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Garage People

This is the story of a curious legacy of the communist era in Romania and neighbouring Moldova: the garage. Built next to socialist housing blocs and in light-industrial zones in the cities, the garages - in clusters of dozens, hundreds and occasionally thousands of units, many built illegally after the end of communism - soon outgrew their original function and started to morph into individualised tableaus of their owners particular interests, hobbies and passions.

Today, only few are used to store a vehicle. Now these primitive structures serve as kitchens for pickling cucumbers, as storerooms for items only used in certain seasons, as vineries using grapes grown on the roofs or as cosy venues for family gatherings and neighbourhood parties. Even the mayor of Chisinau, Moldova's capital, was photographed drinking in a garage and playing on improvised instruments. In another garage, two kilograms of uranium were found. The limits of a garage's uses are as broad and varied as the owner's imagination - an art gallery? A store for fresh fish? A museum for obsolete computers, with over 100 rare and unusual exhibits?

During the Covid pandemic the garages took on a whole new meaning with cafes, restaurants and other public spaces closed and people unable to gather in public. Garages came to replace pubs, community halls and public gardens where covid regulations prevented socialising. As personal activities refocused on the domestic setting, people could use their garages as improvised 'walled gardens', digging up the floors until they hit earth for planting vegetables and vines.

The garage gives the freedom to do anything that one cannot do at home or in public. They're privately owned or can be privately rented and are often in isolated locations where noise and commotion doesn't bother the neighbours. Enterprising garage owners built second floors onto their single storey structures and kitted them out with saunas and other aspects of a comfortable little holiday home. Being of low real estate value and often built at a sufficient distance from housing units, local authorities generally turn a blind eye to these irregular construction, allowing garage owners to make the most of the extra space they might be lacking at home.

Today, the garages are disappearing in towns where gentrification has made the land they're built on valuable to developers. Especially in Romania, these idiosyncratic eco-systems will soon start to disappear. But for now, in so many corners of towns across Romania and Moldova, people continue to use their imagination to turn the humble garage, these simple concrete cubes, into the expression of their dreams.
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