We jumped on the Train to neighbouring Slovenia. Ljubljana, the town we were heading to, is pronounced (kind of) like ‘Loob-lee-anna’ in English, and ‘Yoob-yanna’ in Slovene.
I was not sure what I was expecting, but this was not it. The train was old and foul smelling. The older men were smoking and there was no ventilation in our car. No one was going to open a window on a cold winter day.
Alpagu explained to me that the ‘no smoking’ rule was new along this train line, and even if it hadn’t been, the old men of this region would have been smoking regardless. I felt like I was suffocating – and I have to admit that at the time I was a smoker.
We were definitely the focus point for the other passengers on our car. We did look out of place. Most of them were older, seniors, and looked like they had worked really hard their entire lives. It was a bit like a scene out of an old Russian/communist themed movie – with little old ladies wearing aprons and kerchiefs in their hair – the men in tattered suits and hats.
I didn’t take any photos, I felt too awkward, but the scenery was dreamy from Klagenfurt to Ljubljana. Snowy, rugged mountain ranges with tiny farming homes scattered about.
The train ride took just over an hour. My clever host booked us rooms in a former Soviet prison. I was VERY excited.
When the Yugoslav war was at the peak of its horror in the early 1990’s, I was in my late teens and entirely consumed by it. I read and watched every bit of information about it, and the area, that I could find.
I could not believe (and still cannot) the atrocities that were happening and was deeply saddened by what I learned.
I didn’t understand everything – and still don’t – but I knew that people just like me (my age) were going to war and being slaughtered in a war that had something to do with the fall of communism and the desire for independence, mixed with old minor cultural differences and divides – while the rest of the world watched apathetically.
Two days after declaring their hard earned independence, a soldier of the Yugoslav Peoples Army opened fire on a Slovenian Territorial Defence guard.
What ensued next would become known as the ‘Ten Day War‘. An incredibly destructive moment in the Yugoslav Wars when young Slovenian men, who found themselves on both sides of the conflict (the YPA had members from the entirety of the former Yugoslavia which included Slovenia), had to make a choice.
In the end, after a number of YPA soldiers defected back to their Slovenian home, a few unusual coincidences for the Slovene side and a failed cease fire initiated by the Slovenian presidency, Slovenia was allowed her independence and the YPA were allowed to retreat to Croatia peacefully.
Metelkova is not just a spray painted former military barrack with crumbling walls and abstract art installations. Metelkova is a monument to what happened here in the early 1990’s – and within it is the old Soviet prison, now known as Hostel Celica.
Hostel Celica used to be a military prison within the military barracks of Metelkova street. The barracks date back to 1882 – the Austro-Hungarian times. Later, when the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed and Yugoslavia was formed, the Yugoslav army took over the barracks and used them until 1991 when Slovenia gained its independence.
The barracks now serve as a multicultural centre – as one of the liveliest (anti-)cultural, artistic, social and intellectual urban areas with the largest agglomeration of alternative and underground cultures in the whole of greater Europe according to culture.si – and I would have to agree.
The graffiti all throughout Ljubljana is not only generally encouraged and supported by the local community, it is also serving a dual purpose.
Because many of the damaged buildings have not been repaired, and would stand as grey, sad reminders of a very grim past, the graffiti also serves as beautification.
Joyous, quirky, artistic, accessible (read: CHEAP!) beautification – and it colours the entirety of Metelkova.
And sometimes the art is political… maybe mostly political. After all, the entire basis of the development of Metelkova was – and IS – political.
Metelkova is considered an autonomous social centre, squatted since September 1993, and is named after nearby Metelko Street.
During the day the ‘squat’ hosts cafe’s restaurants and art galleries. At night live music emanates from most buildings. But there is more than just entertainment value to Metelkova.
For years Metelkova hosted the only Women’s Centre in Slovenia and is still today the only place in the country with community-run clubs for disabled people, gays and lesbians. Numerous campaigns against racism, domestic and institutional abuse have been organised and operated out of Metelkova. Ljubljana’s only gay (Klub Tiffany) and lesbian (Klub Monokel) clubs are in Metelkova, which is also one of the few places in Slovenia to offer ethnic, sexual and other minorities the chance to socialise openly in a community. Many artists have their studios in Metelkova and the space’s clubs play host to all range of music from hardcore to jazz to dub to techno.
It would be an understatement to say that there is a lot going on here. Important work, pushing boundaries toward equality, expressions of pain, loss and (most importantly) hope.
Walk around for a bit and you will find the Metelkova sculpture park, where you can see the pulse and emotion of Slovenia carved and painted into stone, metal and wood.
This is not exactly a park that you would bring your children to play in. Moreso it is a place to go ‘feel’ and remember.
It is a place where you cannot forget what has happened – and how it affected the local people who experienced the atrocities – and the new generation of children that can’t help but be brought up in the still broken (though beautiful, hopeful and friendly) Ljubljana.
There were interesting art pieces in every direction from Hostel Celica. Actually, Celica itself is a work of art and is one of the most unique and consistently well-ranked hostels in Europe.
Not only did I enjoy the historical aspect of staying in a former prison, but the prison cells were unusually comfortable, extremely clean and surprisingly non-claustrophobic.
…Perhaps because I held the key and chose whether or not to lock the door. Mine even came with a flip-down table that I did not use.
I didn’t spend much time in my cell.
Throughout the hostel were many beautiful mosaics. The one above surrounds an original prison water fountain.
And there are many unique sitting areas, beautifully, simply decorated and often unused. There is too much to look at in Metelkova Mesto to spend time inside enjoying the beautiful amenities.
I had a bite in the stylish, clean breakfast room, before heading into the heart of Ljubljana for some major exploring. I had a castle to tour and locals to meet!
Many additional photos of one of a kind Metelkova Mesto in the slideshow.
- Breakup of Yugoslavia (wikipedia.com)
- History Celica Hostel (hostelcelica.com)
- Story of Metelkova Mesto (local-life.com)
- 10 day War (local-life.com)