Aurelia Brener has only one complaint about her spacious new home--the view from the balcony. "When I look in that direction I seem to see him," she said.
She was referring to executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. From her fifth-floor balcony Brener has a view of the 450-room Palace of the Republic that Ceausescu built for his personal glorification.
Since the uprising in December that ousted Ceausescu, hundreds of ordinary Romanians have left cramped, run-down flats for brand new apartments like Brener's on the tree-lined boulevard that leads to the towering white palace.
The eight-story apartment buildings, built for Ceausescu's communist elite, were ready for occupancy two years ago, but they remained empty while an army of workers toiled on the still unfinished palace, conceived as the seat of government and now expected to be turned into a conference center.
Today the apartments' stone balconies are a colorful mosaic of washing hung out to dry by Romanians whom Ceausescu starved of food, heat and light to fund his mammoth building project.
"We would never have had a chance to live here before," said Brener, 50, a hospital administrator who moved in four months ago with her retired husband, their son and daughter-in-law and the family poodle.
"This one would probably have gone to someone big in the Securitate (secret police) or maybe a junior minister," she said of her new home in a city said to need some 50,000 apartments.
Her family swapped a dingy flat on the outskirts of the capital for one almost double the size with five rooms and two bathrooms.
"Our bedroom in the old flat was so small you had to hold your breath and squeeze past the wardrobe to get into bed," she said with a laugh.
The rent, based on space and means, also virtually doubled--to about $37 a month--but the apartment is worth it, Brener said.
"If it went up for sale, we'd buy it," she said.
Parquet and ceramic-tiled floors, glass-paneled interior doors and double-glass windows to keep out the biting winter cold are standard.
And, while the finish is poor by Western standards, the apartments seem luxurious to most Romanians, who are herded into buildings so badly built that often they do not stand up straight.
Ceausescu demolished thousands of houses and several historic buildings to make way for the apartments, public buildings and his palace--a complex he dubbed the Civic Center.