Pictures by Lukas Mykolaitis
According to Wikipedia, there are 17 parks in Kaunas, in fact – a few more. If you think of a term “park” with more freedom in your mind, the list becomes even longer. Let’s listen to what the parks of Kaunas have to say. Oh yes they can speak!
SPEAKING ABOUT BEAUTY
8851 selfies in one park? No problem if you are in Kaunas Botanical Garden of Vytautas Magnus University. This is the number of plant species, varieties and forms grown in the park and grouped into thematic exhibitions.
It is also necessary to mention the epicentre of the garden – High Freda Manor, the example of classical architecture in the 19th century. That’s where the construction of Kaunas fortress forts started in 1882.
SPEAKING ABOUT GREATNESS
Yes, we have a winner – it is the largest oak grove in urban territory throughout Europe (about 770 oak trees) and the park, which contains other parks. Oak trees have been growing here for ages and were more severely touched by human hands only in the interwar period. And at that time everything started – agricultural exhibitions, blocks of residential houses, a radio station, a hall, a stadium.
But when you enter deeper into the “forest in the city”, there is a feeling that all those ages did not go anywhere. The atmosphere remains until you notice the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) campus buildings in the distance which also symbolise greatness, the greatness of science.
SPEAKING ABOUT COMMUNITY
Obviously, all parks in Kaunas, in fact, all the parks around the world, have their communities – united here or the ones that created parks. There are some stories worth mentioning. For instance, regarding etymology, Draugystė (Friendship) park has had this name since 1973 when it was established to reflect “friendship of nations”. The pine trees on the artificial hills protect the community from the annoying noise of the city; there is also a sculpture “Švelnumas” (Kindness), representing a mother and her baby.
Kalniečiai park is also a place for relaxation for district residents, however, it became smaller after declaring our independence since one part of the territory was returned to former owners. The street separates the park and Chechnya square, which is exceptional for its gloomy location and creative solution. For some people, its meditative tranquillity reminds of the monument for Holocaust victims in Berlin.
In Santaka park not only communities but even epoques get along. Here on the 13th of May pagans celebrate the day of Love or Milda, soon after that, medieval knights rattle their swords, every Thursday witnesses the biggest street food market in Kaunas called Open Kitchen, and nearby BMX bikes beat the ramp. Let’s not forget “the Ministry of Fluxus” which once was located next to the park and the gigantic picture of the old man blowing his pipe is still there.
And what about Aleksotas? Naugardiškė, to be more specific. In 1959, Mičiurinas State Farm - former Technical School, designed green spaces here and park area was entrusted to be taken care of by the residents. The pond, new seedlings were bought for their own money (even a group of 70 oak trees alive for a quarter of a century) –everything was done by the initiative of Aleksotas people. There were attempts then and these days to take over the ownership of the park, but the problem was solved by the community and such stories ended happily. However, not for people with greedy intents.
SPEAKING ABOUT HISTORY
For a long time, Kaunas old cemetery was comfortably referred to as Ramybės (Calmness) park. In the middle of the 19th c. having carefully defined the boundaries in the plot, four cemeteries started to function here – Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Muslim. Already in 1860 there was a wooden mosque in this place (in 1930 the current mosque for the 500th anniversary of the death of Vytautas Magnus was built, in Soviet times it became a café - reading room, and now it hardly fits all the praying ones), the first brick building was the Orthodox church which rose two years later. Evangelical Lutheran had only elementary school, Catholics – the chapel, which did not survive and a small house for cemetery administration, designed by one of the most famous Kaunas architects Stasys Kudokas in 1934.
In this particular park in 1936 the mausoleum for pilots Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas was built under the project of Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis, many persons of merit for Lithuania and its freedom were buried here. This story was systematically deleted during the occupation, however, it is symbolic that in 1956, on All Saints Day, several thousand people came to Ramybė park, participated in the solidarity campaign with the Hungarian revolution and were not afraid to pronounce the word “freedom”. Even though the consequences were painful, All Saints Day in the old cemetery continued to be commemorated. It lasted until 1959 when graves were intensively transferred.
The “Museum of Exile and Resistance”, which operated in the previously mentioned S. Kudokas’ building, is currently closed. Perhaps the revival of the building or its adaptation for other history-abiding needs would give the necessary life for this very quiet park?
P.S. Here are a few snapshots from our favourite forest parks in Pažaislis, Panemunė and Kleboniškis.