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  • Writer's pictureMatthias

Why Kikinda is a true hidden gem

Who doesn’t know that feeling – you’re on vacation, thoroughly exploring a foreign country. You‘re checking out the important stuff, eating the local food and making your (possibly one time) trip count. Until at one point you pretty much already need a little rest from all the R&R itself. And all of a sudden it’s time for a quick getaway to recuperate and collect some energy for more vacaying! In Serbia the ideal place for that quick getaway is the small Vojvodina town of Kikinda with its population of 40,000 – and with enough interesting things to do and see in a few hours without wearing you out. You can visit two of the best museums in Serbia, eat and stay in a wonderfully odd accommodation and drink a spectacularly good coffee before your departure. Done – recovered!

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Let’s start with the part for city geeks. After first settlements in the area in the 14th century Kikinda became a prime example for urban planning in the second half of the 18th century. A quick look at its map still reveals a dense street network of right angles, corresponding to the settlement plans of this region in that time, including a central market square with town hall, church, school and the like assembled around it. And believe it or not, part of that network is also a real record holder! In 2015 Generala Drapšina street made it on the Architecture & Design‘s list of "The world's most magical streets shaded by flowers and trees". I admit, it’s a very specific title, but a title nonetheless! And actually a quite deserved one.

Now, earlier I mentioned two museums that are worth the trip to Kikinda alone. The first one is the local National Museum (Narodni muzej Kikinda), possibly one of the most likable ones in all of Serbia. Founded in 1946 its exhibition shows everything from biology and art to history and urban development, nicely arranged and beautifully presented in the small space of the former District’s Magistrate (Kurija). The focus however is on its main attraction Kika, a 500,000 year old mammoth skeleton that was found in 1996 and stands as one of the best preserved in Europe.

A few years before that historical discovery, more specifically in the early 1980s, an artist collective began to take shape (and create shapes) in an old brick factory from 1895. That laid the groundworks for today‘s Museum Terra, Europe's only institution presenting the ancient art form of terracotta sculpting. The collection currently consists of about 1,000 sculptures that make Museum Terra a truly unique place to see on the continent. After all, the last large-scale production of large-size terracotta sculptures on European soil in history was done by the Etruscans in the 6th and early 5th century BC.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

To keep the thousands-of-years-old art alive, every year the group is holding the International Terracotta Sculpture Symposium Terra, an open air exhibition of their sculptures in the city streets. Beforehand they call on artists from all over the world to apply with their own creations (Australia being the only country that has never followed that call) of which 5-8 will then be chosen to come to Kikinda and work here, in a one-of-a-kind artistic environment, preparing the Symposium.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

With all this busy business it’s not really a surprise that the old museum’s space quickly became scarce, which is why a second location was opened at old military barracks at the edge of town that now house the permanent exhibition of old and annually new works while the aforementioned factory hall primarily serves as an atelier. The area of the barracks is also supposed to be converted into an official terracotta academy over the next few years, which will pass on the art form to younger generations. Even the Serbian state had to acknowledge the unique character of this institution and is gonna invest official funding, something that very rarely happens. Both the museum and the studio can be visited (by prior arrangement), although especially the latter has something magical about it, with the countless silent sculptures rising from the tall grass around the beautifully derelict structure of the former factory.

Once you have explored all the magical right-angled streets, ancient tusks and international clay sculptures it’s probably time for dinner and bed. Conveniently the most popular restaurant in town is also your best place to spend the night. Twenty combines classic 19th century style with charming modern-day kitsch like chessboard wall patterns, grass carpet and vintage cabinets with fairy lights. It may sound like a lot, but it works, trust me. Staying true to that concept Twenty's kitchen serves culinary ideas as excellent as crazy, for instance chicken with rocket and white chocolate. Well, you did come here to take a break from the traditional Serbian cuisine...

Start your second day with a walk around the beautifully landscaped area of the Old Lake (Staro jezero), depending on the time of day and the season either a lively meeting point or a quiet retreat. The hustle and bustle it has once seen no longer takes place – a minigolf course has overgrown and an outdoor sports pool merely offers a historical backdrop while the cute pavilion on the water provides some romance.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

To finish your short trip do as the Serbs do and have a coffee – in undoubtedly one of the country’s best places for that! Mala Radionica (little workshop) doesn't only offer a stylish meeting point for all generations, above everything else it has one clear mission: craft coffee! Whether cold brew or filter roast, Colombia or Rwanda, fruity or sour – the shop knows how to do it and celebrates the waking-up drug as art in a cup. And in no time you will be all energized for the real vacation again!

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