topics: potic(z)a (food and recipe), HISTORY, Metelkova Mesto, andrEa's gallery; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: April 28-29, 1998

Food of the Day: Potic(z)a

"Potic(z)a" click to hear an audio clip is a special cake. It is most commonly found in Slovenia and southern Austria. A recipe for this can be found on the Internet at and was located by Janez click to view a photograph, our welcoming host at the Metelkova Mesto. While the BikeAbouters had neither the time nor the resources to test this recipe, we're sure you all can give it a whirl and let us know how it goes!

Person of the Day: rebuilders of Metelkova Mesto

Selecting today's Person of the Day is an immensely difficult task. There are so many important people from the Metelkova Mesto who made our stay interesting, insightful, worthwhile, and enjoyable. So, rather than slight anyone out of this honor, we'll do what we can to list everyone who helped us out (believe us, everyone was helpful and oh too kind), and start with Metelkova himself.

Metelkova, the person after whom the street along one side of the complex - and now the entire arts complex and community itself - is named, was a prominent Slovenian thinker in the 19th century. In what is today known as the "alphabet war," he was the primary advocate for literary "Pan-Slavism," by which he believed that all Slavic people should be united in the use of one alphabet. (He lost the "war" to his adversary, Meistr, who believed in a Slovenian alphabet for the Slovenian people.) The triumph of Slovenian artists and other "free thinkers" who wrested control of the Metelkova 6 army compound (see below for more information) from the Yugoslavian army is an interesting added addendum to this bit of history.

However, what is now the extended Metelkova complex has a unique history unto itself. Luckily for you and us, there is a Metelkova Web site which gives excellent details as to the development and transformation of the area, especially beginning in 1990. (Their site also has fantastic pictures, some of which they've allowed us to use in this dispatch. Hvala Lepa!) Basically, in the late 80s, as the very prominent Slovenian sense of the importance of national identity began to find voice within the crumbling Yugoslav State, Metelkova, the actual headquarters of the Yugoslavian national army, developed into the symbol of the overly militarized and political qualities of the then Yugoslavia. What better place for the people of Slovenia to claim for themselves as a symbol of their redefined territory and mentality? And what greater triumph when they succeeded?

So, whereas the army may once have occupied these buildings, today, as you can read in detail on the Metelkova Web Site), the people who took over the property have changed it dramatically, giving everything a new meaning and use. click to view a photograph

The former stables are now a skateboard park and the Gallerija Alkatraz (our Place of the Day), the old truck garages are large-scale sculpture workshops click to view a photograph, the hangar is now a theatre click to view a photograph and carpentry studio click to view a photograph, and the former barracks have been turned into additional studios and performance spaces for various media, including a nightclub called Channel Zero. click to view a photograph

The former prison click to view a photograph is now called Sestava, meaning "composition" and is an art installation being developed into a youth hostel. This is where the BikeAbout Boys spent the night! click to view a photograph

In other words, the people who now "own" this community and its many buildings and facilities are artists, new thinkers, progressive organizations, and creative social outreach programs whose work in a creative "space" that continues to develop and change click to view a photograph has transformed the compound. click to view a photograph That's why they are all the People of the Day.

Oddly enough, the old administrative offices, all grouped around a pleasant and quiet courtyard, have stayed the same, although they are slowly in the process of being turned (by the Slovenian government) into the offices of the National Ministry of Culture, the Enthographic Museum (which is complete), and a Cultural Center.

One building, however, is for Retina and other office-based non-profits or collectives, including NSK (see the Tech Fact of the Day). Of particular importance to us is Retina, the non-governmental organization (NGO) which oversees the bureaucratic and governmental necessities of the Metelkova Mesto. They provide and foster "institutional" and international networking support to the entire Metelkova community, which is a loose and diverse ensemble that might be hard pressed to acknowledge a "lead" organization. Anyway, it is to these folks that we owe much of our thanks.

Retina brought BikeAbout to Ljubljana to enhance our understanding of the spirit of Slovenia, and to demonstrate how international ideas and cross-cultural communication (as the arts intrinsically are) are exchanged here. Because it was the international May Day holiday, we were even able to use their desks and offices to catch up on some of our own work, and use their Internet facilities. What a welcome luxury!

Many thanks to all the folks involved a little and a lot with the Retina/Metelkova community: Marko Hren, Janez, Natasa, Gorazd, Matjia Grabnar (of Arnes), and the entire office and building staff.

Any questions about or positive thoughts in support of Metelkova Mesto can go to:

Metelkova 6
1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Tel: +386 61 132-33-78

Place of the Day: Gallerija Alkatraz

As part of BikeAbout's welcome to Ljubljana, andrEa Siegl set up an entire evening of events held at and near the Gallerija Alkatraz click to view a photograph, one gallery of the Metelkova Mesto. Following the Gallerija Alkatraz tradition of free-form displays, she created an exhibit of some of her black and white photographs from her experiences during BikeAbout (September through March). The opening of her exhibit was also the christening of a new room for exhibits and an opportunity for invited guests to meet the visiting BikeAbouters. [View the postcard announcing this event. (JPG, 70KB)]

The exhibit/event had to do with pilgrimages and misunderstandings. Each of the black and white photographs andrEa chose represented a contrast in image, culture, ideology, scenery, or expectation. The room itself contained the photographs in frames, unhung and piled in a corner of the room. A ladder was placed near the doorway, and led to a few small photos and poems (in German) stuck high on the wall. Three of the four traveling Compaq laptops were prominently on display with this web site geared up for browsing.

Two more facets to the evening were a live radio broadcast from the Gallerija and a performance at the Hangar theatre next door by the well-known Teatro Gromki. The airtime was offered to BikeAbout (to coincide with our "appearance" and the opening of andrEa's exhibit) by a bike advocacy group that usually uses the slot, and it was arranged by the Ministry of Experiment and Student Radio of Ljubljana, one of the oldest alternative radio stations in Europe. Live and on the air, much talk was made about the BikeAbout mission, and statements were taken from people who had seen the exhibit. One portion of the radio transmission was of the work done in the Hangar by the Teatro Gromki theatre group performing skits inspired by the evening's themes.

A representative piece of the live broadcast can be heard by anyone with RealAudio capabilities (or go to to download the plugin) at Special thanks to Borut Savski (on the far right in the photograph click to view a photograph) for setting up the radio element and being Mr. Wonderful in general.

Tech Fact of the Day: NSK

Art in Slovenia was at a turning point in the early 80s when a collective of arts groups came to together to form NSK, or Neue Slowenische Kunst, meaning "New Slovenian Art." NSK is an organization that was and continues to be many artists and artistic groups working together and separately in different media on performances, exhibitions, installations, publications, (video and musical) releases, saleable paraphernalia, and various events. When we visited Ljubljana, NSK had just celebrated 15 years of existence.

In the 1980s, the political leanings of the Slovenian people and the immanent break-up of Yugoslavia had a strong influence on the arts. The mid 80s saw the development of NSK from an organization into a state, "A state in time, a state without territory and national borders, a sort of 'spiritual state'" in which anyone can be a citizen, by owning an NSK Passport. The NSK Passport, an actual paper document, is meant for creative uses, as it is "of a subversive nature and unique value." Embassies and consular offices of NSK around the world operate as creative institutions, supporting the effort to "deny the categories of fixed territory, the principle of national borders, and to advocate the law of transnationality" in the arts. As NSK puts it, "Art is fanaticism that demands diplomacy."

While NSK is clearly not the only thing the arts in Slovenia ever had going for them, and the arts community continues to grow in its own way, the formation of NSK and its persistence as an entity are a robust justification for the cause.

Group Dispatch, April 28-29
photograph of Corinne

Ljubljana isn't located on the coast of the Mediterranean (or Adriatic, for that matter), but we were invited to this inland capital city of Slovenia by none other than andrEa Siegl, as it's where she's been living lately. We all arrived to Ljubljana by train, hence we all had a little time (on the train) to read a bit more deeply into Slovenian history. Here's some of what we learned (with a few additions from people we talked to once we arrived and got social):

Looking at a map, we already knew that Slovenia is a teeny-tiny place, with only a few million inhabitants. We could easily guess that, nudged between Eastern and Western Europe, with just a small stretch of Mediterranean/Adriatic coast, its long history included struggles and domination by the Roman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, not to mention the Turks. Regardless, the Slovene tribes survived and even persevered in the use of their own language, and the understanding of their culture and identity and geographical heritage.

This latter element is of particular importance. All the guidebooks point out the variety of landscapes to be found here, including vast farming areas, all sorts of low mountains, plentiful forests, the world famous Karst Region, and the Julian Alps. Slovenians even got their early name from their geography, since they were known as the Alpine Slavs.

Their sense of cultural distinction asserted itself early in their history. During the Middle Ages, when the rest of Europe was working under the feudal system (of kings and vassals), the Slovenians chose at first not to honor a class system, and then started electing their own officers and rulers from (and by) the educated public. Unfortunately, as the Frankish (German) Empire moved in, the Slovenian independent government - and the land that belonged to it - was co-opted. This is one of the reasons why fabulous castles still dot the countryside. Nevertheless, the unique Slovenian culture of the people themselves was preserved through wide-reaching educational programs.

In the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks joined the fray. This was too much for the Slovenian people who finally said "enough" through a series of ill-fated revolts. Despite these failures, the insistence of the people and their general spirit was strengthened. In fact, when Napoleon and the French held the area at the end of the 18th century, the Slovenian people were so well respected that their culture and language were institutionalized... and by a foreign power. This, along with the industrial revolution, set in motion a flurry of cultural and political activities, and general progress was made toward a sovereign Slovenia.

One widely supported political movement was to unite with the other Slavic people in the south - the "Yugo" or southern Slavs. (Get it?) This concept stuck through both World Wars, when for the first time in the modern age, the Slovenian people themselves were empowered with, and as part of, the armed forces of Yugoslavia. That's how they maintained their present-day borders, and regained a portion of the stretch of coastal land that had gone to Italy. As part of Yugoslavia, however, the leanings of the Slovenian people were more toward socialism than they were to Tito-inspired communism. This allowed the people to maintain some of their cultural independence, as well as their wealth and self-determination.

In fact, the public and government ideologies at the time were so progressive and liberal that, after Tito's death, when a multi-party political system was suggested, everyone went for it! However, the idea didn't go over so well with the ruling powers in Yugoslavia, and orders were given from Belgrade to clamp down on such activities. Throughout the 1980s in Slovenia, the people held huge demonstrations and vocal protests, especially when journalists and other prominent thinkers were imprisoned. But by 1989, Slovenia was on its way to independence, first going through a series of somewhat painful secession-oriented moves from the rest of Yugoslavia, which finally became complete in 1991. There was a brief 10-day war that claimed 66 lives. If only the rest of the former Yugoslavian countries had been so lucky. Slovenia is now a member of both the European Community and the United Nations.

With this bit of historical knowledge (we did try to keep it brief) under our helmets, we were ready to disembark from the train, and get to know Slovenia's capital city, which translates into English as "Beloved."

As mentioned in yesterday's dispatch, although we arrived in two groups, we all had the same first reaction: "Wow, there sure are a lot of people on bikes in this town." And it's no joke.

Ljubljana has bike lanes everywhere, not to mention bike racks and parking areas, bike laws, and bike paths - that aren't even shared with walking or jogging paths! The traffic lights even signal green for pedestrians AND BIKES. Being a rather flat city surrounded by hills and mountains, Ljubljana is a place where biking is not only convenient, but also necessary. The modest population of nearly 400,000 needs to bike to preserve the air quality, as the high-peaked surroundings "trap" smog over the city. And people here happily comply. Why wouldn't they, when everyone - especially the municipality - makes it so easy?

And as if that were not enough, the local bike club, Kololjub (meaning "bike-loving"), advocates locally as well as nationally for additional bike rights, and leads weekly bike expeditions. The Kololjub office, managed by Sebastjan Vehar, also produces one of the only Slovenian bicycling magazines, called Trim. click to view a photograph (When Sebastjan heard about us and then met us, he enthusiastically even let us do the weekly live chat 'n' debate from his office during one of the club meetings!) Kololjub also rents bikes to anyone in need, as well as to tourists who come to see this charming medieval town. The Old City and its famous bridges, the canal, and market are a delight, and the castle on the hilltop offers a lovely perspective. The dragons at the canal crossing (rumored to wag their tails when lovers pass) are particularly interesting as adornments, since they are a little more frightening than decorative.

For more information about Kololjub, reach out to Sebastjan at:
Tavcarjeva 2
Tel/Fax: +386 61 1339-188

You might be wondering why there are so few pictures to accompany these descriptions. Well, when BikeAbout arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia was in the midst of celebrating a national holiday. Nearly all shops were closed, and we had no batteries for the cameras!

Add to that the fact that it was rainy and overcast most of the time we were there, and that our time was committed to the activities around the Metelkova Mesto, and you'll get the picture as to why there are no pictures. Well, all right, there's this one of us after we ate dinner with andrEa, Janez, and (on the far right) Borut (of Student Radio - see our Place of the Day). click to view a photograph However, never fear. The city of Ljubljana has it's own Web site, which is listed in BikeAbout's About Slovenia resource library along with many other links. On these Web sites you can see all sorts of photos!

As mentioned, we all came to Ljubljana at the invitation of andrEa, and through some people she knows at some pretty impressive and progressive organizations. She arranged for us to visit an artist community called Metelkova Mesto, at the invitation of an organization called Retina. Both Metelkova and Retina are explained in the Person of the Day, where you'll also find a partial list of the people who were so incredibly helpful. For more about andrEa's efforts in making our visit noteworthy, you can read more about the Gallerija Alkatraz, the Place of the Day and her photo exhibit opening. For more on the arts movement in Slovenia, see the Tech Fact of the Day and read about NSK.

Basically, our stay here was so interesting that we're not sure where to begin... even though we have already begun. First of all, andrEa arranged for the BikeAbout Boys to go straight to jail! That's right, they stayed in an old prison click to view a photograph that is currently being converted to a "living" art gallery and will eventually function as a youth hostel. It's now called the Sestava, which means "composition" in Slovenian.

Many cells have been taken over by an artist who can do whatever he or she likes to the room, and continually change the installment as he or she chooses. click to view a photograph The furniture and other assorted decorations often come from the various studios around the Metelkova. click to view a photograph It's great fun to go into each one and lie in the bed or sit in the room and appreciate the new use of the space... so long as no one locks the barred door behind you! While many of the rooms are decorated and developed in very unique and intriguing ways, many are still "raw" and waiting to be transformed. click to view a photograph

Here's Padraic's review of what it was like being overnight behind bars: click to view a photograph

None of us had ever stayed in a prison before - well except for Ethan and those charges were soon dropped and stricken from his record :) - so we did not really know what to expect. Happily, except for the unnerving clanging sound the metal gate made when it slammed shut, the Metelkova prison compared favorably to some of our other housing experiences. Unlike some of the places in which we've stayed (for example, the tungalow we shared in Byblos), we had plenty of room. All the boys were in "solitaire," that is, they had their own cells, so space wasn't really a problem. And, since most of the rooms on the second floor now house art exhibits, and those we stayed in have been partially renovated, it was actually both comfortable and interesting (not true of most hotels). Less so the second night when we were without electricity, but it was so late really did not care.

All told, our stay in Ljubljana was well worth the detour, and it was great to see andrEa again. It was loads of fun watching her trying to learn Slovenian. Words like "pritlicje" click to hear an audio clip which means the "entrance floor" or "lobby" were still understandably beyond her reach. However, as mentioned in the March 3rd dispatch, she is on her way to a new job in Sarajevo, to work with the DIA organization's increasing presence there. She stopped in Ljubljana to make BikeAbout arrangements, but then she was offered the opportunity to design her own photo exhibit that coincided with our visit... Well, anyway, she'll be on her way to Bosnia soon.

Unfortunately for us, because there was so much happening in the small metropolis of Metelkova itself, we didn't have much chance to see the bigger metropolis of Ljubljana.

What we did collectively see were some lovely pedestrian (and bike) streets in the Old City, and some industrial parks on the outskirts. Corinne took the bike paths that continue out of the city's center to a huge shopping district made of row after row of enormous warehouses. It was time for us to stock up on a few more spare parts, and she needed new biking shoes - desperately. On the day of the live chat 'n' debate, Ethan and Corinne were also interviewed by a youth program called POP TV and located just outside the city. Through the program, they announced that Slovenian youth on vacation for the national holiday were welcome to join us on line if they liked.

The live chat actually took place with IJs logging on from three separate locations. Special thanks go to Mr. Darko Bulat at our Internet Service Provider in Slovenia, Through them, we were able to connect from the Kololjub/Trim office, and from the Retina offices, where we talked with youth about transportation issues and bike-friendly options in cities. To make things all the more international, the third location from which we chatted was in Trieste, Italy!

Earlier in the day, Padraic and Anthony took a train back to the coast so they could meet with young people in Trieste (special thanks to Spin in Trieste for Internet access there), and get them to join in the discussion with both American youth online, and their own neighbors in Slovenia. Whereas biking is second nature for kids in Ljubljana, very few people ride bikes in Trieste, because it's so hilly. It was really fascinating for us to be able to compare and contrast - with help from the local experts - the differences between these cities, which are only about 80 kilometers apart!

That eventful evening ended our stay in Ljubljana, as early the next morning Corinne and Ethan would catch a train to meet the other BikeAbouters in Italy. Once again, it felt like we sprinted through a country too swiftly, but without the help and insight of our many hosts and hostesses in Ljubljana, we would never have left with so much. It was a small amount of time, but very well spent.

If you're interested in further information about Slovenia, please visit our growing list of Slovenian resources and links.

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