Lithuania has fought hard for its freedom throughout the 20th. century. Germany occupied it in WWI, and then the Soviets took their turn at the beginning of WWII until they were expelled by the Nazis in 1941. Then the Soviets took it back from 1944-1990 when the people of Lithuania at long last gained their freedom and independence from the repressive Soviet State that had them in a stranglehold for so many years. Wedged between Germany and the Soviet Union in WWII, Vilnius sustained little damage throughout the war, and was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994. As a result, it is one of the best-preserved old cities in Eastern Europe. Enjoy the visit.
CHURCH OF SAINT CASIMIR – One of 30 Catholic Churches in Vilnius. The Lithuanians love their Catholicism. On their list of favorites, Catholicism is #1, basketball is #2 and of course, beer is #3. Two out of three ain’t bad.
A rainy first-day walking tour. It was raining so hard that I took very few pictures, so I decided to wait for a sunny day to finish the task later.
PAGAN STATUE – The fact is Vilnius was a big hold out in the Catholic conversion thing since they were big pagan people. To remedy this, the church offered the townspeople free white woolen shirts which they gladly deemed to accept. Some got back in line and accepted more than one. However, they maintained their pagan ways and continued to worship their multiple gods for another two hundred years. At least they weren’t tortured or burned for witchcraft.
ST. ANNE’S CHURCH – A stunning Gothic structure utilizing a variety of shaped bricks. Wedding season doesn’t stop for bad weather as seen by the bride entering the cathedral. She’s getting married come hell or high water.
Endless bits and pieces to read which make this museum as oppressive as the subject matter.
LOSSES DURING THE OCCUPATION
Losses during the Soviet Occupation – 406,500 Casualties
Losses during the Nazi occupation – 329,500 Casualties
Partisan Machine Gun
WALL OF SADNESS AND OPPRESSION
HOPELESSNESS OF THE GULAG
A model of the wagon used for deportation made by Pijus Juska from Vilnius “Rytas” secondary school.
Life Goes On…
Lithuanian deportees and prisoners, despite the hard work, shortages, the severe climate, the hostile attitudes of the state and often of the local population, which regarded them as “socially dangerous” , tried to do all they could in order to survive, raise their children, preserve their customs and language, historic self- awareness and cherish Christian values in their everyday life.
With the help of photographs, documents, letters, handicrafts, and household articles, the story of the life of the deportees and their small children, holidays and moments of despair, the joy of returning home and their difficulties in resettling in Lithuania are told.
The armed resistance by partisans between 1944 and 1953 took the lives of over 20,000 people. More than half of them perished fighting for freedom between 1944 and 1945. The average fighting life of partisans was two or three years. Most of the fighters who died were younger than 21. Even after their deaths, they were brutally displayed. In order to frighten civilians, the bodies of partisans were laid out in town squares, yards, and farmers’ markets.
This cell contains a small exhibition on the topic of the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust (mostly in Vilnius and its surroundings). At the beginning of the war there were just over 200,000 Jews in the area, and 200,000 were murdered by the Nazi’s, Of the hundred or so Synagogues only one remains today. The Jewish population of Vilnius totals only 3,000 today.
Now for a bit of comic relief…
Keule Ruke – This barbecue restaurant commissioned designer Mindaugas Bonanu to create a mural for this wall. The result is this stunning kiss seen round the world between these two strong-arm guys previously linked in a bromance of sorts by virtue of the mutual admiration of their brutal political styles.
See how the artist shows the Donald tenderly cradling Putin’s head. Positively classic. You see, here in Europe, even in the macho Baltics nobody is freaking out about these two men kissing. Nobody has even defaced the mural. Meanwhile back in the USA, it’s business, as usual, to freak out and shoot up a nightclub full of harmless gay partiers just because some testosterone poisoned fanatic can’t hack seeing a couple of guys kiss. Seriously, what’s it going to take to stop this madness?
Europe doesn’t have this problem with gun violence. Most of the Europeans I run into don’t even know how to get their hands on a gun while we can just walk into a local Walmart and walk out packing. Until the gun lobby and all the rest of them are removed from the political process, I fear nothing will change. It’s an absolute conflict of interest and has corrupted our system completely.
Also, the fact that this creature was motivated to kill by the sight of two men kissing is another reminder that there are bronze age people living among us in the 21st. century who let their obsolete philosophies dictate life in the modern world. I thought we were done with racism and homophobia. If you don’t want to see two men kiss, just leave the room or skip the barbecue in Vilnius. What a crazy country the United States has become. We find it easier to watch two men shooting each other on the big screen than sharing a romantic moment. Madness!
Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Blog…
The weather’s cleared so it’s time for some shots of the streets of Vilnius.
ST. CASIMIR’S CHURCH – It’s the first and oldest baroque church in Vilnius, built in 1618.
VILNIUS TOWN HALL – A plaque inscribed with the words from a speech by George W. Bush proclaiming allegiance to Lithuania and to protect against enemy incursion is affixed to the right side of the building. This was a source of pride for Vilnius until Dubya ran around the Baltics and gave the identical speech in Latvia and Estonia. Now the plaque is looked at as a joke. Just when you Bush was as low as our country could stoop, along comes the Donald to trump his repellant political chicanery.
Signage throughout the Old Town takes on a decidedly appropriate antique flavor.
A modern abstract to offset the old.
One of the 30 churches in town. When the Soviets were in control, the churches were all repurposed. They were used as everything from warehouses to a bowling alley and even a museum of atheism given Stalin’s disdain for religion. Too bad he gave atheism such a bad name. One last church awaiting renovation is being used by a cellular service and has its antenna atop the steeple. At least a church has utility for me by enabling me to use my phone more effectively.
MORE WONDERFUL SIGNAGE
LITERATU STREET – The wall is adorned with artworks pertaining to authors and references to pieces of literature. One popular piece is the set of teeth which represents critics of the literary craft, and to the left of the teeth is the cover of the very first book printed in Lithuanian.
Not the Leaning Tower of Pisa – Just an effect on a vertical tower caused by the camera.
Locals out enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Old Town.
BUSKING FOR A FEW EUROS
Here’s St. Anne’s Church once again, but this time in the sun and with an interior shot as well.
Bridge to the Republic of Uzupis – Uzupis is a neighborhood in Vilnius that declared itself an independent republic on April 1, 1997. The district has been popular with artists for some time and has been compared to Montmartre in Paris and Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen due to it’s Bohemian and laissez-faire atmosphere. Uzupis means the other side of the river and refers to the Vilnia River soon to be seen in upcoming photos.
The sign at the entrance instructs people to smile, drive 20kph, not to judge the art, and if they should drive over 20kph their car might end up in the river.
Užupio Kavine – The restaurant better known as the Uzupis House of Parliament where the Užupis constitution was created by Romas Lilekis and Thomas Chepaitis in about three hours.
Jesus H. Christ – The world’s first backpacker.
UŽUPIS ANGEL – On April 1, 2002, a statue of an angel blowing a trumpet was unveiled in the main square. The idea was developed from a desire to erect an angel in memory of animator and caricaturist Zenonas Šteinys. It became a symbol of the revival Užupis. The funds were raised by selling miniature copies of the sculpture. Until they had the money for their guardian angel, an egg sculpture resided atop the column. When the angel replaced the egg, the townspeople said the angel had hatched from the egg. So beloved was the egg that it was relocated to another part of Vilnius which I happened upon later in the afternoon.
Užupis also has its own currency which is only used once a year on April 1st. and then only for the purchase of beer which is consumed excessively on said day. This water fountain next to the Uzupis Angel actually dispenses beer for a couple of hours on that special day.
People read the forty-one edicts of the Užupis Constitution. The insignia of the hand with a hole in it indicates the unimportance of money in terms of their artistic sensibilities. Money will fall right through the hand leaving the artist unmotivated by commerce and thus more dedicated to their art.
HISTORICALLY APPROPRIATE SIGNAGE
VILNIUS CHORAL SYNAGOGUE – Once housing over 100 synagogues, this is the one and only active synagogue in Vilnius to survive the Holocaust and Soviet rule.
Built in 1903 in a Romanesque-Moorish style.
MONUMENT TO ZEMACH SHABAD – A much-loved gentleman in the community who helped teach the children, but he was Jewish so he ended up being murdered in the Holocaust. The statue pays tribute to the man, and stands for all of the many Lithuanians who were killed by the Nazis.
THE EGG! – Here’s that egg that was once perched atop the column where the Užupis Angel now resides. I was so happy to stumble upon this much beloved Užupian relic.
THE GATES OF DAWN – The city gate of Vilnius and one of the most important religious, historical, and cultural monuments in Lithuania.
This widened area between buildings and central park area was created after the war. The buildings in this area were badly damaged in WWII so they created this space where the Soviets rebuilt on one side and the Lithuanian building side was restored.
SOVIET ARCHITECTURE SIDE – Looks like St. Petersburg? Mebbe.
LITHUANIAN ARCHITECTURE SIDE
Day Trip To Trakai
A beautiful day to visit Trakai.
This is part of a large decorative royal seal collection.
This room had quite the pipe collection on all four walls.
It looks as though they are dressing a movie set here.
They’ve gone to the local supermarket and bought a lot of potatoes.
SILVER COINS FROM AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG
HEADING OUT WHERE I ENTERED
A quick stroll around the castle perimeter.
A look at that suspected movie set from the outside. I saw lighting for filming so my suspicions were nearly correct since it was for a Swedish TV commercial and not a movie.
BACK IN VILNIUS
CAFÉ MONTMARTRE – I enjoyed my last night’s dinner here with an accordionist playing the theme song from “Amelie”.
Unfortunately, my private accommodations were five minutes from the hostel and devoid of social interaction. My room was old and smelly, but there were instructions to remove your shoes upon entering the building which was also the case in the main hostel. They were trying to avoid tracking in dirt, but I would think that they would be more concerned by the more pressing concern of stink-foot that plagues many a backpacker after a long day’s trekking or sightseeing.
I carry shoe spray and a plastic storage back to adhere to hostel etiquette, and to protect my roommates from asphyxiation. I’ll take off my shoes in Japan, but I was damned if I was going to remove my shoes before going to my room in that tired, smelly old building.