Today there is a reason to celebrate and be happy and that despite the fact that there is a border in the European Union today. Because April 1 is the state holiday of the Republic of Užupis. Never heard of it? Hardly surprising. Because the small republic in the heart of Vilnius is not officially recognized by any country in the world. However, you don’t need to be afraid of it: It is not a Russian-backed breakaway-state of heavily armed separatists. On the contrary, the Republic of Užupis has committed itself to being the only country in the world to renounce the use of force. To this end, the army, which originally consisted of 11 men, was even disbanded. But why does it exist at all and what is it all about? We will explain it to you.
Užupis – The former poor man’s district of Vilnius
Užupis – Lithuanian for “behind the river”, was once a district of Vilnius that was considered especially poor. Many Jews lived here, separated from the rest of Vilnius. Until the 16th century there wasn’t even a bridge connecting the old town with Užupis. Even in Soviet times, many houses did not have electricity, only a few were even connected to the sewage system.
But the neighborhood had one big advantage: it was very close to the art academy. Many of the art students therefore moved here. When Lithuania became independent, some of the artists stayed. During the 1990s the quarter turned into a drug and crime hotspot. Something had to be done.
Border control only on April 1st
So it happened that one evening in 1998 Romas Lileikis and Tomas Čepaitis sat together and wanted to do something about the bad reputation of their neighborhood. They wanted to give the neighborhood its own identity, wrote a constitution, and without further ado founded the Republic on an area of slightly less than one square kilometer. Today, Lileikis is the president of the republic and Čepaitis is the foreign minister.
The bridge over the Vilnia River is the border crossing into the Republic of Užupis. That is why the welcome sign for visitors to the republic is placed here. Therefore, every year on April 1st, the imndependence day, there is even a border checkpoint where visitors can get their passport stamped. By the way, this is not such a good idea, because I had my passport stamped once, which made crossing some borders difficult because no border guard ever knew what this is.
The most beautiful constitution in the world
The Republic of Užupis is not about declaring independence by force of arms. Rather, the republic is meant to remind visitors to think freely and take life with humor. The Constitution of the Republic of Užupis was written in this spirit in 1998. Exactly how it came into being and who stated which article is something the founders can no longer remember today – partly because the evening is said to have been quite rich in alcohol.
In the end, however, there were 41 articles on paper. For example, the constitution states, among other things, that every person has the right to be happy. As with most articles of the Constitution, however, every citizen is left free to choose, because it also states: “Everyone has the right to be unhappy.” Each as he pleases. Here are some of my other favorite articles of the Constitution:
- 1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
- 3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
- 12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
- 14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
- 20. No one has the right to violence.
- 24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
- 31. Everyone may be independent.
As you can see, not all articles are completely serious. But it is a nice reminder that people should be kinder to each other and that all people have the right to live the way they want.
Užupis is in each of us
Užupis is a good breeding ground for creative ideas. A republic of free thinking, kindness and the creative. This is exactly what is being celebrated on April 1st. Usually there is a concert of famous Lithuanian bands, an open day at the creative people of the district and of course a lot of fun and even more alcohol. And even though the official celebration is probably cancelled today because of the Corona pandemic, everyone can celebrate this day for themselves. Not only does Užupis have embassies in many countries, where it is represented by artists. Somehow there is a bit of Užupis in each of us
The most beautiful sights of Užupis
The Republic of Užupis exists only on April 1st with border controls. However, friendly people are let in in any case, so no worries. On all other days of the year there are also some very nice sights to see, which you should not miss when you are visiting Vilnius.
Užupio Kavine – Parliament of the Republic of Užupis
As befits a republic, of course, the Republic of Užupis has its own parliament. Quite practically, it is a pub on the bank of the Vilnia. The terrace is a great place to sit and enjoy the day. You can drink a few beers and perhaps write your own constitution or add your own paragraphs to the existing one.
Wall of the Constitution
In the Paupio gatvė there is a wall on which the Constitution is displayed. But because the idea of the Republic of Užupis is universal, over the years more and more boards in different languages were added. Now you can read the Constitution there not only in Lithuanian, English and German, but in more than 30 languages. New languages are constantly being added. For this purpose, the real embassies of countries with these languages often sponsor a new plaque, which is then engraved.
Angel of Užupis
The Angel of Užupis with his horn is the symbol of the Republic of Užupis. He proclaims the artistic freedom of everyone. Outside the pandemic, people gather here on April 1 and celebrate the holiday with a big party, including a parade and a concert. Before the Angel, the Egg of Užupis stood here, but it has since been given another place in the Old Town.
Art in Užupis
What would the artists’ quarter be without art? Fortunately, there is plenty of it in Užupis. Everywhere in the alleys you will find something. You can see the first works of art as soon as you cross the Fluxus Bridge. In the Art Incubator there are exhibitions to see and artists can apply for a residency and work here. In the Museum of Art History Tartle (Užupio gatvė. 40) you can learn everything about the development of Lithuanian art from pagan to contemporary art. The Jonas Mekas Center for Visual Arts (Malūnų gatvė 8), on the other hand, will show you the work of many artists of photo, film and computer art.
Vilnius is not located by the sea. Nevertheless, there is a mermaid here. The Mermaid of Užupis. She has been decorating a niche in the wall by the Vilnia River, directly opposite the Užupio Kavinė, since 2002. She was created by the sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas and is also often simply called the Girl of Užupis.
Bridge over the Vilnia
The walk to Vilnius leads in most cases over the bridge over the Vilnia. Thousands of love locks hang here, which have existed here for a very long time and have been left here until now, unlike in Prague or other cities. Also here is the famous entrance sign for the Republic of Užupis.
Eating in Užupis
Nothing is left of the former crime stronghold and today you can stroll leisurely through the streets of Užupis. Many cafes and restaurants invite you.
- The Republic of Užupis is so close to the people that you can even eat here right in the parliament. Because Užupio Kavinė is actually a restaurant right on the Vilnia. The food is international, just like Užupis itself. The prices are moderate. But Užupio Kavinė is especially nice when you can sit and relax on the banks of the Vilnelė in the summer.
- Also nice is the restaurant Paupio 12, which is also the address. Here you can find upscale cuisine and international wines. Quite a good gastronomic experience.
- For dessert, however, you should definitely go to Liu Patty (Užupio gatvė 20), which offers all kinds of sweet things.
Accommodation in Užupis
In Užupis itself there is no hotel so far. If you want to stay overnight in the district, you can only rent a vacation apartment. You can use providers like booking.com.
Lithuania book tips
There are only proper travel guides for the whole Baltic States not for Lithuania alone. But the Lonely Planet is a good choice for getting more information and a good overview, especially if you are visiting more than just Lithuania.
Labas! That means hello in Lithuanian. And even if there are only a few million speakers of this Baltic language, the Complete Lithuanian Beginner to Intermediate Course helps you very well to learn at least a little of the language. This will not only help in everyday life, but will also open the heart of one or the other Lithuanian for you.
Especially if you are traveling by car, it is good to have a map with you. Lithuania has a pretty good network coverage, but there are still one or two dead spots.