What happens in Metelkova… gets published on Urban Travel Blog! Follow the Editor as he experiences a night of confessions, camaraderie and bizarre compliments in Ljubljana’s legendary autonomous zone.
What tastes of fire and cherry, is poured ready-mixed from a recycled plastic bottle and – according to Slovenian bar staff at least – is good for you? The answer is “Bear’s Blood”, and you can buy it in Yalla Yalla bar in the autonomous social centre of Metelkova in Ljubljana.
My fellow initiate in this alcoholic rite of passage is actually a local girl, whose real name shall remain unknown, but for the purpose of this article I will call Eva. Despite being as Slovenian as a Preseren fig praline, Eva is unimpressed.
“It’s disgusting, I can’t drink it,” she complains.
Maybe it’s a good thing. I’ve already succeeded in getting Eva quite drunk – not for any nefarious purpose you understand, but because each drink she has leads to a more and more telling confession of her youthful indiscretions, many of which took place right here in Metelkova. So far she has divulged the unfortunate time she stepped ankle-deep into a puddle of piss and then had to take a taxi home, recounted a separate occasion when she herself peed all over her favourite scarf, reminisced on the romantic night when she was fondled in the Metelkova tree house (which she later denies!), and happily recalled how she regularly used to skip school to smoke weed, back in the day. As you can no doubt tell, Eva is fantastic company… but maybe it’s time I stopped force feeding her the booze. After all, someone might end up publishing all these stories! I take the half-filled shot glass from her hand, down the remains and feel my throat burning once more. Should get rid of that cold at least.
The truth is that, not only Eva, but almost anyone in Ljubljana between the ages of 20 and 40 has some similarly themed stories about Metelkova, a former military barracks that was squatted by artists in the mid 90s and then went on to become the city’s most important cultural centre, and a champion of contemporary arts, intellectual freedom and gay rights. This complex of buildings and open space is now considered an autonomous zone, in the manner of Copehagen’s Christiania or Vilnius’ Uzupis, and has been the centre of the city’s nightlife for nearly 20 years. So naturally the tales of mischief and mayhem that orbit it are nearly as numerous as the stars in the night sky over Slovenia.
Whilst my memory of the zone’s exact layout is a bit hazy, Metelkova is a maybe the size of a football field, and consists of a number of barrack buildings and the open spaces in between them. Each former barrack is covered floor to gable with graffiti, which ranges from grotesque sculptures of mutant babies screeching at the sky, to rather beautiful trencadis-style wall decorations made of motifed tiles and a surprising amount of crockery. There’s also plenty of more standard “street” style graffiti, various random sculptures and – during my visit – a huge canvas banner supporting the Brazilian people against the footballing dictatorship of FIFA. On the ground floor of virtually every one of these buildings is a bar or club, whilst in the open spaces are Eva’s favourite tree house, some benches, and a sizeable amount of parked cars – including a number of camper vans, from which crusty-haired travellers and their dogs appear and disappear.
It’s a warm summer’s night tonight, so the majority of people are standing outside, either drinking beers bought from the bars, or in most cases, simply sipping from their own supply of cheap supermarket booze. I decide it’s time for another Slovenian lager and pop back into Yalla Yalla where three cans of Lasko (yes, I said “cans”!) are served to me by dreadlocked bar staff for the mammoth total of €5.40. We crack them open and join the rest of The Travel Mob, who are doing likewise, on some well-worn benches round the corner. There’s a waft of marijuana coming from a group of kids in the corner, a gangly black guy with a Coolio haircut is dancing wide-eyed all by himself, and a half-hearted local hen party are trying to have fun with a male blow up doll, but are too drunk and tired and soon give up and decide to go home instead.
Concerned that we’re behaving too much like the sensible ones at this jamboree, I grab Brian (aka The Travel Vlogger) and persuade him it’s time to check out some of the clubs. We make our way to the nearest open door that turns out to be rock club, where a DJ is playing classic head bangers. We’re at least ten years older than the average punter in here, and, in our vaguely smart clothing (well mine at least, Brian is displaying a middle-aged American’s fashion sense), we stick out like a sore thumb. But that doesn’t stop us moshing out for a bit and chatting to a few random metallers, before moving on.
Next up is Gala Hala (not to be confused with Yalla Yalla) and from the pounding bass outside I think we’re onto something… we get our tickets from what looks like an car park attendant’s kiosk opposite and then make our way inside. Two DJs are spinning some fantastically eclectic beats and the crowd of good looking hipsters is, if not going wild, at least appreciating the music with a merited amount of vim and vigour. One of the turntablist duo can actually scratch and the room is filled with an action-packed ensemble of mashed up sounds… just how I like them. Just when I think things can’t get any better one of the tag team goes and drops a full-on drum and bass track. Naturally this is my cue to teach Ljubljana how to dance like you’re at Fabric on a Friday night, years 2001-2004. No one goes as far as saying so, but I’m pretty sure they appreciate the lesson.
I could have stayed longer but it’s time to meet up with the other members of The Travel Mob and the guys from Luxury Slovenia at the legendary gay club, Tiffany’s, which is just next door. We pass through a corridor, featuring a painting of a cartoon sailor crying rainbows, and into a sweatbox of a room, where a legion of guys, some stripped off at the waist, are jumping up and down to kitsch pop tracks. We find the rest of The Mob in the covered garden out the back and promptly order a gin and tonic. As you might imagine, it’s not a fertile flirting market for heterosexual guys, but somehow I manoeuvre myself into conversation with a striking, tall blonde girl in a red dress, who turns out to be a Russian yoga instructor. I tell her that my lack of flexibility in my legs is due to my very tense hamstrings which in turn enable me to run faster and jump higher than normal humans. I think she’s impressed.
Someone suggests dancing (possibly to Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie) and suddenly we’re monopolising half the dancefloor and podiums to ourselves… although that’s partly because by now the club is emptying out. The Russian yoga instructor leaves, forgetting somehow to ask for my number.
Finally, at around 5:15am we are politely asked to leave. The rest of The Travel Mob are ready for bed, but I kinda fancy staying up a little bit longer and head back to Gala Hala. I reveal my stamp to the bouncer but he insists the club is now closed, despite the fact that a) earlier he told me it wouldn’t close until 6am and b) the party is clearly still going on. Either I’m too drunk to be allowed back in, or he’s an asshole… or quite possibly both.
I figure somewhere else has to be open… and I’m right. Bizarnica pri Marici turns out to be quite a find. Grey-haired hippies are swinging like its 1969 to Susie Q on the makeshift dancefloor, old soaks in battered blazers are drinking whiskey and playing chess on a scattering of small tables, whilst a handful of younger folk are also joining in the fun, overindulging on something or other. One, a skinny lad of around 20, is laid out fast asleep across an entire sofa, still sporting his 80s wayfarer-style sunglasses. I nip to the toilets, where I get to admire some two-tone graphic art pornography (pictured above), then buy a Cockta soft drink and settle in a doorway by the dancefloor where I can rest up for five minutes and soak in the atmosphere. I am innocently tapping my feet to the beat, when from out of the crowd a dishevelled guy with saucer eyes and a rictus smile stumbles towards me. Taking hold of my wrist, he traces a finger down my exposed forearm from my elbow to the palm of my hand, then looks up at me. “Nice veins,” he cooes.
I am not still sure if this was some kind of proposition (to shoot up?), or a heartfelt ecstasy-induced compliment… or maybe he was simply a patriotic Slovene who could somehow sense the Bear’s Blood running through my arteries? But whatever the case, I sure as hell wasn’t hanging around to find out. I dashed out of there, grateful at least that he didn’t try to touch my Cockta.
Duncan travelled to Ljubljana as part of The Travel Mob blogtrip #TasteLjubljana, made possible by the awesome folk at Visit Ljubljana. Whilst he was there he also tried stand up paddling on the Ljubljanica river and enjoyed discovering the city from the saddle of the iconic Rog bike. If you’re coming to the Slovenian capital for a wild weekend, he recommends you stay at the Hotel Meksiko as it’s just five minutes walk from Metelkova… no taxi required!