This self-proclaimed independent neighborhood is the Brooklyn of Lithuania.
Wandering across the serene Vilnia River in historic Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, into the quaint and compact neighborhood of Užupis, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, this is the kind of place whose reputation precedes it: Once a dubious den of drugs and crime, Užupis has blossomed during the past two decades into a colorful community of oddballs and freethinkers. This is Lithuania’s freest neighborhood.
Shortly after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, Užupis did the same — but from the rest of Lithuania. Locals drafted a constitution, which, though purely symbolic, conveys a simple spirit through 41 articles such as: “Everyone has the right to be unique.” Each article, translated into two dozen languages and etched on a silver plaque, hangs side by side on a wall on Paupio Street.
Like the Brooklyn of Lithuania, Užupis is brimming not only with hippies and artists, but also fancy coffee shops and yuppies with kids. Tinged with equal parts grit and glamor, it’s caught in an ever-shifting balance between gentrification and authenticity.