Latvians claim that this was, at one point, the tallest steeple in all of Europe, and one should see it as emblematic of how Latvia has always been a part of Europe; that is, it has not suddenly become European by virtue of having joined the EU. This is an example of how everyone in the former Eastern Europe (some Latvians say there's is a Central European country) struggles to stake their legitimate claim on European history and in having a European identity. No doubt, Riga is very much so a European city with a history deeply entangled in the all-European past. Riga was a key city of the Hanseatic League. The important late-eighteenth to early nineteenth century philosopher Johanne Gotfried Herder, whose writings helped to inspire the "Springtime of Nations" that would happen in 1848, years after he was no longer active as a writer, spent 7 years in Riga as a Lutheran minister. It was his observations of the Latvian peasantry that led him to the conclude that peasants have a legitimate and powerful culture all of their own--i.e., that they were not merely close to nature, living almost like animals, and that the aristocracy were not the only purveyors of "culture."
Anyhow, during my first trip to Riga and to Latvia in January of 2002, I went up this steeple. On the elevator ride up, I chatted with the operator who was a Russian fellow who spoke no Latvian nor English, but very well in German (we chatted in German, as I knew basically no Russian then). Before going up, I had noticed photos of the steeple on fire and collapsing during the intense battle that took place as the Germans occupied the city in WWII, and I asked him whether he knew if it was the Soviets or the Nazis who had set the building on fire. In response, he said, "Who knows? Who was looking? It was WAR!"