Sweet Home Ljubljana

Here are a few of my posts from Slovenia’s tiny and picturesque capital, Ljubljana, where I lived from 2005 to 2008. Scroll down to see them all, or choose from this list:

In and around the capital, Ljubljana:

Šmarna Gora Hill (An autumn hike in Ljubljana)

Opera House (Neoclassical gem gets an addition)

Urbanc Store, or Centromerkur (Renovation for Art Nouveau landmark)

Žale Cemetery (Photos from Slovenia’s Remembrance Day, when people visit the graves of their deceased loved ones)

Prešeren Square (Photos of the heart of Ljubljana)

The Buzz (The Destination): Ljubljana, Slovenia Conde Nast Traveler, January 2008

Around Slovenia:

Ormož (A visit to the wine country on St. Martin’s Day)

Piran (Photos of Slovenia’s Adriatic Coastal gem)

Radovljica, Bled and Surrounding Villages (Article from The Wall Street Journal Europe)

Lake Bled (Photos)

Breznica, village near Bled (Photos)

Žirovnica, village near Bled (Photo)

Hrastovlje (Breathtaking frescoes in an unassuming 12th-century church)

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Survivors of WWII Children’s Detention Camp Tell Their Stories in Slovenian Documentary

 

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Photo courtesy of Miran Zupanič

DURING the months after Germany surrendered in WWII, the Yugoslav government separated more than 90 children from their mothers and fathers at camps northeast of Ljubljana. While the children were detained at one camp, many of their parents were executed as enemies of the state at another one nearby.

Sixty-two years later, a dozen of these survivors speak out in the poignant documentary film “Otroci s Petrička” (Children of Petriček Hill). The winner of the best picture award (the Vesna) at last month’s 10th Festival of Slovenian Film, the documentary aired this week on national television.

The children, who at the time ranged in age from toddlers to teenagers, were held at Petrička Hill while their parents were imprisoned at another camp near the town of Celje.

In the fall of 1945, the government released the children, sending some to orphanages or adoptive homes, and others to live with extended family. A few were sent with the Red Cross to Austria and Germany. Only one of the children left the camp with both parents alive.

The filmmaker, Miran Zupanič, says secrecy surrounded the camps until a Slovene newspaper published a story about them in the early 1960s. “If you are without your parents and for fifteen years you are not allowed to speak about your trauma, this is awful,” he says. “They are in awful trauma for all their lives.”

Zupanič felt compelled to tell the children’s stories after reading survivor Ivan Ott’s memoir, “Ukradeno Otroštvo” (“Stolen Childhood”).

“The subject was very sad, very tragic, very strong, and absolutely unknown to people in Slovenia,” he says.

He shot the film in black and white to focus more purely on the survivors who shared their stories. So far, it has appeared solely in Slovene without subtitles, but it is being sent to film festivals in Berlin and other cities, where it may find an international distributor. Zupanič says that if there is enough interest, his producer may be able to arrange a Ljubljana screening with English subtitles.

The filmmaker says he wanted to tell the story not from an ideological point of view, but from an artistic and personal perspective. “When you see other people in one ideological uniform or another, you see them as enemies or in some stereotypical form,” he says. “But you must look deeper and find what is human.”

Last Day of October in Ljubljana

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Column topped by representation of the Virgin Mary in Levstik Square

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Although today is a national holiday (Reformation Day), flower vendors stayed late at the Central Market in anticipation of tomorrow’s holiday, Remembrance Day, when Slovenes traditionally visit the graves of their deceased loved ones.

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A view of Ljubljana Castle’s Belvedere Tower and the north side of the Ljubljanica River near Cobbler’s Bridge

Autumn on Ljubljana’s Šmarna Gora Hill

Most visitors to Slovenia head quickly out of the capital, in search of natural beauty. And they find it, in the Julian Alps, on postcard-perfect lakes, and beside turquoise rivers. But for those who linger in the city, Šmarna Gora offers pristine woods, impressive views, and a chance to spend a Sunday the way locals do.

smartno.JPGMore than a dozen trails rise the 2,100 feet (640 meters) to Šmarna Gora’s peak from the towns that ring the mountain. The longest begins in Šmartno, a place that on a misty autumn morning seemed more like a fairy-tale village than a Ljubljana suburb. The pastel houses that lined its quiet streets had red-tiled roofs, and geraniums bloomed from boxes in their windows. Vegetable gardens covered every available inch of yard. Goats grazed in a pasture beside the trailhead.

Many who live at the foot of Šmarna Gora are proud to climb it every day for exercise, but on this chilly Sunday morning, only a few people were beginning their hikes. An elderly woman in dress shoes and a suit started up the path, carrying a bouquet of sunflowers. A young couple, power walking with metal hiking poles, hurried past her.

The quiet of the woods was interrupted only by church bells that clanged for twenty minutes to announce morning mass below. If some Šmartno resident had lazily turned over in his warm bed when the rooster crowed that morning, here was his snooze alarm.

icon.JPGHalfway up the steep and rocky path, a family stopped to say a prayer before a small shrine to the Sorrowful Mother of God. The lady in Sunday best placed her yellow bouquet in a vase at Mary’s feet.

A few yards farther, the Šmartno trail met with two other, smoother paths at a life-size statue of St. Anthony. Above him hung a large bell, which a toddler girl rang for good luck, as people have been doing at this spot for nearly two centuries.

At Šmarna Gora’s peak stands a white Baroque church. Built in 1729, this is the latest in a series of churches that have stood here since at least the 15th century, when the hill was a lookout point against Turkish invaders.

Since the hill is no longer at risk, several of its old stone buildings are now used to entertain visitors. One houses a gallery, which displayed wildlife paintings by a local artist. In another, a restaurant serves hearty fare like potato and mushroom soup, homemade donuts, and brandy made from honey.

The doors of the churchyard opened onto a vista of the Sava River valley. Along the overlook, hikers stretched out with their beers and teacups to soak up the view, along with the warm autumn sun.

Away from the crowd, the path continued around the church’s former defense walls and along the mountain’s edge. It was midmorning, and the mist had cleared.

To the west, the Julian Alps came temptingly into view. But they’d be there to climb another day.