The death of the postwar apartment building

Like so many other apartment buildings on my block, mine will not have central heating this winter either. Last year we somehow managed, despite the arguments, to have a couple of hours of heating a day. But this year we didn’t manage to reach a compromise – those who can’t or won’t pay for heating oil make up the overwhelming majority of the tenants and owners.

And so another apartment building joins the very long list of residences in Greece that will not have central heating this year. We have become accustomed to the fact. But are we also witnessing the steady decline of the most popular type of residence in postwar Greece? The mostly characterless buildings – with a few shining exceptions – that were constructed during the huge building boom of the 1960s and mostly the 70s are beginning to show not just their age but also their inherent lack of functionality. Closed apartments that remain empty, untended entrance halls, dusty balconies and permanently closed shutters are but some of the more obvious signs.

The central heating war has not only changed life within apartment buildings, it has also altered the relationships between residents. They are not so quick to say hello in the morning, they look at each other with growing hostility. Reaching any kind of agreement, even on the most minor of repairs, has become a daunting task and any discussion must be conducted through layers of skepticism. Things have probably not changed so much compared to the past, but I’m sure the fact that people had more money then certainly helped smooth the path of coexistence.

Now, the damp is starting to seep into every nook and cranny. The cement may have an average life expectancy of 100 years, but the stuff that keeps people living together in close proximity has already started to wear thin.

The end of the Athenian apartment building, at least in its postwar manifestation, is visible. It won’t happen tomorrow, but the process has already started. The lack of care and the absence of central heating are sure signs of impending death, factors that further push down the value of one’s home as an asset. However clean and renovated an apartment may be inside, a sad, cold and damp entrance is the image that you’re inevitably left with.

How did we reach the point when the homes, the dowries of people who finally had some money, who purchased polished wood furniture, elegant sofas and ornaments, homes that were later upgraded with home cinema systems during the period of plastic prosperity, are under attack from all sides? Cold radiators, endless taxes and shrinking salaries, pensions and desires.

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