Already at daybreak on Albert Street - Alberta iela - in the elegant residential neighbourhood known as the Quiet Centre (klusais centrs), you can find clusters of people staring up in wonder at the fancy façades of the finest Art Nouveau buildings in the city. Stylized flora, fauna and human figures have looked down at the townsfolk for more than a century and are today one of Riga's trademarks. The city's sole sphinx lies in wait on this street.
The author of some of these fancifully garnished buildings and the vast apartments within (which were chopped up into komunalkas under the Soviets; that particular manner of communal life can only be truly understood by those who lived under capital "S" Socialism) was the engineer and architect Mikhail Eisenstein (1867-1921), known somewhat derisively as the "crazy cake baker" during his lifetime.
A pedantic workaholic with a complex personality - something of a tyrant - the elder Eisenstein became known for his focus on exterior detail. In commencing a project, he would first produce a draft of the façade, not forgetting a single figure, ornament or decoration, and only then turn to the interior
His son Sergei (1898-1948), who shook the world with his film The Battleship Potemkin, was raised in a Riga that was then a cosmopolitan, urban centre of the Russian Empire. It was here that the talented boy read voraciously in German, Russian and French, drew pictures and strove to understand the world. It was here that he studied only a few hundred metres away in the Realschule that is now Riga's Second Secondary School. Sergei left his hometown in 1915, departing to study architecture in St. Petersburg, where fate turned him into a great reformer of the cinema.
The relations between the elder and younger Eisenstein reflect a classic, generational conflict. The son Sergei mocked his father's pedantry, the stateliness of his architecture, and couldn't forgive the loneliness he suffered in childhood (atypically for the era, his parents were divorced). The father Mikhail did not share his son's enthusiasm for the Revolution. At Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela 6, there is now a scanty plaque that reads: "Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein lived here from 1889 to 1915."
The most notable of Mikhail Eisenstein's buildings are at Elizabetes iela 10b and Alberta iela 4, 6, 8 and 13.
Keywords: icon, Riga