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Druskininkai

Nineteenth-century spa town Druskininkai on the Nemunas River is Lithuania’s oldest and most chic. During the days of the USSR, the old and ailing flocked to this famous health resort in search of miracle cures for all sorts of ailments that its vast dinosaur sanatorium treated. Today, as investments flood in, Druskininkai is sheding its fusty old grey-haired image. Chic weekend spa breaks for young, hip and wealthy Lithuanians seeking a quick detox from city life is that makes Druskininkai tick these days.

Salty mineral water aide, Druskininkai was the home of romantic painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. Around the corner is the Baltics’ only Soviet sculpture park.
 

Stalin World

Headline-grabbing Grutas Park opened amid controversy in 2001. Dubbed Stalin World, this collection of bronzes sculptures once stared down Big Brother-style at oppressed Lithuanians in parks and squares countrywide. The former head of a collective farm, Viliumas Malinauskas made his fortune canning mushrooms then won the loan of the hated objects from the Ministry of Culture in 1999 and transformed part of his 2-sq-km estate into Soviet sculpture park.

Built to resemble a Siberian concentration camp, the park entrance is marked by a Soviet-Polish border crossing with barbed wire, red-and-white (Polish) and red-green (USSR) striped poles. Next to it is single carriage in which Lithuanians were deported to Siberia. Once through the turnstile, Russian tunes blast from watchtowers, and in the restaurant, visitors eat vodka-doused sprats and onions with Soviet-made cutlery. Tacky souvenir stalls are rife; there is a playground with old Soviet swings and mini children’s zoo – all of which lends itself to critics branding the park a diabolical version of Disney.

Yet par’s attention to detail – reflected in the constructed rural Soviet polling station where visitors can sign the park’s visitors’ book – is impressive. In another building Soviet art is displayed and stained-glass gallery is planned. Top of the bill are 13 Lenins, two Stalins, six Kapsukas and various other communist heroes.

Accused of trivializing Soviet horrors, Malinauskas, whose father spent 10 years in Siberian camps, said: ‘This is a place reflecting the painful past of our nation which brought pain, torture and loss. One cannot forget or cross out history – whatever it is’.