A 1920's Art Deco Heritage Walk Through Bandung: 'Paris of the East'

In the 1920s Bandung was a laboratory of tropical architecture. Located in the high hills surrounded by lush coffee plantations, the city was a fashionable retreat for wealthy businessmen, colonial planters and socialites who came to escape the sweltering heat of Batavia (Jakarta). Trade was blossoming in the then Dutch East Indies - now Indonesia - and Bandung was at the pinnacle of its golden age. The roaring twenties and thirties in the charming mountain resort town were of unrestrained decadence, its residents still blissfully unaware of the things to come.

The Dutch colonial authorities' plan to move the capital from Batavia to Bandung, fuelled a building boom and attracted well-known architects, many only too happy to escape crisis-torn Europe. On the other side of the globe, they found money, creative freedom and superb craftsmanship to experiment with modern architecture. Jl. Braga with its exclusive cafés, restaurants and boutiques, was the place to see and be seen. Even today Braga Street is a showcase of the sleek lines and playful exuberance of art deco design. Nicknamed ‘Paris of the East, Bandung is the only city in Asia to be included in on this prestigious Globetrotter’s ‘Top 10 World Art Deco Cities’. This heritage walk through the heart of town reveals 10 amazing original art deco gems.

1. Kopi Aroma

Oleh Tan Houw Sian was Bandung’s first coffee pioneer. He has been brewing coffee from this small workshop since 1930. Bandung’s best-known cafe is now in its third generation: Widya Pratama, who is also a Professor in Economics at Padjadjaran University (UNPAD) runs the business with his daughter: “Many friends ask me why I gave up my career to sell coffee beans," she says. "But for me, it’s not about giving up, it’s about pursuing a beautiful mission: maintaining the quality and tradition.”

The décor of Coffee Aroma hasn’t changed a bit since the 1930s: even the machinery is original. The shop is more popular than ever before, so be prepared to queue. “We are grateful that our shop is doing so well, but secretly we also feel a bit sad about the coffee wave and hype of our store," Pak Widya confesses. "I wish we could give every single customer the attention they deserve”.

Kopi Aroma . Jl. Banceuy. No.51 . Open daily 9am-3pm . +62 22 4230473

It’s about pursuing a beautiful mission: maintaining quality and keeping traditions alive.
— Widya Pratama

2. Het Snoephuis

This old-school bakery is affectionally called ‘Het Snoephuis’ (‘House of candy’) and stocks typical Dutch cakes, pastries, bread and sweets. This must-visit bakery uses original recipes from the 1920s with an oriental twist, spicing up their treats with a hint of cinnamon, clove or nutmeg. Ontbijtkoek (spicy breakfast ginger cake), gevulde speculaas (dark ginger cookies stuffed with almond paste), and boter staaf (butter cake stick stuffed with almond paste) are great choices here. In for a surprise? Enjoy these goodies with a scoop of tutti frutti ice cream! Another superb sweet treat is Bolu marsipan (Mergpjip) (rolled sponge cake) topped off with a beautiful cinnamon scent or a ‘fusion’ ice cream sprinkled with Dutch hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) and local palm sugar.

The café’s classic décor so typical for shops back in the day is in immaculate condition, complete with ceramic floor tiles and period furniture. Sure, it may be a little dusty inside, but it’s still the perfect place to travel back to the 1920s and get a sense of what the ‘Paris of Java’ was all about!

Snoephuis (Sumber Hidangan) . Jl. Braga No.20-22 . 9am-3.30pm . +62 22 4236638

3. Bethel Church

The church is one of the few Art Deco buildings in Bandung that is still in its original state, and also still used what is was built for: as a church. Highlights are the massive pipe organ in perfect working condition and the beautiful original stained-glass windows at the backside of the church. The church was designed by Java-born Dutch star architect Charles Prosper Wolff Schoemaker in 1925 for the city’s fast-growing protestant congregation.

Charles Schoemaker (he added Wolff to his last name in 1921) was an architectural pioneer. He led his contemporaries in a search for Indo European style of building. For him ‘tropical modernity’ meant combining Western technical solutions with Javanese architectural elements. Not only a gifted architect but also a painter and sculptor Charles had an elaborate decorative style. Javanese elements like the Kala and Makara (two mythical motifs) were often featured in his designs.

Charles grew up in Indonesia but was sent to the Netherlands to be schooled when he was just 12 years old. After a brief military career, he started his own architecture firm with his brother Richard. Bandung was their home and the Shoemakers defined the character of the town and surrounding plantations. From the early beginning, both brothers were also involved in the Technical College in Bandung (now ITB). Wolff Schoemaker was a colourful personality, a charismatic and passionate professor, much admired by his students, among them Sukarno, the later president.

Bethel Church . Jl. Wastukencana No.1 . Open daily 6.30-8am, 9-11 am, 5-7pm . +62 22 4201794

4. Gedung Merdeka

In the colonial days, this was dancehall Concordia. Kitted out with Italian marble floors, wooden furnishings, and crystal chandeliers, this was the place for the rich and famous to party. In 1926, the dance hall was completely revamped in the then-fashionable Art Deco style by Dutch architects Van Galen and Schoemaker.

In 1955 history was made here: the first-ever Asian African Conference brought together leaders of 29 Asian and African countries, most of which had recently emerged from colonial rule. The newly independent states signed the Bandung Declaration of the nonaligned movement, a clever move to avoid taking sides in the Cold War. Ever since this significant moment in world history, the building is called Gedung Merdeka: Independence Building. The free museum next door features a reconstruction of the signing of the Bandung Declaration, complete with figures of all the prominent heads of state present including Zhou Enlai (China) Nehru (India) and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam).

Gedung Merdeka . Jl. Asia Afrika No. 65. Tues-Thu, Sat- Sun 9am-4 pm, Fri2-4pm, closed on Mon and holidays . +62 22 4233564

5. Hotel Savoy Homann

In 1938 Dutch architect Albert Aalbers turned a modest village-style hotel into the most strikingly modern hotel in the Dutch Indies: “From the stripped-down forms, streamlined wind tunnelled look, and ribbon-like curvy glass windows, Hotel Homann exemplifies the stylistic flair of the Art Deco movement of which Bandung is renowned for,” according to a 1940s Architecture Magazine. A second renovation in 1989 stirred up controversy as original features such as stained-glass windows, balustrades and furniture were stripped from the building. Yet, according to the hotel management, the modernisation was much-needed because "guests were afraid of the old furniture".

Albert Frederik Aalbers built his architectural career in Rotterdam. Heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and modernist Le Corbusier, Aalbers was known for his unique villa designs. In the crisis years, the family relocated to the Dutch Indies. Aalbers must have felt right at home in this “architectural laboratory of the East” and the firm ‘Aalbers en De Waal, Architecten, Amsterdam-Bandoeng’ had a fresh start and created some iconic office buildings and villas in the city, with Savoy Homann his undisputed masterpiece.

Hotel Savoy Homann. Jl. Asia Afrika No.112 . +62 22 4232244 .

We are very proud of the hotel’s unique heritage and several of the rooms are still completely intact.
— Savoy Homann Hotel

5. Grand Preanger Hotel

It’s hard to imagine that this grand hotel was once a bankrupt grocery store. In 1897, Dutch businessman W.H.C. Van Deeterkom bought it and turned it into a hotel for the wealthy ’Preanger planters’, who flocked to the city during weekends to party. The Grand Preanger got a facelift in the roaring twenties, doing its name Grand Hotel justice in a cacophony of architectural styles. The architect in charge was Wolff Schoemaker, who was assisted by none other than the young draftsman Sukarno!

Charlie Chaplin stayed at the Grand Preanger Hotel during his first Indonesia trip in 1931. Also aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, the first woman ever to attempt to fly around the world, stayed here while on her historic trip. Sadly, not long after her stay at the Preanger, her plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

Grand Preanger Hotel . Jl. Asia Afrika No.81 . +62 22 4231631

Preanger Hotel is a fine hotel, in fact the only place in this part of Java to enjoy a proper European-style bath.
— Charlie Chaplin

7. Braga Permai

Established in 1923 as ‘Maison Bogerijen’, Braga Permai was one of the chicest cafes in town. The dining spot of choice for officials and visiting delegates, it even received a royal seal of approval from the Dutch Queen. The restaurant’s Art Deco building was very modern for its time: its oven directly tapped into the city’s main gas pipe! Unfortunately, the building’s original façade is no more, but it’s still a great place for a mean hot chocolate or a signature ice cream coupe. A local favourite is the rum raisin flavour: three generous scoops of ice cream with whipped cream served in a coconut. Authentic Dutch delicacies such as tompoesjes (sponge sandwich layered with cream, speculaas almond (dark ginger cookies stuffed with almond paste) or ontbijkoek (spicy ginger breakfast cake) are great choices too.

Braga Permai . Jl. Braga No.58 . Open daily 9 am-12 pm . +62 22 4233 7788 .

8. New Majestic

The Majestic was a popular cinema playing Western films, a local hotspot in the colonial days. Today, the iconic landmark is still an entertainment venue and mini theatre, organising Sudanese and international music events, shows and parties. Look up, you will see the formidable gaping mouth of the Batara Kala—the God of the underworld, his intense eyes staring down at you. It was a favourite design element of star architect Schoemaker, he loved incorporating traditional Hindu ornaments in his buildings.

New Majesctic. Jl. Braga No.1 . 8am-5pm, closed on Saturdays +62 22 4200504

9. Bandoengsche Melk Centrale

Nostalgia meets hip in this coffee and milk bar. The Bandoengsche Melk Centrale (BMC) is Indonesia’s oldest working milk factory. It was founded in 1928 by South African farmers who settled their dairy farms in the highlands of Lembang, just north of Bandung. The Dutch government lend a helping hand by sending over cows all the way from the northwest of the Netherlands. Fun fact: the cows that produce BMC’s milk today are their descendants!

You can’t go wrong by ordering a refreshing glass of milk (Rp. 12.000) or plain yoghurt (Rp. 23.000). In the mood for something a little more adventurous? The yoghurt cocktail (Rp. 29.000- Rp. 32.000) is a great choice. Enjoy it with a cheeky Soes Diplomat (Rp. 6.000), an old Dutch delicacy from the small bakery, if you really want to indulge!

BMC . Jl. Aceh No.30 . Open daily 8am-10pm . +62 22 4204595

10. Gedung Indonesia Menggugat

This small building is known as Gedung Indonesia Menggugat (Indonesia’s accusation). Here, freedom fighter Sukarno delivered his historic defence statement in 1930 that signalled the birth of the Nationalist movement, which eventually led to Indonesia’s independence. To keep Sukarno’s story alive, the building was renovated in 2004 by Bandung Heritage Society and kitted out with a library, exhibition room and bookstore.

Sukarno is Bandung’s local hero. He was a graduate of Bandung Institute for Technology (ITB), Indonesia’s most famous university. Sukarno was politically active ever since he was a student. What few people know is that Sukarno was imprisoned right here, when this building was still the Dutch Court. The small hallway, which now connects the building's café to the main exhibition room, was his cell.

Sukarno spent about a decade in prison, until the invading Japanese released him in the early days of World War II. When the Japanese surrendered, his time had come: Sukarno and his fellow nationalists declared Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945, and Sukarno became the country's first president. Leading the Indonesians through the independence struggle, he is fondly remembered by locals as 'Bung Karno' (comrade Karno).


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Bandung Heritage Society Paguyuban Pelestarian Budaya

A non-profit organisation promoting heritage conservation in Bandung. Paguyuban percaya bahwa identitas Bandung, yang diperoleh dari budayanya yang khas, adalah milik yan.

Abiyasa Adiguna Legawa Abiyasa Adiguna Legawa

Abiyasa is an illustrator/ graphic designer who takes inspiration from the surroundings in this ever-evolving city.

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