Vukovar's historic Grand Hotel reopens for a day

Nov 17, 2012

Photo: City of Vukovar

As part of this year's commemorations of the fall of Vukovar in 1991, city residents were invited to a Community Open House at the Grand Hotel/Workers' Hall in the city center, where they were joined by President Ivo Josipović, Minister of War Veterans Predrag Matić Fred and Vukovar Mayor Željko Sabo. The Open House was organized by the European Union (EU) Delegation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to show the progress that has been made in the €1.6 million restoration of the exterior of this monumental "city palace" and to launch fund-raising for the future reconstruction of the interior. The scaffolding that has surrounded the building since construction began in November 2011 was partially removed for the occasion.

"Vukovar is a symbol of heroism and tragedy, but there is a new opportunity for this town to become a symbol of reconciliation and multiethnic coexistence, a warm home for all its citizens, no matter their national background, religion, profession or any other criteria. Let us do all that is in our power to turn Vukovar into a symbol of this other glory" - said President Josipović. "Workers' Hall is a building full of symbolism; the history is watching us from its every brick. At a symbolic level it is one of the best chances we have. The restoration of this building is the best gift for the citizens of Vukovar that this country could give them".

"Radnički dom is one of the town's landmarks, the most popular image on Vukovar postcards. Some estimates say that the completion of restauration works will require around 25 to 30 million HRK. We plan to apply for additional funds to complete the project through European Union funds" - said Mayor Sabo.

Opened in 1897 as the city's Grand Hotel, the Workers' Hall served for almost a century as the social and cultural center for Vukovar's diverse population. Many Vukovar residents remember celebrating weddings and graduations in the building's City Café and Cinema Hall. The complex enjoys the highest possible level of cultural protection, but it has stood empty since its destruction during the 1991 siege of Vukovar. The impetus to restore the exterior came from the European Parliament, as part of a regional initiative to encourage post-conflict recovery and reconciliation by rebuilding war-damaged architectural monuments.

"Given the multiethnic background of Vukovar, consisting of 20 different ethnic groups, the restoration of the destroyed heritage is a contribution to maintaining European models of reconciliation through 'unity in diversity,' which is one of the basic principles of the European Union," said the Head of the EU Delegation to Croatia, Ambassador Paul Vandoren. Managed by UNDP, the reconstruction project has two main goals: to restore the entire exterior as a historically accurate replica of the original Grand Hotel, and to conduct inclusive consultations with the Vukovar community to reach a consensus on the future of the interior.

"Restoring this historic structure to its original beauty will help to put the war behind us," said UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton. "But even more important is to revive its past role as the heart of a vibrant and harmonious community. To do this, we need to move ahead quickly with the work needed to make the interior available for public use. And for this we count on continued funding from both the Government and our international donors."

The European Parliament provided €1 million for the exterior reconstruction, while the Ministry for Regional Development and EU Funds contributed €640,000 through the Fund for the Reconstruction and Development of Vukovar. Only painting work remains to be finished on the exterior facades; outstanding structural repairs to the basement and the roof will be completed by February 2013. Reconstruction of the interior will take another several years owing to strict preservation requirements and the sheer size of the 3,000-square-metre building. Early estimates put the cost of rebuilding and equipping the interior at €3 million.