It is freezing, and I constantly feel a bit ill and with a throbbing in my throat. It has been snowy white for long periods through February while ice flakes have made their way down the Neris River, which floats by my house. March is more optimistic and the sun shines through, but it is still a while, I am sure, until I can enjoy the spring in the Lithuanian capital.
I have resided in Vilnius for two months now, and start to get the feel of the city. It is a very vibrant city though winter tends to have a grip on the people, as it supposedly has anywhere in the world.
Vilnius is a small capital city of approximately 550.000 people and I am constantly surprised that such a small city can hold so much. I still feel that I have not in the least seen all there is to see.
But perhaps my feeling of having to know the place inch by inch wouldn’t exist if I saw any similarity to my own home in Copenhagen. So much is different here, on the other side of the Baltic Sea.
Many things are rather new to me. The heating system, the curd and the love of transparent plastic bags, just to mention a few. But also just the entire feel of the city.
I constantly think that Vilnius holds some secret that I have yet to discover. Perhaps it is best to explain it by saying that there is simply something about Vilnius.
Whether I will discover any of Vilnius’ many secrets is still to be seen. I am in Vilnius for a six months period, working as an intern. I will be so lucky as to experience how the city comes to life in the Spring after a cold and long winter.
Maybe that is the secret that has been withheld me, the secret of Spring, of that feeling in the air. Something which will become Vilnius very much. But as I wait for springtime, I might use the time to say a bit about how Vilnius came about.
As many other European cities, Vilnius has a folklore tale about its origin, and as with the tale about the origin of Rome, it includes a wolf. But, personally I think, the story of Vilnius is much cooler as the wolf depicted in the story is an iron wolf.
One day Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, went on a hunting trip. This would have been somewhere in the 1310’s or perhaps the 1320’s.
After a long day he camps at the crossing of the rivers Neris and Vilna and during the night he has a dream – because all good tales and legends include a dream.
He dreams of a huge iron wolf, howling on the top of the hill by which he has camped. In the woods around the hill, thousands of other wolfs can be heard howling back at the huge iron wolf.
As he wakes up and leaves for his castle in Trakai, he asks a pagan priest, what this dream has meant and he receives the following answer;
What is destined for the ruler and the State of Lithuania, is thus: the Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site. This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world.
Gediminas followed the advise, moved his capital to Vilnius and is today, in Lithuanian folklore, recognised as the founder of Vilnius, as letters written by him are the first written sources mentioning Vilnius.
For this reason Gediminas has given name to many places and sights in central Vilnius; Gedimino Prospektas, Gedimino Hill, Gedimino Tower – on top of the hill – and so forth.
My favourite, however, is the statue of Gediminas, revealed in 1996 and placed on the Cathedral Square, just next to the street, the tower and the hill. This statue depicts Gediminas on his horse and makes the impression that he was a Japanese Samurai warrior.
In addition to Samurai-Gediminas and his horse, the statue includes a depiction of the iron wolf, which today is the symbol of Vilnius. But in difference to the description in the tale, this huge iron wolf is about the size of a modern day chi-hua-hua in comparison to Samurai-Gediminas and his horse.