The Prison Everyone Wants To Stay In | Inside Europe | DW | 11.12.2008
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Inside Europe

The Prison Everyone Wants To Stay In

It's fair to say that most people try to avoid going to jail. But in Ljubljana, people from all over are practically lining up to get into one. That's because the prison in question has been converted into a hip hostel.

Hostel Celica

Only the bars on the windows give away Hostel Celica's history

Hostel Celica is the Ritz of the backpacking world. You can't miss it: the outside walls are a riot of color. And inside, for around 20 Euros ($25), you get a comfy place to sleep, a beer garden, restaurant, and that all important Internet café -- not to mention regular parties, art exhibitions and jam sessions.

Previous guests didn't have it quite so good, says architect Janko Rozic.

"It has a really hard history because during the Second World War, this was the Nazi prison for all of Ljubljana," Rozic says.

Hostel Celica is the ultimate makeover. Rozic says the building was a jail for nearly 100 years -- from when it was built as a military prison in 1882 until 1991, when Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The barracks around it were then gradually demolished.

A room in Hostel Celica

All rooms still have original barred doors

But Rozic had a vision. He saw the old jail as a chance to make a statement about freedom and peace through art and aesthetics.

"For me, this was a personal problem: if it is possible to show that each building can be rebuilt and each part of our planet can be renovated and recovered in one way," Rozic says.

The entire project was done under very difficult conditions during the war in Yugoslavia. But Rozic mobilized his friends -- artists, sculptors, painters and architects -- and over the next 10 years, 80 of them put their creative energy into transforming the jail. A safe place to sleep

The word Celica is Slovenian for cell and the hostel has 20 of them. They're all unique with the individual stamp of the artists who renovated them.

Cell 107, for example, was designed by Maxim Issaev and Alexandra Manic. Two of the walls are completely decorated with an abstract mural from floor to ceiling in incredibly vivid and bright blues, browns and ocher.

Despite the unique designs of each room, there is still a window with bars on it, high up on the end wall. And behind each outside door is a second grill door: the original bars. So with all those bars, guests can feel pretty safe for their night's rest. Symbolism pervades all areas

In addition to the singularity of each room, Rozic says symbolism pervades every nook and cranny.

A room in Hostel Celica

This room emits a romantic air

"Orientation is the axis of function, so we have Oriental Café on the east, Western Café on the west and the Slovenian Restaurant in the middle," Rozic says.

The hostel offers a daily tour by a staff member who points out its artistic idiosyncrasies. Along with the original cells, there's a prayer room, another floor with dormitories and even a couple of dungeons.

During the tour, people staying in the cells are asked to keep their outer door unlocked so that everyone can have a sticky-beak inside through the bars.

Cultural activity a must

Architect Rozic helps organize events, such as jazz sessions, and sees them as an extension of what the artists have tried to achieve.

The common room at Hostel Celica

The common room is anything but prison-like

"It's true that the building is heavy," he says. "Because of this heaviness, it all the time needs a cultural activity to balance this."

Rozic says the contributors to the building invented a special term through the development.

"We often say we are improvising, but not only improvising, we say 'improve-ise' -- to improve things through the freedom of choice."

Twenty cells, 20 different dreams. There are guests who come back again and again to Hostel Celica for a new sleeping sensation. After all, it provides a unique opportunity to doss down surrounded by unique art installations.

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