Brightly colored vintage cars, pretty and often dilapidated colonial houses – that's what Havana is all about. But Cuba's capital is in transition. A new era is slowly dawning.
The dawn of a new era
Many streets around Havana's cathedral are completely torn up. Trenches instead of alleys wherever you look. Pipes lie exposed, old cobblestones pile up into large piles of rubble. In places, only a few boards make the torn up trenches passable. Most restaurants, stores and hotels in these alleys are closed. No wonder: Access is difficult and unattractive for tourists. A change of scene a few intersections away. The paving has been newly laid and fits in perfectly with the beautifully renovated colonial houses, which now house classy-looking restaurants or boutiques with high-quality handicrafts.
Cuba is in upheaval – in more ways than one. The government's reforms, which now permit private enterprise and private ownership, are giving rise to a sense of optimism in many places. The capital is where the changes are most visible. The rehabilitation of the infrastructure in Old Havana is not solely the result of the reforms, however, but rather owes much more to the preservation of the title of Unesco cultural heritage site. If Cuba's old town doesn't want to lose its title, everything must be maintained and preserved. However, the pretty appearance does not only have its good sides. Although Cuba's old town now resembles an open-air museum in large parts, where the magnificent buildings are illuminated by spotlights in the evening and bathed in a warm light, Cuban life is lacking.
Charm is lost
The more beautiful the old town becomes, the more it loses its original charm. In the evening, visitors stroll through empty, seemingly deserted alleys. In some restaurants tourist groups sit and can be bespaerten by musicians. But the small bars, where you also see locals sitting and dancing, are now in vain in the old town. "The Cubans don't go there. They can't afford it," says a cab driver who has become self-employed as a result of the reforms and now drives for his own account. The simple Habaneros prefer to meet – as they always have – on the Malecon waterfront promenade. High earners are drawn to the music bars in Vedado, the city's business district not far from the luxury Hotel Nacional with banks, stores and cinemas. At a daily market, mostly young people hawk jewelry, pictures, ashtrays, leather belts. Much is tailored to the tastes of tourists, but Cubans also buy diligently.
Immerse yourself in the real Cuba
More and more tourists are walking through Havana's streets off the classic old town paths, after all, they want to immerse themselves in the Cuban world. There is much to see. Every Cuban who has a little money and the courage to start his own business takes his chance. On the outskirts of the old town, small stores and snack stands are springing up on every corner. If you can't afford a store, you open your front door, put a board between the door frame and you're ready to sell. There then pile up in the living room burned CDs, jewelry, sunglasses and children's clothes. Or even drinks, cakes, hot dogs and sandwiches to go. "Anyone can buy the license," a young saleswoman says proudly. And despite the high taxes she has to pay to the state for her business, she is happy about the new opportunities.
Car as a symbol of freedom
Among cab drivers there are more and more private people who buy a license and offer their services in their own cars sometimes cheaper than the state company Cubataxi. However, their cars are not recognizable as cabs. Tourists do not need to be afraid of a trip. The country is safe, tourism is the most important source of income and the population is happy about every CUC, the official tourist currency. More and more private initiatives are emerging in the countryside as well. A visible sign is the increase in private accommodations, the so-called casa particulares. Organizers who want to make their customers such offers, however, do not have it easy. You can only obtain these accommodations through one of the three state tourism companies – Cubatur, Cubanacan, or Gaviota. And it is difficult to get the good offers, describes a local tourism expert. "The ones that are good have regular customers and go to direct sales."The upheaval in Cuba goes already further, than some dear is.