Kaunastic is not actually a real word. Yet. It was constructed out of the need to express the mix of marvel, discovery, nostalgia, spontaneity and audacity. All of these things are common to Kaunas, a city formerly known as the temporary capital of Lithuania and, as of 2016, UNESCO Design City and a candidate for European Capital of Culture 2022.
Kaunas, previously designated to become a first-class fortress city by the Russian Czar (you can visit some of the forts that have museums in them), adopted the merits and hardships of a capital when Vilnius was occupied by Poland in 1920s – and it remained the capital of Lithuania until 1939. The two decades played a pivotal role in shaping (and building -- the numerous examples of spectacular modern architecture built at that time are the reason Kaunas holds the title of UNESCO Design City) the city character. The retro feel is still there – largely because of the architecture. The multicultural aspect is a bit washed-out as the result of WW2 and the Soviet occupation after it, thanks to the initiatives of those who care, the puzzle of diversity is being put back together.
Below there’s a list of a few very kaunastic things representing various fields of interest. Some similar objects or ideas can, of course, be found elsewhere, but, even if not born here, the listed ones are somewhat… kaunastic.
Karalius Mindaugas prospect 50
Basketball is a religion in Lithuania. The country is as unlucky in football as in finding the lucky leaf, but the tall guys make us happy. Especially in Kaunas, where the most-awarded Lithuanian team Žalgiris is based. Euroleague (that’s like Champions league in football) games are often played in Žalgiris arena (an impressive multifunctional building by the way), and the attendance has beaten several European records. Go to a match especially if you have never attended one, it’s great fun. Green and white all the way.
V. Putvinskis st. 65
The superlative museum boasts a collection of more than 3000 devils of different shapes, sizes and birthplaces. Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, a painter, started his collection back in 1906, the museum was opened in 1966 and is appreciated by tourists all over the world that often send some more devils when they’re back home (or leave a devil or two at the stairs of the museum and quickly run away…)
Laisvės avenue 51a
Opened a few yeas ago in a former sports club (no joke) in a courtyard of Laisvės avenue, the gallery is now one of the most important spots for contemporary art in Kaunas. Exhibitions, performances, installations and a lot of other interesting things happen there all the time.
Funiculì, Funiculà! As Kaunas is quite hilly, the need for a convenient means of transport was huge when the city was rapidly growing in the 1930s. Both funiculars in Žaliakalnis and Aleksotas are still functioning, the ticket costs pennies and you can observe a photography exhibition during the ride.
CHRIST'S RESURRECTION CHURCH
Aukštaičiai st. 4
It’s the biggest example of a basilica of monumental architecture in the Baltic states (designed by a Latvian Karolis Reisonas who was actually not Catholic!), and it probably has the longest history of building. Funded by people, the construction started in 1930s and was only finished after we regained independence. In Soviet times, it was used as a radio parts factory. It’s an absolute must to visit the terrace!
Vaižgantas st. 30
The Japanese Consul-General Chiune Sugihara signed a few thousands life visas and therefore saved numerous lives of Jewish people in the wake of the Second World War. The consulate building is now a small yet very popular museum and home to a few very active Asian culture clubs.
SANTAKA (CONFLUENCE) PARK
Great for proposals, selfies, outdoor weddings, street basketball, volleyball, frisbee, jogging, Nordic walking, lunch, pagan rituals (the local Valentine’s Day, or Milda Day, is celebrated here annually on May 13th) and much, much more. A sacred place where the rivers of Nemunas and Neris meet is definitely something Kaunas would not survive without. Starting June 2016, delicious Open Kitchen street food festivities are happening in the park every Friday.
1. Žalgiris Arena
2. Devils museum, picture by Auran Paškevič
3. Kaunas, picture by Algimantas Aleksandravičius
4. A 'postcard' mural by Tadas Vincaitis 'Plūgas' in POST gallery, picture by Artūras Bulota
5. Deivis Slavinskas 'Toccata of the Small Town'; acrylic on unique canvas; 100 x 60 cm (39,4 x 23,6 inches)
6. Sugihara House, picture by Artūras Bulota