Ljubljana’s Fužine has long been a neighbourhood of bad repute. They were considered a čefur ghetto (derogatory term for those originating from other countries of the former Yugoslavia or descendants of such immigrants), a slightly dangerous place where many things are happening. Arriving in Fužine on a beautiful Saturday in September, I can’t help but marvel at the calm that reigns over the meadows, playgrounds, pathways, and streets among the massive apartment blocks. No Balkan gangsters anywhere, people peacefully drinking coffee in front of bars, children playing basketball, people walking along the Ljubljanica river. The infamous Fužine immediately captivates me with its vibe. I join a tour led by tourist guide Nataša Flek through this neighbourhood. It is titled Multiculturalism on the outskirts of Ljubljana – Fužine. It soon sweeps away any remaining prejudices and stereotypes that exist about this part of the city.
We start the walk with Nataša Flek at Fužine Castle, home of the Museum of Architecture and Design. While the socialist aesthetics of the 1980s predominate in Fužine, the neighbourhood also has exceptionally beautiful examples of our older cultural past. Fužine Castle was built in the Renaissance style, which is rare in Ljubljana. It was built by the wealthy Khisl family, who were friends with Primož Trubar, Jurij Dalmatin and other Slovene Protestants. A member of this family, Vid Khisl, was also a six-time mayor of Ljubljana. Even if you are overly interested in the history of architecture or old art, the castle and the museum café offers a pleasant experience.
Peaceful and green neighbourhood
The tour leads us further along the promenade along Ljubljanica. Fužine is the area with the highest population density in Slovenia. It has a population of 18,000 on 61 hectares, but is still one of the greenest and most peaceful neighbourhoods in the city. As much as one third of Fužine is covered by green areas. Our guide tells us that years ago, when she was a young mother, she walked for three hours with a pram along the paths in the neighbourhood without encountering a single car.
Fužine has everything, except a swimming pool
Walking across Brodarjev trg, Nataša Flek explains that Fužine is a neighbourhood that has everything except a swimming pool. The apartment blocks, which contain one- to four-room flats, each have at least one bicycle storage, one room for prams, four drying rooms, a shelter, and a janitor’s flat. The neighbourhood also has two kindergartens, two primary schools, a health centre, a secondary school, a nursing home, a library, a pharmacy, a church, etc. The only thing missing is a swimming pool.
Low level of crime
The level of education in Fužine is the same as elsewhere in Ljubljana, but the crime rate in Fužine is lower than in other Ljubljana neighbourhoods. Criminals have long since become wealthy and moved to other Ljubljana neighbourhoods that are considered more elite. Only six percent of Fužine residents are unemployed.
Beef soup on Sundays
The people of Fužine also eat beef soup with noodles for lunch on Sunday, according to our guide. Slovenes prefer to eat traditional Slovene food, which is followed by Balkan, Italian, Chinese and Mexican food, and immigrants from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, or mostly their descendants by now, have the same order of preference.
A place that inspires
Quite a few famous people lived or still live in Fužine, and some of them spread the word of Fužine to other places, showing that this is a place with inspiring energy. Writer and director Goran Vojnović wrote the cult novel Čefurji raus! (Southern Scum, Go Home!), which takes place in Fužine, and its sequel Đorđić se vrača (Đorđić returns), while rapper Zlatko, known as Princ Fužinc (Fužine Prince), spoke about Fužine in his rap. Many other famous people lived here, such as singer Oto Pestner, journalist Matjaž Tanko, musician Vili Resnik, athletes Samir Handanović, Rašo Nesterović, Zlatan Ljubjankić, Branko Illić, coach Aleksander Sekulić and others.
Everyone is a resident of Fužine first
During the tour, the question arises as to how it is possible that the nationally colourful residents of Fužine do not quarrel amongst themselves. According to the guide, the community spirit is very strong in Fužine. The national make-up is mixed – the data from the 1991 census (data for nationality from the last census from 2002 are not publicly available due to the sensitivity of the topic) shows that Slovenes in the neighbourhood account for 59.96%, Serbs 14.27%, Muslims 6.15%, Croatians 6.25%, Montenegrins 0.36%, Macedonians 0.48%, and others 11.54%, but they are all residents of Fužine first, before anything else. All holidays, from Christmas to Eid are celebrated together.
Good transport links
Fužine is one of the easternmost neighbourhoods in Ljubljana, and may seem quite far from the city centre in a metaphorical and physical sense. But its transport links with other parts of the city are excellent. You can get to the city centre by bus in 15 minutes.
A taste of the Balkans
The Macedonia Trade store ensures that the neighbourhood is supplied with the food required for Balkan cuisine. Torshi, ajvar, lutenica, roasted peppers, Bosnian coffee, Turkish delight, sheep cheese, everything is available, and at low prices, explains the guide. And if you want a fresh and crispy burek, you can visit the bakery STARA PEKARNA 1931 – EUROKRUHEK.
Our tour through Fužine ends at the Balinček bar, where we are served burek and Cviček. The pleasant bar is located next to Ljubljanica, and as the name suggests, it also has an area for boules. It is next to an open-air library, which might also have a book that takes place in Fužine. The white pebbles looking so inviting, tempting visitors to lie down, but the guide warns us not to go for a swim, as the Ljubljanica river is quite fast here and therefore dangerous.
The next Fužine tour with the certified guide Nataša Flek will be organised December. Take the tour to visit the neighbourhood and learn much more about Fužine than you can from this article. All information is available on her Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/natasa.flek. We would like to thank the National Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia for giving us an opportunity to take the tour of Fužine as the part of European project Identity on the Line.
Photographs: Denis Simčič