I would’ve never imagined myself coming to this place. ‘Slovenia… ewe why?’ Typical American ignorance. In truth, Slovenia is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Tucked against the southeastern foothills of the Alps and just over an hour’s drive from the sea, Slovenia is home to snow capped winter mountains and spring time strolls through narrow cobble stone streets. Known for its many unique bridges, Ljubljana’s river crossings are ornamented with statues of aged green dragons, once a brilliant fiery copper.
Ljubljana is also home of the best falafel sandwich in all of Europe. I mean no exaggeration. I have had many different falafel in many different countries, but the Maxi Special at FalaFel is not to be missed. In my past 2 visits to Ljubljana, I usually make sure to go at least twice.
The falafel are prepared fresh to order, not frozen. The cooked falafel balls, once placed in the pita bread, are pressed and flattened as to even out the sandwich. Next is a generous spread of humus, topped with 4 different greens: lettuce, chopped cabbage, pickled cabbage, and cilantro. The ‘Special’ sandwich adds a portion of fried potato cubes (much like certain preparations of home fries) as well as some sort of black bean spread or babaganoush, it’s hard to say. All of this is topped with a healthy serving of tahini and if you are wise, a liberal amount of the chili sauce (not to worry, it’s quite mild).
But Falafel and beautiful scenery aren’t the only reasons to visit Ljubljana. You couldn’t possibly go there without seeing a show at the anarchist arts compound Metelkova.
Home to art studios as well as a couple of venues and practice spaces, this brightly grafitti’d compound has quite a history. Enter Samo, our good friend and engineer extraordinaire, is the house technician at the main venue, Menza. A tall, slight man, perhaps in his late forties, Samo can be seen efficiently scurrying about smoking cigarettes and tending to various odds and ends that need fixing. He quickly climbs up and down what looked to be a home made ladder, placing lights and making sure everything is just so. He may seem a bit of an introvert, as any quality engineer, but he is generous with the rakia, and has quite a story to tell if you care to listen.
On our last visit, sitting in a cafe on a dreary rainy morning, over some hot herbal tea, Samo told us the story of the triumph of Metelkova’s existence. The label of ‘anarchist compound’ is not entirely unfitting. The buildings of the compound once belonged to the military. There was housing, an armory, and the venue ‘Menza’ was the mess hall. The very cafe in which we were currently seated was once the camp’s military prison.
At some point, the place had been abandoned and out of use for some time, so naturally, the squatters moved in. I imagine them to have been a lively crew, a bunch of radical 20-somethings making their own space, throwing crazy parties and hosting avant guard art shows. It must have been an invigorating and liberating environment, and Samo was there from the beginning.
Of course, at some point, the city disapproved of this use of the space and began passive attempts to remove the squatters. But the squatters would not give up so easily. What followed would be over a year and a half of nonviolent war between the residence of Metelkova and the city.
When the people would not leave, the city first tried to disconnect the power. But of course the squatters had Samo, so they would sneak out in the night to break into the power box and re-wire the electricity. Then, the city tried to cut off the water. But again, the Metelkovans would send out a party in the night, find the man hole and turn the water back on again. But after of few months of the people not leaving, the city would discover the water to be on, and would again turn it off. This next time, the group snuck out, they lifted the street cover, turned on the water, and then filled the plumbing hole with cement!
These little skirmishes continued on for sometime, but the people of Metelkova persevered, and eventually the city finally sanctioned the compound, turning it over to the citizens to cultivate a free and open community art space which is still thriving today.