Category Archives: Events

Chocolate festival in Hamrun

I will not touch any chocolate again for at least a week, I thought, coming home from a sweet tooth trap in the South of the island, cheerfully chatting with my companions in Japanese. Friends from other countries told me that the now-annual chocolate festival in Hamrun is something you see once. It’s enough. This being my first year in Malta, I used the opportunity to experience this event, as each of its components sounded fun – sweet treats, festive atmosphere, and participation of diverse communities.

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Sakura festival in Kaunas

This year the Sakura festival, organized by Sugihara Foundation in Kaunas and supported by the Japanese embassy, was not blessed with great weather as last year. Still, Kyrie Oda′s dance looked all the more touching. She and her colleague went along with their idea to perform barefoot, despite cold weather.

Dance performance

Dance performance

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Open day at Kaunas mosque

The community of Kaunas mosque provided an opportunity for anyone interested to go inside the unique Tatar mosque of Kaunas, to see a Muslim prayer, look around and enjoy food from various countries and cultures. The mosque has become an important contact point for old and new Muslim communities, the latter consisting of foreign students, workers, spouses of Lithuanians, expats and local converts. The 3000-strong Tatar community has been around for centuries and is can help their sisters and brothers in faith with accessing Lithuanian institutions, networking and, most importantly, feeling at home in this relatively homogeneous European society. Other functioning mosques are in distant small towns. Vilnius doesn′t have a mosque, and the current mayor, Remigijus Šimašius (liberal) made it clear that he will not do anything in his power to help establish one, even though, when Syrian and Iraqi refugees are resettled according to the EU scheme next year, the Muslim community in Vilnius will grow. There is not a single Shia mosque (most Shia Muslims are apparently from Azerbaijan), but Shia believers can attend Sunni services.

The weather is ugly in Lithuania, so I'm using a photo I made in spring

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Open day at the Bank of Lithuania in Kaunas

The Bank of Lithuania has recently celebrated the 93rd anniversary since its establishment. It is the first year that the central bank is not implementing Lithuania′s monetary policy, so people are curious about how its functions have changed since joining the eurozone. Today′s open day had people of all age groups lining up to see the original building of the central bank in Kaunas and to learn more about its history.

The Bank of Lithuania was originally established in Kaunas, as it was the capital of Lithuania at the time. Until then, Lithuania depended on the German Darlehenkasse Ost (Eastern Loan Fund) for its currency. The government and the central bank of newly independent Lithuania worked hard to earn trust from international finance markets for its new currency, litas. The circulation of litas was halted in 1941 during the first Soviet occupation. Obviously, after independence was reestablished, the central bank moved to Vilnius. But it still owns the impressive building in Kaunas. Continue reading

Hamburg ice cream and crowds

Like many people I know in Hamburg, I join all remotely interesting Facebook events if they pop up somewhere. Aside from being an idea for what to do with my free time, an ice cream market in Hamburg sounded like a great new experience, particularly because Germany is a great place to enjoy vegan and lactose-free versions of popular ice cream sorts. To the joy of organizers and visitors, the weather was perfect for an event like this. The event itself was… less than perfect. Continue reading

Hanami in Kaunas

Feeling very nostalgic about my proper hanami in Tokyo in 2009, I attended a Japanese Embassy / Sugihara Museum event in Kaunas, where a Japanese performance artist Kirie Oda cooperated with Lithuanian violinist and singer to create a performance around Sugihara House, which used to be the Japanese consulate before WWII and now hosts a Sugihara museum, foundation, and VMU Centre for Asian Studies. The artist wanted to use this space, with its sakura trees planted by Yukiko Sugihara herself, and a larger green space behind the building.

Japanese-Lithuanian artistic cooperation

Japanese-Lithuanian artistic cooperation – click on the images to enlarge them

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It’s green and it’s artsy – the White Bridge area in Vilnius

One of my favorite places to hang out in Vilnius is the green space around the White Bridge.

There is a lot of space, so people fly kites and various strange flying objects, and sometimes there are festivals and concerts (like on the 1st of May). A part of this area was redeveloped according to a controversial plan, which included building a beach volley court. Beach volley in Vilnius, which is notoriously far from the sea comparing to the other Baltic capitals, sounded ridiculous. And yet people really come there and play, so I guess it’s good. Another area is equipped with platforms for skating and showing tricks with bikes. Continue reading

Let it be night 2011

Let It Be Night is an annual festival in Vilnius (see post two years ago). It brings together professional and amateur artists to perform at night. Most of the events are free of charge, and many happen outside. The idea is to make Vilnius more of a night city, which it is not. The festival takes place in June, just before academic year fully finishes. This year more than 100 events were promised, with theatres joining in to an unprecedented extent. The whole programme sounded very promising, and, despite the short rain, many people took the advantage to spend the night in the city centre. The Lithuanian media noticed both the success of some events, drawing large numbers of people, and much less success to provide adequate security.

Most of the events were taking place at the same time in different parts of the city centre, so one had to really make choices. However, I knew from my experience from the previous years that some of the events can be cancelled or simply boring. So I made a list of everything I would be interested to see. In the end, Let It Be Night turned out into a late-night hangout for me and my friends rather than a culturally intensive festival.

I did not register to any events that required registration, just to be on the safe side if the rain is unbearable. Weather in this season is unpredictable. I also did not even look at events taking place in early evening, from 6 to 8 pm. I heard testimonies that some of them were very good. We started from the Moniuska square, a concert of “gongs and other archaic instruments”. It was a meditative performance in this partly lit space, creating a special mood, but not something that would invite to stay very long. As my friend observed, you would need to sit down and get into a trance. We expected our next stop to be a sirtakis session at the Greek restaurant on Pilies street. I read that people who went to the first part, starting at 8 pm, really enjoyed it. But my friend, who went to see the second part, expected to start at 10 pm, was disappointed to see nothing happening. So we decided not to check it again and went to the rock’n’roll disco on Sirvydas square (an alternative translation for the Lithuanian ‘skveras’, which clearly comes from ‘square’, is ‘public garden’. The Lithuanian word denotes a small public space with trees, whereas the original English word can refer to a completely paved public space, which is usually large. Yet most Lithuanian guides in English don’t bother and just translate it as ‘square’). The disco was the highlihgt of the festival. The atmosphere was great, there was just enough space for people of various levels of proficiency. The space is really well suited for an outdoor disco at night – it is quite removed from the busy Pilies street, but near enough to attract passers-by. I think he bar that is in this space should consider exploiting this success.

My friends noticed that Cafe de Paris, the main hipster hub, also hosts a nice party. People were dancing, but it was not as crowded as it usually is. We stayed there for a while, although I thought we had rather used the opportunity to attend events outdoors. Since the Town Hall is close, we went to see what it has to offer.

Projections on the Town Hall and some strange tent-like thing with people sitting in its niches were rather boring. We planned to go to the “Holes and dust” performance at the Arts Printing House, but missed it, because by the time we were close to there it was 40 minutes past midnight already.We decided to take a break and eat a kebab at Jokubo kebabine on Pilies str. It has been a kebab place for several years, but it seems that owners have changed. From what I learned, neighbours were very unfriendly and constantly tried to push the foreigners out of this old-town space by making false reports to hygiene authorities. Even if the authorities would not find anything wrong, working time and clients would be lost to the small kebab shop with only two employees.

The place seems to be very popular now though. As we were waiting in a very long queue, we saw crowds of aggressive-looking youngsters shouting basketball slogans and something against the city of Kaunas. They walked around and stood by, shouting their slogans. I could see in the faces of the kebab shop staff that they felt uneasy about the youngsters’ decision to hang out around there. Who knows when such youngsters would turn their unused energy against foreigners. Just then I recalled not seeing any police anywhere in the old town. Maybe the police were hiding? But why would they, knowing that aggressive youngsters may easily take the opportunity to pick up fights on a night like this? The media reports 30 arrests for disruption of public order, but I’m not sure if this only means that people had to actually call the police if anything dangerous happened. Vilnius police is equipped with horses and segways. Their presence would have made people feel a bit more secure. On the other hand, if the police was around, it would have had to fine people who were drinking alcohol in public spaces.

I am totally against the so-called police state and ubiquitous presence of the police in public areas. However, I do not see how Let It Be Night is different from, say, New Year’s Eve. There is a risk of street fight, and a need to be prepared. Perhaps the police was prepared, and the fact that we did not see it does not mean it was not there. In any case, seeing so many youngsters of that particular type (they are called ‘gezai’ in Lithuanian slang) made me feel uneasy for a while. What would happen if there was indeed violence? Fortunately, the youngsters were only shouting. As we walked on, someone from another group of drunken youngsters said an insult to an African student who was with us, but otherwise we did not encounter or witness any violence.

Our next destination was the Cathedral Square, which promised a hip-hop improvisation. We did not see any of that, except for an amateur fire show. The  State Small Theatre of Vilnius had promised shows in its front window all night long, but it was totally empty and dead around 1 am. We ended up at Fluxus Ministerija – a new cultural hub with the current mayor of Vilnius as its patron. Several floors of that office building were turned into venues for film screenings and performances, as well as artist residences. This initiative gave its owners, associated with the mayor, considerable tax deductions. Rumours have it that all the artists who have residences there were pressured to vote for the mayor’s party during the local elections, but I’m not sure anyone would say this on the record, let alone under their own name.

This polician has a track record of shady transactions, but many people in Vilnius like him because of the initiatives that were mega-profitable for his cronies and useful to the general public. I do not boycott Fluxus Ministerija, as it hosts many great events, but I always feel it is a duty to tell some facts to people who admire it.

There was a concert at Fluxus Ministerija, which appeared to be quite good. The lead singer had a strong voice, and the rhythm was just right for us at 2 pm. However, as it seemed that the events which promised to last all night ended much earlier, we soon split and went home.

I missed some interesting shows and concerts, but it is never easy with a bigger group and varying preferences. In addition, most events were short, so to see everything you want you would have had to run around without a break. It was definitely worth going there, and it is fortunate we did not witness any of the 30 fights/ acts of vandalism. Comparing even to 2009, Vilnius is more alive at night and people spend more time outside. Wonderland Blog wishes good luck to the organisers 🙂

First bubbles of this year

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As soon as it became warm enough, relaunched its initiative called “Bubble the City” in English (in rather unsuccessful search for an adequate term for the creative Lithuanian “Burbuliatorius”). As last year, it takes place in Lithuanian cities and towns, as well as the most popular migrant destinations. The idea is to encourage people to spend time outdoors and do something together in a non-commercial setting, using one of the green public spaces. I have noticed that Vilnius, which, although blessed with open spaces, has rather unstable climate. It drastically lacks public toilets, and many urban spaces that people like become ‘overplanned’ due to dubious government initiatives, such as replacing old trees, which used to provide comfortable shade, with new, specially designed trees. Being in central Vilnius in cold weather is no fun at all, to put it mildly. Like in many cities, you must buy something to enjoy a comfortable place to sit. Compared to Tokyo, Vilnius at least has benches.

Various activists and groups try to revitalise open spaces of Vilnius and encourage people to spend time there and shape the places to better meet their needs. Sharing of photos online became another way of getting together for the sake of soap bubbles. Particularly because the event takes place at the same time in Lithuania and in Lithuanian emigree communities. Continue reading

Colourful Japanese devils take the streets of Vilnius

“What’s this? What’s this?” curiously repeat an elderly French-speaking couple to each other as they pass by a colourful crowd of all kinds of characters, some holding swords about the size of themselves, some with blue hair or painted faces. It is the fourth time Cosplay enthusiasts get together in Vilnius and show how they can imitate their favourite characters, but lately (at least since 2009) the Japanese embassy happily supports their show(-off) in the framework of a festival called “Now Japan”. In addition to crafts workshops and a movie night, Cosplay was one of the parts of the festival. However, the city, waking up from the summer vacation, felt it more than anything else. Continue reading