Lifestyle of Latvia

Popular Lifestyle in Latvia: Music, Sports and more

Latvian cuisine

Latvian cuisine is relatively high on fat and not spicy.

Pork is the favorite meat. Pork dishes range from the common mostly shared with neighboring countries (e.g. Karbonāde schnitzel) to “weirder” ones such as pig’s feet, head or ears.

Potatoes are a popular side-dish, and they are prepared in many versions (boiled, fried, mashed). Cabbage are also a popular side dish, both hot and cold.

Black rye bread is the staple food.

Latvian cuisine has been influenced by German cuisine due to centuries of German rule. It has also subsumed the Livonian cuisine as Livonians became a small minority. The most ubiquitous Livonian food is Sklandrausis sweet pie made of rye dough with potato and carrot paste.

Sklandrausis on offer during a fair
Sklandrausis pies on offer during a fair. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Riga Black Balsam (45%) is considered to be the national alcoholic beverage, having entire souvenir shops dedicated to it in Riga. This herbal liquor has been brewed since 18th century. However, beer is more popular for local consumption, with vodka also popularized by Russians. Among non-alcoholic beverages, kvas is popular, however it faces tough competition from Western soft drinks.

Riga Black Balsams
Assortment of Riga Black Balsams bottles at a window of a specialized shop in dowtown Riga. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Sports in Latvia

Latvian national sport is Ice hockey. Many towns have their own ice hockey halls where local clubs play in two leagues. The passion of the entire nation is however its National team and Riga Dinamo Club that plays against mostly Russian opponents in the KHL Eastern European league.

While moderately successful (for instance, in 2002-2014 the national team participated in four Olympic games in a row), Latvian ice hockey players have yet to bring back any major medals or cups back from International tournaments, finishing 7th-8th at best. Even in 2006 when the World Championship was held in Riga the local team failed to reach playoffs.

Such lack of success is likely because of Latvia’s small population: it is difficult to amass a hockey team of some 20 world-class players.

Riga Dinamo plays a nearly sold out KHL game against Saint Petersburg ASK in Riga
Riga Dinamo plays a nearly sold out KHL game against Saint Petersburg ASK in Riga. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Latvians fare better in individual sports, especially luge, skeleton and bobsleight, where they won 7 Olympic medals since 2006.

Latvia has no summer disciplines where it would produce good results regularly, however, talents come and go in many of them. The recent star is BMX cycler Māris Štrombergs who won gold medals in two Olympics in a row.

Football and basketball are also popular in Latvia, despite a lack of recent top achievements.

In basketball, Latvia regularly plays at European championships but has never qualified to World championships or Olympic games after 1990 independence. It has won European gold medals in 1935 and silver in 1939, but those times of Latvian basketball glory seems to have ended with Soviet occupation. Latvia also has basketball clubs that play at the regional leagues. The main clubs are “Ventspils” and “VEF Riga”.

In football (soccer) Latvia’s only success was a qualification to the European Championships of 2004. Football is especially popular among ethnic Russians; in 2004 nearly all field players of Latvia’s national team were ethnic Russians or Russophones.

Speedway is another locally popular sport (primarily in Daugavpils), and Latvia hosted World championship events a few years in a row.

Speedway event in Daugavpils
Speedway event in Lokomotiv stadium. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Novuss is sometimes considered the national game of Latvia. It is vaguely similar to biliard although its “checkers” (rather than balls) that have to be pushed into holes and the table is square. It has been invented in interwar Latvia and survived the Soviet occupation but lost some popularity after independence as various foreign games became accessible.

Architecture

For centuries Latvia was a land of forests, and traditional Latvian architecture was wooden. Peasant homes were all built with architectural details that existed often meant to serve practical purpose. Some of such homes still exist in villages and museums.

An old farmstead of Courland fishermen moved into Riga skansen
Wooden building of Latvian vernacular architecture now located in Riga open-air museum. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

German knights who came to Christianize Latvia built the first cities, bringing with them brick buildings, Western European styles. Throughout the next centuries, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles influenced the key buildings of Latvia: castles, churches and townhouses. Baroque was especially influential in Eastern Latvia where Catholic faith prevailed as well as for palaces. Some of Latvia’s best known buildings are built in these styles.

Jelgava palace
Austere yet massive St. Peter gothic church in Riga. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The face of Latvia was changed by the 19th century urbanization. In building the new cities, larger than ever before, architects borrowed ideas from previous styles, firstly creating a Neo-Classical stule (imitating Antiquity) and then other Historicist styles (imitating every previous period). Cities have also received wooden buildings, ranging from simple apartment blocks of the workers to elaborate seaside villas for the rich.

Historicist buildings in Liepāja
Historicist buildings in Liepāja. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

By ~1900 the use of former architectural styles was replaced by an invented new one: the Art Nouveau. Riga is considered one of the most excellent repositories of Art Nouveau buildings, the Riga Art Nouveau falling into multiple substyles, one of them National Romantic which epitomized the Latvian national revival.

A former spa in Jūrmala beach
Art nouveau spa in Jūrmala beach. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

During the interwar independence Latvia lost population, limiting the architecture of the period to just a few districts in Riga. The few key projects of the era that were constructed were designed to epitomized the newly-born Latvia, showing that it is no more merely a province of some large empires. They borrowed on Art Deco and other then-popular styles.

Soldiers memorial in Riga
A fragment of independence war soldiers memorial – one of the key interwar projects when city asserted its Latvian identity. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The independence was cut short by a bloody Soviet occupation. In architecture, it started with rather impressive Soviet historicism (a.k.a. Stalinism, Socialist realism) as the only legal style. The style gave controversial buildings of grey/brown grandeur to Latvian downtowns.

Academy of Sciences in Riga
Academy of Sciences in Riga (1951-1961), the most famous Soviet historicist building in Latvia and for long the tallest. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

It was however later (~1955) replaced by massive districts of cheap and nearly identical Soviet modernist apartment blocks. While often despised, the Soviet modernism still forms the essence of many city districts.

Skrunda-2 main street
Soviet apartment blocks of 1960s at Skrunda-2. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

After independence, Latvia constructed the buildings of once-neglected uses (e.g. Office blocks, shopping malls) using modern Western styles and materials, such as steel and glass.

Post-independence concert hall in Liepāja built in a form and color of a piece of amber
Post-independence concert hall in Liepāja built in a form and color of a piece of amber. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Latvian cinema

Obscure for long, the Latvian cinema made a comeback in the 2000s. Most of the top-rated movies sought to bring out the real history of Latvia, that was hidden from Latvians throughout the Soviet occupation and is virtually unknown in the West. The best known modern Latvian films are:

The Soviet Story (2008), a documentary about the tragic Soviet occupation and genocide in Latvia, quintessential for understanding the modern Latvia.

Guardians of Riga (Rigas Sargi) (2007), a film about the liberators of interwar Latvia in 1919. The most expensive Latvian movie at the time, it was the reason behind the construction of Cinevilla studio backlot where many later films have been produced.

Dram Team, 1935 (2012), a film that recreates the path of Latvian national basketball team of 1935 towards the gold medals in the first European Basketball Championship. At the same time, it shows the birth of basketball as a serious sport in Europe and the birth of sports as a means to promote state image in Latvia.

Before the 1990s Latvian independence, the Latvian cinema studios were government-held and used by the Soviets themselves to produce propaganda flicks, however, these movies were not marketed to the West and are unknown there.