Croatia greeted Jane's Walk with a smile!

A Jane's Walk organizer in Zagreb reports on the city's terrific first festival, in 2015.

Vanja Radovanović, April 12, 2016

Photo: Mladen Sokel. Jane's Walkers reflected in a metal globe representing the planet Saturn, part of an art installation which scattered all the planets of the solar system around the city, referring to "The Sun," a modernistic sculpture by Ivan Kožarić in the centre of Zagreb. This installation was created by Davor Preis.

At the beginning of the year 2013, the project "Trešnjevka mapping" (Trešnjevka is the name of the most commonly known workers’ district in Zagreb, and means "Cherry place") was launched as the cooperative effort of a local cultural centre and a small group of local activists who wanted to bring some community action to their neighbourhoods. I was also involved in the birth of this project as the author of the blog "Unknown Zagreb," which presents stories from behind the scenes of life in Zagreb—the biggest Croatian city, as well as the political, economic and cultural centre of the country's life.

At that time, none of us from the project knew anything about Jane's walk, but our goals and desires to show people the other side of the everyday  life of their neighbourhoods, invite them to act, to request what they want ... actually matched very well with Jane's Walk's principles. So, when we first heard of it (a friend of us told us that our neighbours from Ljubljana, Slovenia, were organizing interesting walks around their city), we were delighted to see how this approach is so similar to ours. So, we decided to join the club!

At first sight, it seemed that this would be a heavy task for our small group, but soon it became evident that it was very straightforward. Almost immediately, we found enthusiastic leaders who were more than happy to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with other people. One walk led participants through an older residential area where a lot of hidden architectural gems could be found. Another one visited a series of parks that can be found in a hilly, more upscale part of the city, where ordinary citizens are not such common guests. The third one went to a part of the city developed during the first half of the 20th century, taking the walkers from the city centre towards its edges. The fourth one (the most popular one, with 67 walkers) guided its participants through a worker's part of the city which was, during the last 40 years, transformed into a modern neighbourhood with well-hidden traces of its unpretentious past. The fifth walk started from a central square in a distant suburb of the city, taking the people into the woods where remnants of an old castle from the 14th century are still visible. Altogether, 177 participants came on a total of 5 walks—more than expected for the first year of Jane's Walk in Zagreb!

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Photo: Matej Čelar. Two walk guides, Iva and Andrea, telling a story about the artist who lived in a house near the public garden that was used in the Middle Ages as a graveyard.

Journalists were happy to spread the word about the project, especially because they liked the fact that this action was taking place in so many countries and cities around the globe. At the beginning of our project, when we started to organize walks just around our district of Trešnjevka, this was seen as something of local interest, a bit of fun for local buffs ... but, when it turned out that there are so many people in so many corners of the world that are interested to hear a bit more about places where they live, work or just pass by, the project got a completely new dimension. It became something like a movement of people interested in life around them, asking for explanations not only from their guides about things in the past, but also from the people from city services and the city council that sometimes were around, about things in the future: about what to do, and how to work towards a better life in those areas. From a small silent group of our visitors emerged active groups of interested fellow citizens. This fact not only impressed us as organizers, but also impressed journalists, who came away with a good story to write.

Last year, our first year with Jane's Walk, almost all reactions were very positive. People were amazed at how many interesting stories could be found in relation to their "ordinary" streets, buildings, and shops. One of our walkers said: "I thought that all other places on Earth are more interesting than my street, but now I know that each street has some hidden story behind it." Some people asked if we could repeat the walks, whether it was possible to hold them on a regular basis, if there would be some additional materials like booklets with stories told on the walks, and if the walks could be marked with signs on the streets, so one could follow them independently at any time (yes, we would like to do this, as a part of our "mapping" project). They liked the internationality of the overall Jane's Walk project; they felt like "citizens of the world" by participating in this global action.

We had only one negative reaction: A lady who participated in one walk complained that photographs were being taken of the group, including herself. We replied that we just wanted to document the walk for our archive and to share with other fellow activists.  As well, we did find that when our walking groups entered some of the smaller streets, the inhabitants looked out at us from their windows or gardens, and seemed a bit frightened. Some asked: “Are you from communal inspection?” or “Do you work for investment groups? They want to demolish our houses …”  But as soon as we explained what we were doing and showed interest in life in their corner of the city, they became ready to talk and greeted us with smiles or, sometimes, got very emotional. Several times we heard: “You are the first to ask us how life is in this forgotten alley!”

So this year we will be here again, participating with, hopefully, even more walks, covering more topics, attracting more people who will ask more questions about the past, present and future. And that's what we like to see and hear. Music for our ears!

I’ll leave you with just two of the many interesting moments from last year's walks:

- An old man who came on one of the walks told us all how he remembered playing with geese in a yard on a lot where concrete buildings have been standing for the last 50 years. It turned out that he belonged to the first generation of pupils that went to the local school when it opened in the year 1941. At that time, it was at the very edge of the city!

- On a garden wall, we saw that someone had written: "Do not enter, we have already had two thefts, so nothing valuable is left inside."

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Photo: Saša Đukić. An old man remembering his school days when this now modern neighbourhood was a village with a meadow exactly on the place where we were standing.
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