Metelkova: eighteen years of utopian freedom in a city within a city

Copenhagen has Christiania, Berlin has Tacheles and Ljubljana has Metelkova City, its very own autonomous cultural center and a positively wondrous place

Photo by Chris James

Metelkova is situated in the former barracks of Yugoslav People’s Army which were left abandoned after Slovenia became independent in 1991. Some 200 volunteers squatted the premises in 1993 after their formal request to use the barracks as artistic space fell on deaf ears.

A brief history of Metelkova and a couple of interviews:

Since then, Metelkova has been a haven for artists, craftsmen, political activists and people who just want to have a good time. And these days, it’s as lively as ever. Whether it’s Monday morning or Friday evening, you’re bound to find something interesting to do in this city within a city. If music is the thing that floats your boat, you can catch a free jazz concert at Menza pri koritu, watch rappers freestyle at Gala Hala, throw the horns during a scary show of an obscure black metal band at Channel Zero or dress up as a Gene Vincent lookalike for a rockabilly gig at Klub Gromka.

Here is a video snippet of Jessica Lurie’s show at Menza pri koritu from a couple of years back:

Not into music? No problemo! Just grab a drink at homey Jalla Jala and enjoy legendary Friday and Saturday nights when half of Ljubljana flocks to Metelkova City to party hard. Look around and you’ll see 15 year old emo kids, intellectuals in their late twenties, old metalheads that are way past their prime, international tourists from Hostel Celica and street artists juggling fireballs, just to name a few. Then, chat up one of them – you’re more than likely to become friends before you grab a falafel at the impromptu fast food stand called Črna kuhinja and head home.

A bunch of interviews done at Metelkova by Goucher College students from Baltimore, USA:

It’s also worth mentioning that the place is pretty impressive visually. There’s loads of public art on display and the buildings themselves have been meticulously redecorated. Among the favorites are the ubiquitous graffiti, grotesque Gollum-like gargoyles above Menza and the amazing Hundertwasser-meets-Gaudi-on-LSD wall of the building that houses the Alkatraz gallery.

A brief showcase of some of Metelkova’s public art:

Let’s finish with a word or two on Metelkova’s most important quality – its emancipatory potential which stems from the ever-present political activism and general openness to different ways of living one’s life. In a dog-eat-dog world, it feels good to know that there exists a support based community that basically maintains itself through volunteer work and provides physical and conceptual space for creative subcultures and materially or culturally dispossessed individuals.