Kaunas in Lithuania: Baltics Berlin is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen
What experiences in Kaunas should you try?
There are only a few Danes who have visited Lithuania, and even fewer have heard of the city of Kaunas, which is located just across the Baltic Sea. It is part of the more unknown Baltics - that which lies outside Tallinn and Riga, and there is really a lot to experience. Kaunas will become a European city of culture in 2022, and there are several good reasons for this.
Kaunas can actually best be described as the Berlin of the Baltics. It has on several occasions been a divided border town, it has been the capital for a period, and the city, like Berlin, was also heavily affected by the Cold War. Kaunas is filled with beautiful buildings located next to dilapidated houses, and there are cozy pedestrian streets with cafe life next to concrete avenues. It is in many ways a city where the beautiful and dilapidated go together.
This charming mix allows for a great deal of creativity, and although the city with its 300.000 inhabitants is only the second largest in the bette land Lithuania, it is a large event city with many artists who add color to it all.
Street art at new heights - street-level experiences in Kaunas
Kaunas is also the region's largest concert city, attracting big stars from abroad. We went inside and saw “Rock On Ice”, which was a rather festive mix of ice skating from some of the world's best runners served to music delivered live by a large orchestra. We were probably 10.000 spectators in the new arena, and it was going properly and cheerfully. Recommendable.
If you are fresh on more creative expression, you can conveniently take the train or bus for another hour Vilnius, which has a Christiania-like district with its own declaration of independence and lots of attitudes, art and fun and among other things a Tibet square.
You can find uncontrolled creativity in, for example, Yard Gallery, where street art reaches new heights, and walls that have been given a hefty spice, for example with a pink elephant. There are new giant murals that residents have voted on where locals spread their colors to the city. One of my favorites was created by a 7-year-old girl with princess, colored candy canes and rainbow. So it is a spacious city that provides space for so much life and colors in its center.
Hand grenade throw for beginners meets "The hunt for Red October"
Kaunas was greatly affected by the Cold War and the Soviet occupation. Denmark was one of NATO's spearheads to the east, including the forts on Stevns and Langeland, where the latter played a significant role in the Cuba crisis, because they were some of the first to spot nuclear missiles on Russian ships.
Lithuania was on the other side of the sea the important spearhead of the Soviet Empire to the west, and it left a huge imprint on the city. Today you can still see the barracks, where they trained the attack forces that were to occupy Denmark in case of war.
Due to its high attic space, the medieval castle's neighboring church was used as a training place for parachute straps and for storing and drying the parachutes. After all, the Soviets were not exactly fussy about religion, so they might as well use the church for something practical!
When you ask the locals what it meant in everyday life, wild stories emerge that tell of the massively militarized city. Until independence in 1990, schoolboys were trained in grenade throwing in schools as part of gymnastics instruction. Everyone was also trained in using gas masks.
A slightly older Lithuanian said that military training was also included in the universities. Only when you had passed shooting practice and thus proved yourself as a loyal party member who could be used in war, could you be allowed to go to the exam!
All military training took place in Russian, and many Lithuanians enlisted in the Soviet Army. One of the better known is Jonas Pleškys, who was a major inspiration for the epic blockbuster "The Hunt for Red October" with Sean Connery.
The film tells the story of a Soviet submarine captain from Lithuania who jumps off, which was exactly what Pleškys did when he sailed from Lithuania to Sweden in 1961 and ended up settling in the United States.
A relationship in bloom
Relations with Russia are still quite cool, and after the EU sanctions against Russia, the Russian tourists also disappeared. In Lithuania, it seems as if you primarily see two roads: to the north, where there is cooperation with the other Baltic countries on, for example, better train connections. And to the west towards Scandinavia, which is a great source of inspiration for food and design.
If you go to one of the better restaurants in both Kaunas and Vilnius, there is often Scandinavian design and decor, and several of the best chefs have been in culinary education in Denmark, so the new Nordic cuisine has also left its solid footprint here.
For example, we got a wild "taste menu" at Restaurant Nüman, which is one of the best restaurants in the country, and although it was officially a 6-course meal, we got a total of 10 insanely creative dishes for just over 300 kroner, including beef with blueberry leather! All created by a chef who, among other things, has worked at NOMA.
We like! We had an affordable gourmet lunch at Monte Pacis, located next to the ancient monastery of Pazaislis by the river, and there are also several microbreweries on the pedestrian streets with more classic and beer-friendly food.
Scandinavia and Lithuania
The connections to Scandinavia have always been there, by the way. Although Lithuania is today a fairly Christian country, Lithuania was the last country in Europe to become Christian, and before that it had gods who must have been almost related to the Nordic gods, because the most important god was the God of Thunder, and the wooden figure of this thunder god on the view hill in Kaunas resembles for confusion a Nordic god. Water is called Vandou, and well yes, then thank you is called “Atjuu” (spelled Ačiū), but that's a word you know…
Kaunas is quite obvious to visit on an extended weekend, preferably with affordable delicious gastronomy and a live concert thrown on top of the hat. Direct flights over there cost almost nothing (see the green box above), and the food is good and cheap, so you really get something for your money, and then there is not least not overrun yet, so you can actually see the attractions instead of a range of selfie sticks.
Good trip to the more unknown part of the Baltics and lots of experiences in Kaunas
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