The Slovenia Times

Metelkova City The Last Resort of Alternative Culture?



Just a stone's throw away from Ljubljana's main train station lies a street of half-ruined, half-innovatively reconstructed buildings. While artistic graffiti and mosaics imply a creative environment, the old Austro-Hungarian architecture of the buildings suggests a more serious purpose. Yes, what was once the Yugoslav army barracks is now transformed into one of the largest centers for non-institutionalized and alternative culture in Europe, called Metelkova City. The autonomous cultural center is actually very similar to the mosaic on its walls - it is a conglomerate of the different subcultures, artists and social groups that work and create there. Clubbing, seminars, concerts, exhibitions and theatre performances are just some of the activities one might find. There is even a Worker-Punks' University - although not formally acknowledged, of course. Studios for individual artists are perhaps an even more important resource which Metelkova City provides, since the job of an alternative artist is sometimes not profitable enough to afford expensive rent. Despite these various activities, Metelkova is most commonly known as a place to spend a night out. It is especially crowded at weekends with young people - while some find fun in one of Metelkova's clubs, others merely mingle with friends outside. During the ten years of its existence (it celebrated its tenth anniversary in September) Metelkova City has become an integral and indispensable part of Ljubljana's nightlife. How did it all begin? Shortly after Slovenian independence, when the army left the buildings, a network of about 200 individuals and groups joined forces in an effort to "demilitarize" the city center and enrich this place of solders and arms with cultural and artistic activities. In order to achieve this aim, they occupied buildings in Metelkova against the will of the City of Ljubljana (then led by today's foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel), which wanted to demolish the site. With the support of local population they succeeded. Afterwards, Metelkova City became a squat. While some of its residents were busy creating an alternative cultural scene, others merely lived there. Duringthis period it gained a rather dark and gloomy reputation, in the eyes of some of the citizens of Ljubljana, because it was associated with dealing marijuana Gradually, however, the situation improved and Metelkova City became what it was meant to be -- a place, where non-institutional culture prospers, and where a variety of different subcultures peacefully co-exist. Lately, the Ethnographic Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Rectorate for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage have also found a place in the southern part of Metelkova City. The newest addition is a youth hostel that brings a more international feeling to the place. However, the northern part remains reserved for non-institutionalised culture. "This is fair enough," claims Katra Suskovic, from Stripcore. "After all, it was us, who won Metelkova for culture. If there hadn't been alternative groups, there would be shopping malls here today." Instead, seven clubs, a few production houses, an art gallery, a theatre and a youth hostel flourish right in the centre of Ljubljana. The clubs One of the oldest clubs in Metelkova City is Channel Zero. "At the beginning it was hard to organize concerts, especially because there was no water and electricity," says Ajda Srdi from Channel Zero. "But somehow we managed." They are orientated towards hardcore, drum 'n' bass and industrial music. Together with Gala hala and Mizzart they share the largest, but regretfully also the most damaged house in Metelkova. Money for necessary repairs always seems to be out of reach. Gala hala and Mizzart are both involved mostly in electronic music - from wild techno and house to psychedelic trance parties. In another building, whose population might be described as marginalized groups there is a gay club, Tiffany, a lesbian club, Monokel and a small place for events, SOT 24 ?, occupied by the physically handicapped. Theatre Gromka cannot really be called a theatre, for it is just as much a club, and a place for rehearsals as it is a theatre. Beside theatre they also present what Miha Zadnikar, a leading activist, would call 'neglected' music - music of quality, that can't find its way to a mass audience. The most southern club is 'Menza pri koritu', a punk oriented club, that is also involved in various activities. Today, the status of Metelkova mesto is still part formally regulated (it is owned by the City of Ljubljana) and part illegal squat. However, this is perhaps the best environment for such a diversity of groups to prosper. Maybe this is the only guarantee that it will remain what the exhibit of photographs 'Face'(that hangs on the walls surrounding Metelkova City) suggests - that is, that Metelkova City is defined by the people who work and create there.


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