Liubliana, the capital city of Slovenia is romantic, green and sophisticated. It also has one of the most important districts of alternative culture in Europa where you can even sleep in a former prison.
The sun rises shyly while we cross the Dragon bridge guard by four dragons, protectors and symbols of the city. The Liublianica River murmurs below while we take the Trubarjeva road to get into step by step in the other Liubliana, the one more alternative but not less interesting. It heart is de Metelkova Mesto (city in Slovenian) Cultural Centre. No bigger than a pair of blocks but where the alternative culture has found it place in the world. Barely entering we can see a basket field full of graffiti and over and behind the thick wall, a series of bar windows and multicolored walls show up.
– I´m so happy! It´s going to be the second time I will sleep in jail! – says Caro while coming into the Hostel Celica. That rainbow of bars and colors was the former Austro-Hungarian army barracks and political prison. Then in times when Slovenia was part of the six republics of Yugoslavia it were barracks of the Yugoslav Federal Army. The history of how a prison turns into 5 star hostel member of Hostel Geeks, that awards 5 Star Hostels around the world, is turbulent and fascinating.
In Hostel Celica the reception, the bar, the restaurant, the oriental coffee, the outside gallery with a beautiful garden, everything arouse peace, joy, creativity and freedom. The same freedom that was used for the design and decoration of the 20 room cells of the hostel, realized by 80 different artists from all over the world.
We are face to face to the iron bars of cell room number 116, our tiny house for the next days. It is called “The Eye”. The room is cover on light blue with inscriptions of “The Judgement of Paris” from the Greek mythology, with a circular bed in the highs (the eye that looks to the center of earth), a circular table in the middle of the room and more bars in the windows.
I get out for a second from admiring and come back to the lost subject – How is it that you are sleeping for the “second” time in a prison? When was the first one? – There are several things I do not know about my wife…Caro takes a time to answer and finally she is saved by the bell when Monika, the nice receptionist and Celica Hostel lover offer us to go to know other cells. We agreed with the proposal and the game of comparing and analyzing which one is our favorite. And also which cell are we going to choose to sleep next time in the hostel. -109! – I say, – better 110- retort Caro.
The Celica Hostel and Metelkova Mesto Cultural Center stories come together, there are attached and inseparable. Everything started in 1991 when Slovenia decides to become independent from Yugoslavia. Was not easy but after a 10 days war, they achieved to. It was then that the Yugoslav army forces retired from the barracks and the place stayed abandoned. They started to discuss what to do with those antiques buildings, lot of them in bad shape and that also make remember forgettable times. It was close to be demolish, that was what Liubliana´s city authorities wanted to, but different organizations that promotes culture, art and non violence put up to. They dreamt to create a cultural ambience and without loosing time started to work for this abandoned place turns into center of inspiration, creativity and freedom. We can now called it the happiest prison in the world.
They gathered all together in a Metelkova Network where more than 200 activists have taken the field and avoided it destruction and turn it up into an autonomous and self managed area. They settled up art galleries, alternative music studios, cultural theatres, bars and disco. Was in that creative environment where the hostel idea started to grow. A place where all who sleep in, feel the opposite of what they had felt their former inhabitants: This is freedom and happiness. For years many different collaborators worked together. The student organization at the University of Ljubljana and the City Council that finally agreed to lend a hand and get involved in the resurgence.
The Celica is practically in the center of the Metelkova neighborhood, embraced by the explosion of colors that return the walls. Walking through day there is peace, the silence is broken only by the birds. Perhaps you can find some tourists taking pictures of the crowd of graffitis, artists sitting in the shade, occasional musician tuning his guitar, young people writing by hand (may be poets) and school children in the area who look surprised by the images that murals return. Messages are overwhelming throwing mosaics, statues, sculptures and figures, many of them menacing, disturbing, intriguing. At times the psychedelic images suggest a Jackson Pollock Reloaded returned from beyond to continue his art.
At dusk Metelkova changes completely and becomes the center of the counterculture movement of the city, there are no longer just artists who are passing by, but also students, friends, travelers, punks, hippies, bohemians and all people that just want to sit and listen to music, chat or have a few beers. The lights are low, hide faces and cast shadows on the sculptures and often strident colors of graffitis.
In the Celica Hostel joy reigns in the bar and groups of friends play pingpong brewer, who pocketed drinks and the ones who not…they drink too. The music sounds like in the perfect volume, while the giant TV shows a football game. We sat in the gallery for a few beers, we are not in a hurry, we wish the night is eternal. We will sleep in a cell, but long live liberty, no guard is going to arrange at what time we have to go to sleep.