrassing symbol of failure that lawmakers ordered its demolition and Austrian architects to develop a plan to build a new parliament building on its site. This attempt also fizzled out.

The current renovation has finally broken the series of failures. Driving force behind these efforts is Tirana Mayor Veliaj, a close political ally of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who for the past decade has been a former artist who has himself received praise from some political rivals for improving the reputation of the country has shaken off for chaos.

The 43-year-old mayor recalled visiting the pyramid as a sad Hoxha memorial shortly after it opened in 1988 as a schoolboy. “It was like going to a scary funeral,” he said, describing how a floodlit red star in the roof “looked down on us all like Big Brother’s eye.”

Mr. Maas, the architect, said that in the renovation he tried to “transcend, not destroy, the past” by preserving the basic structure of the pyramid but opening it more to the sunlight and modernizing the interior to accommodate it from to liberate associations with Albania’s grim past.

As a nod to the happy memories many Tirana residents have of sliding down the slopes of the pyramid, the new design includes a small sliding area.

The dictator’s shrine takes on a new meaning, Crypto Trading News

The Pyramid of Tirana, long a reminder of both a brutal regime and the decades of disappointment that followed in Tirana, Albania. Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

However, most of the outer walls are now covered with steps, allowing visitors to walk to the top. There is also an elevator.

Not everyone likes the new design. Mr. Biba, who destroyed Hoxha’s marble statue more than 30 years ago, scorned the reconstructed pyramid as a flashy PR stunt by the prime minister.

But that’s a minority view. Mr Cupi, who supported calls for the building to be demolished after his cultural center collapsed, now hailed the redesign as a sign that Albania can overcome its communist spirit and post-communist demons.

“We all wanted to be part of the West, but we didn’t really know what that meant,” he said. “The pyramid has now been completely redesigned and that gives me hope for this country.”

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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