(I was asked to write something to welcome participants to the Golden Hammer Awards ceremonies in Riga. This appeared in the welcoming newspaper. )

The Livs created a settlement here. Rumour has it the Celts did too. The Vikings stopped here on their way down to Constantinople. The German Crusaders liked it so much they gave it a name. The Holy Roman Empire claimed it, the Hanseatic League recruited it, and the Russians and Poles attacked it. When the Swedes ruled it, it was bigger than Stockholm. British and French ships once helped liberate it and both Stalin and Hitler invaded and occupied it.

It has survived Czarism, Nazism, Communism and Eurovision. John F. Kennedy came here as a Congressman and Bill Clinton came as a President. Mikhail Baryshnikov learned how to dance here, and Catherine Deneuve, Elton John, B.B. King and Sting have all partied here. The EBRD held its annual meeting here in 2001 and the World Hockey Championships are coming in 2006. Music clubs and discos close around 5am, but the flower market never does. Although it celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2001, if you talk to the local Livs (yes, they’re still around) they’ll tell you it’s much, much older.

There’s something about Riga that’s hard to explain. Don’t try. Just enjoy.