Maribor's former gossip spot gets new lease on life
A former newsstand that served as a popular meeting spot for Maribor people has been given a new lease on life as a Museum for One. Located next to Maribor's old bridge on the southern bank of the Drava, the tiny refurbished building provides yet again a space for chatter, debates on history, or just gossip.
Best known in the past as a central spot for town tattle, which was executed on chairs placed in front of it, the 7.5 square metre hut served as a newsstand and tobacco shop until about ten years ago. Targeted by vandals, it was allowed to to fall into disrepair before it was restored by a local initiative that stepped in to prevent it being sold off by the city.
Builders, ethnologists, painters and others all lent a hand and the building, its facade again adorned by the image of a sitting Turk as an all-knowing witness to the changes experienced by the town, reopened in 2019 as a rather original museum.
It was entrusted to curator Jan Malec, who has told the STA that the shop does not date back to before the First World War as legend would have it, but to the late 1920s. It had many clerks but according to Malec, one in particular, Leopoldina Jeglič who was lovingly called auntie Poldi by the locals, probably deserves most of the credit for its popularity.
The shop, which also features in the celebrated 1984 novel Northern Lights by Slovenia's foremost writer Drago Jančar, is located next to the town's old bridge, on the southern or right-hand side of the Drava River, historically a landmark of division.
"The right side was the province, a workers' settlement. There were major differences between the residents of the two banks and the old bridge was a rare crossing point. Thus motley crowds passed by this place," Malec said.
The museum that has taken its place is also transgressing boundaries. Its keeper, known for his easygoing and positive attitude and a wealth of knowledge about Maribor's history, stories and myths, quickly makes visitors from all walks of life feel at home.
Jan Malec, curator of the Museum for One. Photo: STA
"People often walk in scared, not knowing what to expect, and leave with a bunch of information they didn't ask for," he says. Museum is admission-free. There are books and old newspapers about Maribor, and souvenirs available for sale, and a book exchange is organised as well.
The idea is to preserve the shop's tradition as a meeting point, which Malec says still serves as a spot for gossip and voicing of critical views, but equally so as an info point or a location where stories are collected.
"Older people, especially from this part of town, which we tend to forget in our historiography, like to come to me and tell me stories, which I sometimes write down and use in my work.
"We organise exhibitions at the initiative of the local community. For example, last year the son of Eva Lovše, a doctor from Maribor, came to me and we put on an exhibition about her mother. Then a lady brought toys from her late aunt and we exhibited mechanical toys from the 1930s at Christmas."
The museum already has a number of regulars. "These are people who otherwise don't go to museums. For them, this shop is often their first experience of a museum. So they see it's not something intimidating, boring, and end up visiting other museums too."
"I think we underestimate people quite a bit. I think museums should be open and accessible to everyone, not just a specific target audience," says Malec, who feels that the intimate, direct contact brings many benefits.
The Museum for One has proven capable of accommodating more than one visitor at a time, with the record so far being a group of 18 children who visited to listen to fairytales about the Drava River. "I think we are the most visited museum in Slovenia relative to our size."
Meanwhile, a similar initiative, organised by a different group in a more modest fashion with voluntary contributions, sprung to life recently at the location of a former newsstand and tobacco shop in Maribor's City Park on the other side of the Drava.