The Festival of Walks
“What is it that, out of houses, streets and crossroads, roads, parks and squares, makes a city? «
We had those thoughts about five years ago and we soon realised it is the people and their stories. It is them who with their steps taken and the stories lived make a place out of beautifully stacked bricks with mortar, the paving, the facades, the concrete, the windows and roofs, breathing life into the cold walls.
Then we asked ourselves, which stories are the real ones, the important ones, which stories can be considered the heritage of the city and we quickly agreed that all of them are.
There are no small and insignificant stories; they are all part of a mosaic, a chapter, a paragraph or at least a line in a book we call the heritage of the city. True, some are great; so great that they themselves wrote an entire chapter, not only in the book of the city, but even in the book of Europe and the book of the World; as well as those who wrote only in one square, on one street, in one house, in one room. And the latter interested us the most, as we find them written or said only rarely, if at all.
We wanted to collect them, listen to them, and walk the paths where they originated. But how to grasp them? We put our heads together and came up with the Festival of Walks. We invited residents to share stories only they know, with visitors during walks in the city. Our festival was soon recognized by official institutions in the field of history and cultural heritage. We can proudly say that museums and galleries, the Provincial Archives, the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia and the theatres also create their walks for the festival. They found that they, too, keep masses of stories that would never be presented to the general public, even if they deserved it, and that the Festival of Walks is the perfect platform for that.
The first year in 2018, we collected stories for a three-day festival; and two years later it grew to ten days; so now in the preparation of the festival schedule we have "sweet worries" how to place all those walks in the festival program, so that everyone will be happy - walkers and visitors; who, to our great satisfaction, are also present, after all the festival is dedicated to our audience.
Of course, we were aware from the very beginning that these stories and walks should not be limited to the local residents. It is true that they were written and lived by them or their ancestors, they speak of our city; but history and heritage have one fantastic quality - belonging to all. Therefore, from the first festival onwards, we also organize evening round tables with experts from various fields, with the aim of including this part of the local heritage in the tourist offer of our city. We are slowly making progress: we are conjoining with UP FTŠ Turistica - Faculty of Tourism Studies from the University of Primorska, Slovenia; as well as working with experts in the field of creative tourism from the University of Aveiro, Portugal. Our way of presentation of intangible cultural heritage was recognised as best practise by Interpret Europe in 2020 and news of the Festival of Walks is reaching as far out as Canada and Japan.
Although we are dealing with the past, with the stories that our ancestors lived, we are forging plans for the future; so our next focus is the school. Already in this year, we will dedicate one festival day to the walks prepared by students with the help of their mentors. Our great wish is that in a year, two or three, from the initial “schooling steps” taken on the city streets at a particular festival, a new, their Festival of walks will emerge.
But every journey begins with the first step, every story with the first act - even the one for which we say at the end: "And the rest is history!"
"Sometimes we like to say that size does not matter and this is certainly true for a 7.5 square meter small building on the right bank of the Drava river, right next to the Main Bridge, with the most beautiful view of the old town - for the famous Newsagents.
In fact, kiosks of this kind were not uncommon at the time of its erection, sometime in the 1920s. A small booths, in which female newsagents sold tobacco, cigarettes, newspapers, stamps, and observed a slender piece of the world changing in front of their doors. Even the painted Turk abiding over the front door was not unusual at the time, it symbolized smoking.
In all probability, our booth would remain just one of many small kiosks, forgotten in time, if it were not for the writer Drago Jančar, who erected a literary monument to it in his novel The Northern Lights. In it he describes the changes of a square through the eyes of a newsagent, today known as the Revolution Square.
In almost a hundred years our newsagents wrote many true sorties and perhaps the most beautiful of these is the story of a young female newsagent. In the 1930s, Leopoldina Jeglič managed the booth and her niece, Antonia Rybachek, also worked there. Soon Ernest Papež started going to the newsagent's every day and bought one stamp from Antonia, sometimes even two. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. Of course, he did not go to the booth for the stamps, but for young Antonia. They fell in love and in 1938 had a son Peter, and six years later a daughter Helga.
After the end of the war in the spring of 1945, Ernest had to report to the headquarters of the new authorities; after that every trace of him was lost. The widow Antonia, with two small children, continued to work in the newsagent's and slowly Alojz Menih began to come there. He bought one cigarette from her every day, sometimes two - one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Love was born again and Alojz became Antonia's husband and stepfather to Peter and Helga. "
Cities by definition are formed by streets and roads, squares, parks, houses, churches, often streams and rivers flow through them, railways run round them, some even have airports. But these aren’t cities yet, these are just properly stacked bricks with some mortar and gleaming facades, roofs, windows, it’s just neatly laid pavement or asphalt, these are train stations and airport runways. From all of the mentioned, what really makes a city are the people and their stories. Every city has them. More than it has inhabitants - much more. Some are great stories, the ones we find in history textbooks and learn about in schools, some written in books and doctoral dissertations - stories about heroes and heroines, and events that changed the city and the world.
But most of them are small stories, stories that are often not written anywhere and only a handful of people know them. And these stories have always interested us, because these, or especially these, are an important building block of the history of our city and its heritage and the life in it. Stories of “ordinary” people who once walked our streets and squares, stories that are worth telling and preserving for posterity. Stories that we can empathize with and relate to. We’ve been thinking for quite some time about how to do this, as we’ve been aware that there are so many of them forcing themselves out of every house and hiding around every corner, whispering on every bench and playing in every backyard. It’s also important how we tell these stories. The most difficult thing is to present anything about our city to our locals; because almost everyone thinks, that if they know something, they know their city. And the people of Maribor are no exception, maybe we are even a little more stubborn about it, saying "but I live in this city". Presenting Maribor to the people of Maribor is a challenge that is hard to imagine, especially if you are not from this city.
Then the idea of a festival created by the residents emerged. We would present the stories they know on our walks around the city; thus in 2018 our Festival of Walk was born. We posted an “open call” on social media and the response was enough to accommodate a a three-day program; for the second edition the festival was running for six days, and a year later in 2020 ten days. Proof that the festival "does not kick in the dark"* is not only a wide range of colourful stories and residents who are willing to present these stories on walks as well as the incising audience of the festival; what is more the vast majority of walkers have never done this before. It turned out that the people of Maribor are eager to get to know their city. Even us, the eternal optimists, were surprised.
The Festival of Walks was soon recognized by official institutions in the field of history and cultural heritage. After only four years of the festival, we can proudly say that museums and galleries, the Provincial Archives, the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia and the theatres also create their walks for the festival. They found that they, too, keep masses of stories that would never be presented to the general public, even if they deserved it, and that the Festival of Walks is the perfect platform for that.
It should be emphasized that the walks are free of charge, however the end of each walk we ask the audience for voluntary contributions, which go exclusively to the walker. We believe that the stories of the city belong to the audience, that these are stories that they must get to know, because through them they explore and get to know our city itself. We would like to maintain such a format in advance.
Of course, at the first Festival of Walks we did not stop only at walks and stories, but we thought more broadly. If the stories that walkers present on their walks are interesting for locals, and judging by the response, they are; then there is no hell that a city presented in this slightly different way would not be of interesting for visitors from elsewhere. Therefore, from the very beginning of the Festival of Walks, we also organize evening talks with experts on topics related to urban cultural heritage and tourism - especially how to connect these two often (unreasonably) separate industries. We are slowly making progress: we are conjoining with UP FTŠ Turistica - Faculty of Tourism Studies from the University of Primorska, Slovenia; as well as working with experts in the field of creative tourism from the University of Aveiro, Portugal. Our way of presentation of intangible cultural heritage was recognised as best practise by Interpret Europe in 2020 and news of the Festival of Walks is reaching as far out as Canada and Japan.
Naturally, we are also thinking about the next steps and how to write the story of the Walk Festival in the future. Already this year we will dedicate one day of the festival to schools. The basic idea is simple, namely that children, with the help of mentors, prepare their walks and present them at a special festival day, enabling us to know our city through their eyes and the topics that interest them. Pupils are already working hard on various research projects about our city and its stories. Unfortunately many of these exceptional tasks often remain just letters on paper. We however, are offering them the opportunity to present their efforts to the public. Our great wish is that this "school" day will grow into an independent younger brother or sister of the our Festival of Walks in a few years. But these are already plans for the future, which we firmly believe we will succeed. The “school” festival day is just the first step on this path.
For a (happy) ending we offer one of the many stories we have told at our festival about the famous man who turned on the light - the actual one that shines on us in the evening and at night. We hope that someday this will also happen with the lights in our hearts and heads:
"Someone once wrote that Nikola Tesla was a man who" invented the twentieth century. "This is hard to dispute, but this great inventor also had his" bad years "and these are related to his stay in Graz and Maribor.
In 1875, a young man from the village of Smiljan near Gospić began his studies at the Graz Polytechnic and in his first year he simply excelled. The professors could not praise the young student enough, but at the same time, in letters to his father in Gospić, they often expressed concern about his son's excessive enthusiasm and warned against excessive efforts. Already in his second year, Nikola began to give up abruptly while studying, passed fewer exams and became more and more passionate about gambling, and soon got into financial trouble. In the third year he did not pass any exams, he lost his military scholarship, his father stopped sending him financial support and because he could no longer pay even the tuition fee, he was removed from the list of students at the Polytechnic. Without a livelihood, he borrowed money from the well-known exploiter Jožef Murko from Maribor, who, like with many Graz students, put Tesla on the edge of indebtedness with high interest rates, additionally as a conscript Nikola was threatened to be drafted into the army.
Thus, burdened with difficulties, at the end of 1878 he went to Maribor (then Marburg a. D. Drau). At that time it was a rapidly developing industrial city, which introduced many technical innovations, including the use of electricity. He found a job as a technical draftsman in the Druško toolmaking and foundry workshop. His salary at that time was supposed to be 60 forints a month. The address of Tesla's Maribor residence is still a mystery, it is assumed that he was housed somewhere on Teggethoff(today's Partizanska) road, near the railway station, where he is said to have indulged in playing cards at the Happy peasant inn.
Tesla did not inform his family about his downfall in Graz and his departure to Maribor. For a while they even thought that he had committed suicide and drowned in the Mura river. They were informed that their son was alive and well by Tesla's friend and his "roommate" from Graz, Kosta Kulišić, whom he met by chance in January 1879. Tesla told him that he was quite satisfied in Maribor and that he lacked nothing.
The anxious father Milutin soon left Gospić to pick up his "problematic" son and tried to persuade him to leave his job and quit his quarters and continue his studies in Prague in the autumn. His son rejected him and strongly quarrelled with his father. Nikola allegedly suffered a nervous breakdown, and his father Milutin returned to his home town of Lika disappointed.
The only official written document confirming that the great inventor really lived in Maribor is the business record of the city authorities, Geschäfts Protokoll, from 1879, in which the data of police arrests were entered. On March 8, 1879, the city gendarmerie arrested Nikola Tesla, allegedly in the premises of his residence on Teggethoff Street. As he did not have a residence permit, the city authorities decided that "one Nikolaus Tesla” in question, without means of subsistence, should be deported from Marburg to Gospić, with the aim of sending him to work".
And the Rest is History! ”
* Slovenian idiom for unsuccessful business venture
The Festival of Walks hails from a town that has lays been the locus of migration, innovation and on the crossroads connecting the Balkans and Europe, geographically and culturally Maribor is situated near to the Austrian, Croatian and Hungarian border and through its most impressive developmental bursts, the European spirit was always present through the mixing of cultures and nations (Germans, Czech and Polish, Croatian, Serbian and Bulgarian).
Those bursts were represented by the industries people moving to Maribor, who stayed in Maribor and as a result con constructed the town’s entity, our identity, and our genius loci.
They have lest a record of their time here and how they impacted our world. Their descendants are those who tell their personal stories and through the Festival of Walks remind us that we are not alone. That this culture was always welcoming, that we respected each other and what we stood for.
What is more, the method of walking storytelling gives us the listeners and the walkers the chance to emerge ourselves in the story as the visit the sights were those stories were lived. Consequently, solidifying dormant European values within all generations.
The plan to expand this method to other European counties in well on the way, with the help of the European heritage days as one of the partners.
In the end, through the stories we find out, that we all share fragments of the same heritage.