Ljubljana’s bursting energy, Maribor’s fading charm
Diplomats, foreign businessmen and government officials drinking wine on a Thursday afternoon in the old town make Ljubljana feel like a European capital. Wherever you look during this fine spring weather, old Ljubljana is bursting with energy; the bars and the streets are packed as the light breeze cools the people walking down the Ljubljanica river. For a local or tourist, Ljubljana has that special feel. Everyone who comes here wants stay and live here. Everyone, that is, but those who have lived in Maribor – or so a prominent Slovenian once told me.
This historic rivalry between Maribor and Ljubljana is slowly being transformed into a rivalry with other prominent European capitals. Maribor, as the second largest city in Slovenia, has perhaps not offered much competition lately but its position as the European Capital of Culture 2012 is giving hope. Arguably Ljubljana has already taken big steps towards becoming a modern cosmopolitan centre. But does Ljubljana really have what it takes to become an important centre?
Looking for a legend
Urban life in the contemporary world means a specific mixture of culture, sports and lifestyle. Big cities have big stories. Big stories about when one came from the countryside to the city and made it. Evita Peron came barefoot from Los Todos to Buenos Aires and a few years later she addressed the crowds from the Casa Rosada. How many stories have we heard of women or men coming with empty pockets to New York and succeeding? Or London? Do we have a story like that for Ljubljana? We may, but it has not become the sort of legend which gives personality to urban centres.
In a recently-released song, famous Slovenian singer Jan Plestenjak sings about how a girl longs to move from her village to Ljubljana. Such a story is most common to post-industrial societies. Slovenia, with its agricultural history, has never really had an industrial revolution (apart from the planned development in communism). Industrial revolutions are one of the foundations of the contemporary urban culture and therefore, Slovenia and Ljubljana are largely missing out on this.
What of sports in the city? With the new stadium and basketball venue, the facilities for an urban centre are certainly in place. But while the local basketball team Olimpija has a fitting sports followers group with decent cultural movement, its football counterpart lags behind. There is no real football culture as there is no real team. The current Olimpija is only a shadow of what it used to be, and even then, Ljubljana was not enthusiastic about it. In those terms, Maribor is more developed – there is a strong football fan base which follows the local team closely. Maribor is apparently more integrated into European streams through its football club.
Every city has one specific aspect that it is recognised by. For Ljubljana that is definitely its old town. The magical architecture, beautiful Ljubljanica river, the Castle and the narrow passages give the foundation for the up and coming bar scene, focusing on the Slovene specialty – wines. The stories of these architectural and social aspects have inspired so many writers to write fantastic fictional pieces. This fiction needs to be made big, in order to magnify Ljubljana’s character. Find the stories and legends that have been written about Ljubljanica, the castle and the bridges and print them big! This is the story Ljubljana needs to offer to the outside world. This is its urban added value that will make it a point on the map. And it will be unique.
The ongoing fight
Two of my uncles were kids growing up in the sixties; one lived in Ljubljana and the other in Maribor. They constantly fought which city had what. Whilst Pohorje was unbeatable for Ljubljana, Maribor couldn’t match the zoo. However, a great tale of urban development was the competition with traffic lights. Whilst Maribor had none, Ljubljana had one. Today, Ljubljana beats Maribor in many more aspects that just the zoo and the number of traffic lights.
Maribor may have that special charm with vineyards and skiing, but I regret to say that it is unfortunately slowly fading away. Ljubljana on the other hand is up and coming, moving outside towards Europe.
Tine Kračun spent the first twenty years of his life in Maribor. At the age of fourteen, he could no longer contain his local patriotism and therefore joined the organised football supporters group Viole. He is still proud that he held a torch on their fifth anniversary and that he witnessed the first win Maribor had over Olimpija in Ljubljana in late October 1995.
After living overseas, he returned to Slovenia and moved to Ljubljana in line with his wife‘s wishes. However, he still has MB license plates on his car and will forever do so. He will not get rid of his accent. And his heart will always beat faster when he sees Zoran Predin (one of the main pillars of the special charm of Maribor) walking the streets of Ljubljana.
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