Metelkova, Ljubljana, Slovenia

After a few trips backpacking through Europe I finally took heed of other travelers insistence that I, “go to Slovenia.”  Slovenia, and more particularly its capital Ljubljana, was rumored to be, “magical,” “inspiring,” and, “like Prague only cheaper, with better markets and hardly any tourists.”  So when I found a thirty dollar Easy jet ticket from London in the middle of February – not the best time to go by the way, unless you enjoy the exciting possibility of frostbite – I thought “fuck it,” and packed my bag.

Once I arrived in the tiny former Yugoslavian country I found my way to the Hostel Celica, a former prison turned hostel.  While the hostel has standard dorm-style accommodations, I opted for one of the twenty private rooms: cells that have been sparsely redecorated by Slovenian artists in twenty different ways, although they have left bars on the windows and doors to serve as a reminder of the space’s former inhabitants.  As I peered out the iron clad window there was a block of buildings that were drenched in surrealist murals, tiled mosaics, and statues made from dismembered mannequins and car parts.  A melding of free style jazz and hardcore punk music drifted up from the surrounding basements, guarded by intimidating looking men in military jackets and fingerless gloves and beautiful hippie girls underdressed for the freezing cold.  This was my first introduction to Metelkova mesto.
.           Metelkova is an autonomous city-state located just outside the Ljubljana city center.  Established in 1993 as a free space for cultural expression, it has more than lived up to this lofty goal.  Artists, squatters, and political refugees have taken up residence in the twelve buildings that were the former Slovene headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army.  In between the cracks of these crumbling buildings, art galleries, venues, studios and community centers coexist to form a concrete ecosystem, where barbed wire and spray paint have replaced the natural wildlife and vegetation.  As an experiment in free expression and communal living, however, Metelkova is frequently endangered by those who view it as politically and socially threatening or simply as blight on Ljubljana’s newfound tourist-friendly atmosphere.  While many have a vested interest in its survival, many more seem set to destroy it.  One building, the “Small school,” was demolished in 1996 and, although the community has vowed to rebuild it, Metelkova’s existence is continuously threatened.  Outsiders are welcomed into this small community with open arms and many within it seem to view us as a vital aspect of its survival.  So please go, enjoy, and live free.

By: Jessica Leonard

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