Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, has always stolen hearts of the adventurous, who quickly become enchanted by the country’s landscape. The snow-capped Julian Alps and clear blue waters of the Adriatic coast have attracted a wave of international tourists, which has grown exponentially after Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004.
Straddling Southeastern and Central European borders, Slovenia’s history has been influenced by both their Western and Balkan neighbors. Ljubljana’s city center is sprinkled with ornate buildings dating back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, designed by the country’s much-loved architect, Jože Ple?nik, and a mixture of Slavic, Germanic and Romance languages are widely spoken.
But becoming EU members and an increase in tourism didn’t protect Slovenia from the devastating economic collapse in 2008. Staggeringly high unemployment rates and a lack of resources left a bleak picture of the future. Still, Slovenians persevered because of a unique identity, a complex past and citizens, who worked together to take a creative approach to the socio-economic downturn. From coworking spaces, to factories turned into creative centers, these five locations are the perfect way to get a taste of the alternative side of Ljubljana.
1. Poligon Creative Center
Poligon Creative Center opened its doors a little over a year ago, but it has already had a major impact on the future of the Slovenian creative sector. Located in the city’s abandoned tobacco factory, Toba?na, the coworking space now buzzes with DIY style. A project that aims to empower freelancers working in the creative sector, Poligon has also started an important conversation about alternative solutions to unemployment, and support for creatives through crowdfunding and coworking. Poligon hosts events several times a week, which focuses on tech, media, design, exhibitions and film screenings.
2. Metelkova Mesto
This unique community might be found in Ljubljana’s center, but one gets the feeling upon entering Metelkova that they have stepped into the capital city of another dimension. The former Yugoslav military barracks have been transformed into a maze of galleries, clubs bars and artist studios. A group of activists first squatted Metelkova 1993, fighting for the right to have a open platform for both local and international cultural. One of the first institutions to fight for LGBT rights in Slovenia, Metelkova’s gay-friendly Klub Tiffany is popular with everyone from the dreadlocked to the ultra-chic, who can be seen dancing the night away.
This city within a city is also home to the infamous Hostel Celica, which Lonely Planet called the “hippest hostel in the world.” A converted prison from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, visitors can get locked up for the night in style.
3. Kino Šiška Urban Cultural Center
Kino Šiška is a pioneer of creative spaces that celebrate urban culture, innovation and multiculturalism. The former cinema was reinvented in 2009 with the aim of bridging the gap between Slovenian and international talent. Kino Šiška helped enliven the Šiška district of Ljubljana by cultivating local creativity and providing a stage for a wealth international musicians, artists, films, theater and dance. The venue offers everything from Slovenian documentary screenings to events focused on young comic artists to concerts held in the main hall, called the Cathedral.
Home to alternative music in Ljubljana for over two decades, K4 is dedicated to staging the best international and local house, techno, hip-hop and experimental acts. Much more than just a popular nightclub, K4 has also pushed for progress in Slovenia and is host to some of the only LGBT parties, known as Roza Klub, in Ljubljana. Housed in the dark depths of the Ljubljana University student organization headquarters, K4 has earned a reputation for being Ljubljana’s best destination for those who want something completely different.
5. Rog Lab
A trip to Rog is all about going with the flow. This former bicycle factory located along the Ljubljanica River is now an established open-source creative space where anything goes. Rog can go from skatepark, to art house, to cinema, to concert hall, to an all-night dance party in one day. Staying true to their DIY philosophy, The Rog Lab is an important breeding ground for creativity in Ljubljana. Part of the European Second Chance project, Rog offers a 3D-printing workshop, lectures and support for creative projects that address challenges social and environmental responsibility. While on the grounds, vist Kavarna Rog, a cafe designed by local award-winning architects.
Amanda Gray is a writer based in Ljubljana and Berlin. She is currently exploring the use of cultural and creative platforms as a tool to empower self-employed individuals working in the creative industries across the Balkan region.
MinusPlusForward is the moniker for Anže Kokalj, a photographer based between Ljubljana and Berlin.