It is not possible to get to know a city down to its core. It does not reveal itself whole. However, it is worth to search for its layers. That is exactly what Kaunasian Kotryna Lingienė does. She searches for Kaunas, its different hues, small-town and big-city feel, silence or bustle in-between existence and oblivion. She searches everywhere: in the City Centre, dormitory suburbs, architecture, street art, by looking at various signboards, reading street names. She not only searches but shares her discoveries: “It seems that the more you learn, the less you know,” observes Kotryna. 

Kotryna is a journalist well-known to Kaunas’, and not only Kaunas’, members of the cultural field. Together with her husband and like-minded colleagues she publishes the magazine Kaunas Pilnas Kultūros (Kaunas Full of Culture), is LRT Radio co-host discussing Kaunas and its people. K. Lingienė is one of the city’s cultural trainers as well. Starting mid-February, the volunteer programme of Kaunas – Capital of Culture 2022 will resume, which will invite new volunteers to join. To get to know the city and tell its story is what Kaunas 2022 volunteers, called culturists, are taught.

Kaunas’ Culturist Programme started last year when volunteers were invited to join the Kaunas 2022 team. They attended trainings, which were called Kaunas’ Cultural Training. That is what Kotryna conducted.

As 2022, the year of the capital of culture, approaches, the ranks of volunteers will grow, and, if the pandemic is over by 2022, the city will be visited by many foreign guests – not only tourists, but cultural experts and artists as well.

Kotryna, how did you yourself become the city’s cultural trainer?

I have prepared one of the publications for volunteers – Kultūristo Atlasas (Culturist’s Atlas). It is about how the story of Kaunas can be told to current guests and the ones arriving in 2022. Based on this publication, I have prepared trainings for volunteers. The first trainings took place in July, others – in winter, this time already remotely.

So how does one tell the story of Kaunas?

I have chosen two starting points – the airport and the railway station because they are the gates to the city, where the guests arrive. Of course, they may arrive with an automobile, but these two areas were my creative decision. So, from the railway station I travel through Vytauto Avenue, Kaunas Centre, then – through the Old Town. The central part of the city refers to the Modernism for the Future Programme and modernist architecture, we also implement the discoveries of the Memory Office Programme, which reveals the layers of Kaunas’ history.

We visit microdistricts, where communities are already collaborating with artists and in this way searching for their identity, strengths, are deciding how to present themselves to the world. After touring all of Kaunas, next we travel to Kaunas District. There, we concentrate on the Contemporary Neighbourhoods Programme: what is already happening or will soon happen in the neighbourhoods, how do we remember the history of cities and towns. We are also concerned with what can be found of interest, historical, what can already be observed, what people did and what they are doing.

Where have you learned about Kaunas yourself?

One of the first things I tell participants during trainings and remind myself all the time: the more you learn – the less you know. The best tour guide is the one, who is not afraid to admit that they do not know something. But they do have an idea where to look for the answer. Sometimes, it is better to say that you are not sure than to come up with theories based on stories you might have heard somewhere, which are not necessarily true.

I myself have been living in Kaunas again for the past 6 years, since I came back from Vilnius, where I had been living for 14 years. Therefore, after coming back I started to learn about Kaunas from the beginning. With my husband and like-minded colleagues, we publish the magazine Kaunas Pilnas Kultūros (Kaunas Full of Culture), hence each month we learn something new about Kaunas. About sculptures or music, about literature, fitness, food culture, street art. I am also the co-host of Lithuanian Radio – each week I discuss something about Kaunas. The knowledge is accumulating, and the circle of people who can tell me something interesting is expanding.

In your opinion, how much does the guest’s first impression on the city depend on how they will be greeted?

I think that it greatly depends on it. If it is a person who arrives here not on business, but for leisure, it means that Kaunas is somehow already interesting to them. It is important to understand why. Perhaps it is an individual interested in architecture, or perhaps street art is important to them, or the person simply came here to have a good time? Maybe they are searching for their family roots? This way of travel – or reason – is becoming increasingly more popular. People come to explore, raise questions. Well, regarding nature, Kaunas can be a great stop as well.

What is important is the first contact, the first conversation. Therefore, until then one should not set any particular boundaries.

What was a new discovery for you in Kaunas?

I am one of those people who find everything interesting. And I like to get surprised. I like to constantly learn something new. Not long ago, with one colleague who works in the heritage sphere, we were discussing the current J. Jablonskis Gymnasium. We both studied there (I, for a shorter period), at that time we paid no attention to the school’s building, and now it is a recognised modernist masterpiece. There are many sites, places in Kaunas that you discover only after some time. Maybe even from a distance. I simply enjoy walking through the streets, not necessarily in the City Centre, but in residential neighbourhoods too. I am a person of words; therefore, I am always very interested in signboards – how people express their imagination in this sphere. The names of services – such a variety. In other words, I really enjoy the art of signboards.

Lately, I have been interested in street names – now it is my passion. I have talked with specialists, I am surrounded by books, articles, I am also trying to dig up reasons why street names are named in one way or another. For example, everyone knows E. Ožeškienės Street in Kaunas. But who is she, Ožeškienė? So, that is why last week I purchased an old book by Elzė Ožeškienė.

As far back as before the First World War, E. Ožeškienė had her own bookshop in Vilnius, was a writer herself. She did not have an especially close relationship with Kaunas, even though she greatly enjoyed Nemunas river, spent her time in Druskininkai city. Thus, she wrote a novel titled Prie Nemuno (On the Niemen). The book appeared in Lithuanian in 1958. That is what I purchased. One could think that due to Nemunas, her street name remained in Kaunas throughout all the occupations. No one renamed it. Afterall, Nemunas is very important to us too. However, it is not a conclusion, just a thought.

There are two types of travellers. One type visits the so-called tourist spots, others – those which are non-tourist. You also suggest getting to know Kaunas’ microdistricts. Why are they interesting?

The City Centre is always nice, tidy, it is what the city wants you to see. You can spend your time nicely and comfortably just in the Old Town alone, in the Town Hall Square. But the residential neighbourhoods are the authentic ones, buzzing with life. They are also full of cultural – not necessarily high culture – sites. Wall paintings, sculptures, new churches, parks. Finally, marketplaces.

Concerning volunteers, in your opinion, what encourages to join cultural volunteering?

A volunteer seeks to spend their time in interesting ways, and in a manner that is helpful not only to themselves. Cultural volunteers improve themselves, and at the same time others. Even though it is common to believe that volunteers are the young, who are studying in schools or the first courses of universities because it has influence on their entry scores and etc, it was fun and interesting to see that among Kaunas’ cultural volunteers are people of various ages. And their eyes sparkle all the same.

They are interested in Kaunas, seek to discover it anew. Among volunteers there are people who have arrived to Kaunas recently, but there are also those who have lived here for many years, are old-timers. And they still find it interesting. That is the most important thing, it seems, it is what unites them. They are interested in their city, are not afraid to learn, they also wish to tell others about Kaunas.

Original text by Jurgita Lieponė, journalist of 15min. You can find the original text in 15min.lt website here.

Photographs by Martynas Plepys.