Where we are: Some thoughts on Maribor
By Ben Zitsman
Photo Credit: Tyler Robertson: http://www.twowheeltravelblog.com/2012/09/05/so-you-want-to-bike-tour-slovenia/
Of course Maribor isn’t Europe’s best-kept secret. Whatever secrets Europe may have, I’m pretty confident none of them are cities of 80,000. For years, people in Maribor have been drinking coffee, stubbing their toes, arguing with their friends, buying condoms, feeding pigeons– in short, living–and, were you to ask any of them where all this went on, here’s what they’d tell you: Maribor. As long as they know, it’s not a secret.
Then why, in most travel writing I read on this place, do people keep telling me that it is?
Because Maribor is, for someone new to it, surprising. I arrived here just under a month ago. Since then, I have found myself disarmed more than once by the town’s genius loci: What, in classical Roman religion, meant a certain place’s actual protective spirit but, today, means something more like–well, it’s really better illustrated than it is explained. So a few examples, then:
-Maribor’s old city–a skein of narrow cobblestone streets, both eminently walkable and often baffling–is populated by no fewer than three working bands. All make prominent use of the accordion; some employ clarinets and guitars, too. All feature the theme from the Godfather in their sets. Seriously: All of them. Consequently, walking in Maribor, about twice a week, you’ll catch yourself walking with a distinct sense of purpose. You’ll notice your eyes have narrowed with steely resolve. And you’ll wonder why the hell a trip to get some mineral water has suddenly become so freighted with significance. It’s then you’ll realize: the Godfather theme is playing. You’re entertaining Michael Corleone fantasies you didn’t even know you had .
– Maribor seems to have about two bakeries for every citizen. The smell of baking bread is omnipresent, and it is goddamn intoxicating. Perhaps no town smells more appetizing, more often than Maribor. Plus, a loaf of excellent, crusty bread will run you one euro, at most. A dense-yet-flaky burek, a kind of meat-filled pastry, costs about half that. It makes an excellent lunch.
-Graffiti, most of it from the city’s vibrant anarchist community, is everywhere. Good graffiti, too: We aren’t just talking about tags, either, about wall-eyed adolescents’ impotent posturing (“MARIBOR BOYZ BRING THE NOIZ”). No: technicolor landscapes, guys with pumpkins for heads, austere stencil-work demanding an end to fascism–this stuff is a pleasure to encounter. The municipal authorities seem to look the other way. They’re right to.
There’s more, obviously: I could write about how close history feels here–check out the gravely pretty monument to Yugoslav partisans in the town square–or about the swans, preening and formidable, on the Drava River. I could write about the fantastic red street signs and the preponderance of Art Deco fonts.
It all leads to the same conclusion, though: Maribor is a city so fully realized, so self-contained and singular, that being here feels like getting some kind of extended, civic hug. I can think of few places I’d rather study, or simply live. This town may not be a secret, but it’s certainly a revelation.
GCAS is pleased to be partnering with Alma Mater Europaea–ECM, a non-profit university located in beautiful Maribor.