Cluj Napoca – the Best City You’ve Never Heard Of http://www.cluj2015.eu/
Cluj Napoca - this year's European Youth Capital

A city can rarely be summarized in a single article, but I’ll do my best to show you as many facets of the beautiful city of Cluj Napoca as I can.

Cluj Napoca is a dynamic city with a very youthful vibe – so it came as no surprise when it was elected as this year’s European Youth Capital. But this wasn’t always the case. Cluj has quite a long history, dating back to the Roman Empire, when parts of modern day Romania were under Roman rule. It has undergone many changes through the years, and even though it wasn’t always among the most influential cities in Romania, in the last few years, it has seen a “renaissance” in terms of culture.

There was also a “dark period” in the history of Cluj Napoca, which no one really likes to talk about – and that’s besides the 50 years of Communism that held us back and isolated us from the rest of the world. What I’m referring to is the 10 year period when we had a xenophobic mayor, whose main prerogative was to spread propaganda against a minority that has lived in this city for centuries – the Hungarians. As I said, Hungarians have been living alongside Romanians for centuries in this part of the country, and it is a shame that he maintained his position as mayor for so many years. The silver lining of this period was that, despite the mayor’s efforts, the regular people paid no attention to his propaganda and it didn’t affect our relations with the Hungarian minority too badly. Fortunately, in the last 10 years or so, we managed to distance ourselves from our former mayor’s reputation, and restore the multicultural vibe of the city.

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As I said earlier, Cluj Napoca is experiencing a sort of “renaissance”, which means that there are more and more cultural events, more cafes that double as art galleries, more alternative culture shows, and more opportunities for the thousands of young people who finish college in this city. Cluj is the second largest academic center in the country, which might explain the youthful vibe – there are literally tens of thousands of students that enroll every year in Cluj Napoca’s Universities. Academic centers will always be the breeding ground for great ideas, for ingenuity, and for innovation. The fact that Cluj has been elected as 2015’s European Youth Capital only amplifies this process of cultural innovation, and hopefully, it will help place Cluj Napoca on the cultural map of Europe.

Today, we have so many festivals and cultural events, that it’s hard to keep up with all of them, but it wasn’t always like this. It all began in the early 2000’s, with TIFF (Transylvania International Film Festival), that has become one of the biggest film festivals in Eastern Europe, and has inspired many others to try and make their ideas a reality. Now, we have several film festivals, from those focused on short movies or comedies, to those focused on movies in a certain language, but they’re all promoting movies made with lower budgets, by people who are just now starting their careers as directors and actors. Besides film festivals, we have several theatre festivals, music festivals, stand-up comedy festivals, art festivals, student’s festivals and many others. Besides all the events that are being held every year, in 2015 there will be many more things going on, to attract young tourists and students.

sharecluj.jpgThe Share Federation is the organization that helped with the candidature of Cluj, and this year it will be involved in most of the projects for the youth. This is how they describe themselves on their website: “The SHARE Federation Cluj-Napoca was created with the purpose of investing in the youth for a sustainable and responsible urban development and also for supporting the youth communities of Cluj-Napoca by implementing the Cluj-Napoca 2015 – European Youth Capital program, by helping them organise different programs or projects.” (source). 

All the members are volunteers, and they are always looking for more young people to help with their projects. And because volunteering is now considered to be work experience, this is a great opportunity for students who are just starting their career.

We have a website for this year’s events and news, http://www.cluj2015.eu/ and we have a calendar, where any person or NGO can post their event for youth, and promote it. This calendar is a great tool for smaller organizations, which don’t have many resources to promote themselves and their initiatives. It’s also very useful for potential tourists, who can check the calendar and choose the dates of their visit by the events that are in certain periods of the year. My advice, as a local, would be to come in May, or at the end of May, when there are a million things going on. For me, May is always the busiest month of the year, and it ends nicely with TIFF, the film festival. Cluj is always a busy city, but during May, it’s like everything comes to life, and every day you can find a new awesome activity to do.

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To give you some examples of past events, there was one festival, when several hundred people got together to form a human labyrinth, there was a year when at TIFF there were a few theatre shows played in small cars, with the 2 actors in the front, and 3 spectators in the back seat, and last summer there were a few get-togethers in the Central Park, where people came with hammocks and books, and spent their whole afternoons reading, relaxing and socializing. As you can see, Cluj has something for everyone. And if all the events don’t persuade you to come and visit this youthful city, maybe this spooky fact will: the Hoia-Baciu forest, at the periphery of the city, has had some paranormal activity recorded by many different people, and it is rumored to be a landing spot for UFOs.

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This article started as a way to talk about all the wonderful and exciting events that will take place in Cluj this year, but I just realized that I haven’t mentioned too many; but maybe that’s a good thing after all. Maybe I made you curious about this great city that you’ve probably never heard of, and you’ll want to visit it just to see if I was right. But I will say this, whether you come here for the music, the indie film festivals, or the nightlife, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Electric Castle, Jazz in the Park, TIFF, Comedy Cluj, Cluj Shorts, The Untold Festival (which sold out its early-bird tickets before any artists were announced), Temps D’Images and Photo Romania Festival are just some of the bigger happenings of the year, but there are many more smaller events, that you can find out about from our calendar. And don’t forget about our many pubs – they say that in Cluj, there’s a party in every basement, because so many of our pubs are located in the basements of the old buildings downtown.

As you can see, Cluj is a multicultural youthful city, with many cultural events and festivals, with a famous nightlife, and with spooky stories to tell. We were chosen as the friendliest city with foreign people in Europe (source), so you can be sure that you’ll feel welcomed here. And if you are thinking about the food, we have lots of great restaurants, both cheap and expensive, but make sure that you taste a traditional Kurtos-Kalacs, a delicious Hungarian pastry.