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Published: September 12th 2007
There is a t-shirt that you can by as a souvenir here in kaunas on which is written ‘Kaunas yra Kaunas’.
This is the sort of de-facto slogan of the city, though I don’t think it is one you will find in tourbooks or brochures.
‘Kaunas yra Kaunas’ simply means ‘Kaunas is Kaunas.’ As I have come to understand, the city of Kaunas and its people have a certain reputation in Lithuania as being sort of rough-edged, a city where the energy and mannerisms from ‘Old Soviet Times’ are still extremely pervasive in society, moreso than other cities, in particular other Lithuanian cities comparable in size. The belief is that Kaunas people, externally atleast, are ‘harder.’ Life here is ‘harder’ and ‘heavier’ than in, say, Klaipeda or Vilnius, the two Lithuanian cities larger than Kaunas.
The slogan ‘Kaunas yra Kaunas’ therefore carries a sense of pride with it; it is a statement by Kaunas people, a sort of defensive response to those that say Kaunas is, bluntly put, a rough and unpleasant place. "Kaunas is what it i,s" says the slogan, "and we like it that way." (And people who don’t like it are ignorant or simply don’t know the place well enough or jealous maybe........)
It is ironic to me that this t-shirt, often sold in souvenir shops, can only truly be understood and appreciated by those who are from Kaunas—not by the tourists buying the shirts.
What strikes me about Kaunas, though, is the extreme contrasts that coexist here. The Malls: 'Mega' and 'Akropolis', the pizza restaurants, the night clubs and bowling alleys, the fancy shops, the fancy clothing and styles people wear, the new flashy BMW’s and Mercedes cars…….and then the soviet high-rises, the broken sidewalks and roads, the microbuses and old trolleybuses, the cold stoney faces and lack of cordial greetings from the people you meet in the streets (with some exceptions), the military-esque mail trucks, the big trucks that dominate the city roads,the old Russian model cars, even the Russian that you can still hear spoken in the streets. The funeral homes, hospitals, schools, that are fully made of concrete, perfect 90-degree corners, and bars on the windows. Windowpanes so thick that you can’t through to see if there is life within.
The vegetable stand that will sell you a kilogram of potatoes for fifty cents and the McDonalds who sells u a small order of french fries for three bucks.
The restaurant that will sell you a cepelinas, traditional Lithuanian meal, for 2 bucks and the designer shop that sells you a designer shirt for 150 bucks.
This is what strikes me about Kaunas.
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