In the heart of Ljubljana lies the one-of-a-kind Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Center. If you’re aware of Christiania in Denmark, you know what I’m talking about ... it’s just a bit smaller and little less self-sufficient. It’s an alternative city within a city, for all sorts of people that wanna mingle, interact, hang out, educate themselves or experience a special kind of clubbing ... inside ’s head.
Metelkova's with Menza pri koritu by Boštjan Tacol
For those, who don’t know, Metelkova is located near the central train station in Ljubljana, on Masarykova street, on the site of former military barracks of the Yugoslavian National Army. It was their regional headquarters, right until the Slovenian independence war in 1991, when the complex was abandoned and left to rot. As a symbol of protest against the cold war, the rise of capitalism and the fact, that the prospect of war presents a violation of the Constitution, groups of activists built Metelkova we know now. It took a lot of time, courage and imagination to renew and complete Metelkova mesto as it is today.
Metelkova’s little garden
As a result of a decade of neglect, two fires and a night of violence, Metelkova was a reck in the nineties. It was home for the homeless & lost, infested with junkies and hooligans, who added their mark to the sorry state. At the end of the millennium, the groups that wanted to rebuild Metelkova as a cultural city, got the officials to reconnect it to the public utility network, which helped it to gradually rise from the ashes.
Now, Metelkova looks like an imaginary land of peace and harmony, entwined with culture within the urban centre of Ljubljana. Its history speaks for itself, when you take a glimpse of the buildings, but, because of the right mixture of two generations’ worth of art and nature, it still feels homey. The complex is made up of a hostel, clubs, bars, galleries, workshops, a playground, a little garden with a pavilion and it’s host to a bunch of activist organisations. I’m gonna go ahead and present these places and spaces that compose Metelkova.
The entrance view from Masarykova street
Entering the little city from the Masarykova street, the first thing you see, is the green center with the pavilion, pentagram-shaped benches and a playground for adults. I like to call that combo The Garden. It’s most beautiful during the summer, when the green treetops cast their shadow – ideal for chilling out, while drinking cold ones with your friends. Then, if you turn your head to the right, you can see the entrance of Metelkova’s biggest club, Gala Hala.
Gala Hala, like most of the clubs around the complex, is reserved for alternative music like indie rock, metal, hip-hop, funk, electronica. It has an indoor stage, that’s mostly used by bands, but when the summer season starts, the outside garden, with the DJ booth and mini stage opens. It’s perfect for either easy evenings or summer jams. You can sit, talk, drink or just let yourself loose. Sólstafir, one my favourite post-metal bands performed there and I’ve always had an amazing time listening to Borka, Bakto and Sunny Sun’s atmospheric vibes on hazy summer nights.
Gala Hala’s garden by Karantanija photos
If you walk to the right of Gala Hala, you’ll find two clubs, that take you to another level of fun. If you’ve never been to an openly declared LGBT place, you should definitely check out Tiffany and Monokel. And don’t be afraid, it’s just a lot of heat and non-stop dancing, where disco meets techno and pop flirts with house.
People are nice and open-minded, not eager to judge. All of my friends that randomly found themselves there on a wild Saturday night said, that they haven’t had that much fun anywhere else. Shaking your hips over the top or doing the boogie is nothing out of the ordinary there. To top it all off, there’s a tiny gallery on the upper floor, hosting smaller exhibitions.
Clubs Tiffany and Monokel
Walking past Gala hala, you can lay your eyes on a beautiful green terrace used by Metelkova’s people and the Mizzart Gallery, open to trance music and art lovers. It’d be the perfect location for a more public space, like a tiny café. The ground floor is reserved for Channel Zero. The striking colours of the entrance hall are mesmerising.
The club is home to all sorts of music and activities, like drum and bass, dub and dubstep, techno, house and different analogues of rock music. Occasionally, it hosts tiny exhibitions and even vinyl markets. Channel Zero has a DJ booth/stage, the capacity to host a couple of hundred people and enormous potential to bring big names from abroad, so keep an eye out!
Gala Hala with the terrace and Channel Zero
Walk further, you can rest in the artsy pavilion with a drink from Jalla Jalla. It’s a special kind of bar with arabic music, reggae, (punk) rock and on some nights they even have film screenings. Like most of the spots there, artists use its walls to showcase their work. My friends and I often go there to play chess or a round of the memory game. The terrace is perfect for an evening drink, while listening to old hippie wisdom.
If nature calls, there’re places to relieve yourself on the right of Jalla. I said places on purpose ... it’s the nicest word one could use for it. If you fancy a dive into the Trainspotting-esque toilet of wonder, be my guest, but you may appreciate a more hospitable accommodation. I recommend you take your turn in the Celica hostel. So, now you’re finding your way to Celica ... You pass Jalla and run into the open vegan kitchen on your left. The smell is so damn intoxicatingly delicious, you just can’t pass up the opportunity to indulge yourself.
Črna kuhinja or Šengenska kuhinja (the Black kitchen or the Schengen kitchen) is open on warm Friday nights. Every time, different cooking crews from around the world prepare vegan specialties and, if you’re lucky enough, you can get a taste of those yummy vegan kebabs, the perfect pair for a cold beer. The price varies form donations to a couple of euros, so, you can give them as much as you want or, more importantly, have. But don’t be scared, you won’t find tastier food anywhere else! Hidden in the corner, on the right side of the Black kitchen, there’s another club called Gromka, where instrumental music prevails.
It offers all sorts of concerts ranging from (post) rock, metal, punk to jazz ... and everything in between. Occasionally, you can watch documentaries or take swing lessons there. Smoking, like in most clubs, is prohibited inside, but there’s a tendency to do so anyway. That’s the reason Gromka put a big bad bouncer in front, so, you better watch out! The barn complex with the Alkatraz gallery
Further on, behind the mosaic walls, there’s the Alkatraz gallery. The most interesting, innovative and controversial artists, national and international, exhibit their work there – videos, photographs, paintings, amazing installations, etc. A must see, after you take that well deserved pee. Now, you’re walking along a building, that used to be a barn. It took the most damage during the fires in the nineties, but the hardworking people of Metelkova, full of enthusiasm and crazy ideas, restored it perfectly. The next club you can visit is Menza pri koritu.
Menza pri koritu
Menza pri koritu has a lively stage and often hosts (acoustic) concerts, singers, theatrical performances, poetry evenings and other events, based on the spoken and written word. Its timetable is full during the week and the programme supports many Erasmus students and helps them present their work to the Slovenian audience. The next and last bar/club you can check out is called Bizzarnica pri Mariči, filled with that good ol’ rock‘n’roll.
Mariča, an old lady, who overcame her addiction, now runs the place. And I’ll tell you a secret ... you can buy cigarettes there, play a round of foosball or get something to quench your thirst ... But right now, it’s really time to find a proper bathroom! Celica is located straight on from Mariča’s. It’s a hostel, which you have to book at least a week in advance, if you’re planning to stay there, because they’re usually packed. The prices aren’t cheap, for around €30 per night, but it’s worth your money.
Celica was an army prison until 1991 and the rooms are ex-prison cells, each one with its own story, told by different artists from all over Europe. The toilets are on the ground floor, at the end of the long hall, you can’t miss them! So, now you’ve seen it all ... well, at least most of it. There’s still a bunch of workshops, little studios like Azil, ateliers and libraries like Škratova čitalnica you can visit or participate in, but keep in mind, that these are usually open during the day.
Today, Metelkova is a self-sustaining city, fuelled by the power of alternative thinking. People from all over come to check it out and spend an evening in its embrace. Metelkova is a conglomerate, a melting pot of different subcultures, a place for the young to expand their horizons and a cozy corner for the young at heart. A place where you can listen to all sorts of stories or to clear your mind ... Its simplicity and the Wonderland idea behind it, make it feel warm and welcoming. Its zero tolerance for the intolerant policy, unfortunately, attracts exactly that ... but no worries, it all gets sorted out. What I love about Metelkova is ... that it feels like home.