Albertas Kazlauskas     ©Julija Tamulevičiūtė

Albertas Kazlauskas

Interviewed by Agnė Sadauskaitė

Photographed by Julija Rūkas

Translated by Julija Laurinaitytė

One would like to call Albertas a street artist. Although he doesn’t paint on the walls, does not play the guitar in Pilis street, but with his words paints the history of Vilnius’s districts and composes street music by attracting an army of interested people who join a tour around the city. When you hear it, you say – “Streets alive!”

“Streets alive” is an initiative organizing free tours. It all has started in Vilnius and slowly expands into other cities of Lithuania. Has this initiative started in order to blend in with the uproar of the streets, or wanting to make more noise?

To be honest, there was no goal to start a project. Everything started quite quickly with a desire to organise tours for the foreign tourists. I was lacking the contacts in the sphere of tourism: I was new and nobody. I was hoping if I organize a few tours for the friends they will recommend me as a guide for their acquaintances from abroad. I organized first tours in Lithuanian in Užupis. It happened to be popular and more people became interested. So many that I had to create a new tour, as well as give it a name, internet website, logo. I could not continue everything as Albertas. At that point „Streets alive“ were born. Today our „grand“ project consists of two people – me and my friend Viktorija. So, to answer your question precisely, there was no aim to cause the noise in the streets. To blend in – who knows, probably not.

Albertas Kazlauskas       ©Julija Tamulevičiūtė

During one tour you have mentioned that before you became a guide, you were working as a firefighter and you how quickly parts of the city can disappear. Maybe it is symbolic, but has this experience changed your view to the environment?

My view has changed only last year, when I became seriously involved in the discovering the city and the tours. In 2011 when I had to extinguish former general-gubernator residence in Žvėrynas, for sure I did not know what kind of building or its historical value. I was just doing my work.

I hope that people who come to take a walk around the city with „Streets alive“ also contribute to different evaluation of the city. After all, media usually presents new buildings because they are modern and economical – glass giants with thousands of work places. Their value is questionable. Who will introduce you to amazing wooden buildings in Vilnius, invisible palaces, and the factories that are being demolished? I am keen on doing that – it is so interesting.

Vilnius is full of fascinating stories and undiscovered places. Quite recently, during one excursion to Markučiai, you showed a version of the village in the city – just fifteen minutes away from the city – chickens are being kept, met with the yapping of the dogs and the curious looks from the windows. What was the biggest discovery when you started organizing the tours?

I could not choose one. There’s always a pleasure to find a relation between separate facts which looked as if it has fallen from the moon, i.e. an ability to analyse and ponder. However, it is always a pleasure when during the tour you have a chance to accidentally meet with Kazys Saja or Antanas Kmieliauskas.

You are probably one of those people who notice how the city changes and together the stability of the city. Apart from the city’s infrastructure, people, buildings, one can talk about the notion of „genius loci”- the spirit of the place and how it manifests. Where is Vilnius genius loci?

The question is very philosophical. Quite recently I was reading a book  „Missa Vilensis“, which tells a lot about Vilnius loci and I realised it is too early for me to talk about it. In 10 years I will be able to cite some mature, worth-quoting phrase. So far I will limit myself to saying that I really like Vilnius. Here, I sit in my apartment in Naujininkai. City centre is within a hand reach, but outside is quiet, sun is shining, the trees are sighing blown by a gentle wind, tennis players are hitting the ball.

Probably the biggest advantage of Vilnius is that it is growing and multicultural capital, where you can hide between the trees without running away.

Albertas Kazlauskas©Julija Tamulevičiūtė

If we consider heritage as some form consciousness, when the past is respected and understood, „Streets are alive“ contribute to the realization of a big mission . During the tours you pay a lot of attention to the heritage objects, which are at emergency state. Such as Epšteinas brewery in Subačius street. How do you evaluate to state of heritage in the country? Don’t you think that some objects are too often left in a state of neglect?

It is a painful topic but however, what scares me more than the maintenance of present heritage, is the new architecture. It seems sometimes that most of the builders of the glass monsters are shamelessly greedy or have no taste. But to fight against “big” money is apparently difficult. What concerns preserving the current heritage, I believe the consciousness of people is increasing. Publicity and other activities might help where the institutions are oblivious. A perfect example would be 52 Polockas street (wooden house, built in 1876 preservation project – authors note). There is a public uproar and exactly because of active citizens this beauty will be preserved.

Besides of tours in the Old Town, you are also organizing tours in Žirmūnai. Why have you chosen this district which was built in the soviet times?

After all, 50000 people live in Žirmūnai! I think it’s really interesting to explore a place where lives every 10th Vilnius citizen. Moreover, the architects of Žirmūnai district were awarded by the National award. Again, it’s interesting – why they were awarded. Other thing, for young people like me, soviet history is somehow exotic. Today schoolbooks lack the stories about soviet architecture, industry and so on. After all, what the hell is a house of blocks?

Aren’t you planning to organise the bus stops of Vilnius tour?

A while ago I was thinking it would be interesting to organize a tour about phone booths. But then I realized there won’t be anything to say. I don’t know if the same situation wouldn’t happen with the bus stops. It’s interesting to show it, but what to say about it? On the other hand, I haven’t properly explored this topic (smiles mysteriously).

Albertas Kazlauskas   ©Julija Tamulevičiūtė

Paskelbta: December 30, 2017

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