What appears to be just another village outside Zagreb has rather a lot to offer to the untrained eye. TCN visits Lekenik on January 11, 2018.
Croatian tourism does make me smile sometimes, with one example being the approach to promoting and making money from famous film locations which can be found all over the country. Game of Thrones tourism is booming in Croatia, or so some people would have you believe.
In actual fact, the official promotion of Game of Thrones tourism, a 12-month money-making gift from HBO, is actually rather embarrassing. As I pointed out in a recent editorial on why Croatia should be exploring more private partnerships with expert professionals to develop tourism, comparing Croatia’s official Game of Thrones tourism with Lord of the Rings in New Zealand is revealing indeed.
An interesting article in Forbes on the Lord of the Rings effect in New Zealand:
“According to the general manager of Western long-haul markets for Tourism New Zealand, Gregg Anderson, “We’ve seen a 50% increase in arrivals to New Zealand since Lord of the Rings.””
The New Zealand Tourist Board website shows an impressive 361 search results when one searches for ‘Lord of the Rings’. By contrast, the Croatian National Tourist Board has just ONE result if you search for ‘Game of Thrones’. There is no section on the Dubrovnik Tourist Board website for Game of Thrones at all – no clues as to how to find Kings Landing. In Kings Landing.
Which brings us to this house, some 30km outside Zagreb. A pretty wooden house which has seen better days, rarely visited deep in a nondescript street off the main road to Zagreb. There is no sign or anything to indicate that this is anything more than a simple wooden house which has seen better days.
And the house HAS seen better days. Indeed it is actually world famous in a way, for this was the house where a movie was filmed in 1971, a movie which won three Oscars, yet very few people know that it was filmed in Croatia. Learn more about the filming of Fiddler on the Roof in Lekenik in Nikolina’s excellent piece a few weeks ago.
One Jewish entrepreneur found out about the history and decided to do something about it, and you can learn more about that on Roni Brandl’s Rimon.hr website. He even started bringing Jewish tourists from Israel and the United States to see this snippet of Jewish culture and location of the famous movie. Working with the local tourist board director, they won an award for the best new tourist product from the county, while a themed souvenir also won an award.
And then, nothing. Apart from the efforts of Rimon.hr and the interest of a fat British blogger, the Lekenik house remains abandoned, unloved and forgotten up that nondescript road. Just 30km from Zagreb. Tourist potential, anyone?
Equally amazing, but for very different reasons, was this beautiful little section of the village, which we decided to visit – the SOS Children’s Village in Lekenik, founded in 1992 and the first of its kind in Croatia (and there are only two SOS Children’s Villages in Croatia, the other one being near Osijek). An international foundation, based in Austria, the official website tells us that
SOS Children’s Villages look after children without parents or parental care, regardless of their race, nationality or faith, providing them with love and security in the family environment, as well as a permanent home and education needed for happy and peaceful childhood.
Intrigued, we went off in search of more information. As the video above shows, it is a divine spot of several well-maintained houses surrounded by a sea of green, in much better condition that the rest of the village, at least in my opinion.
Funded by government, donations and the Hermann Gmeiner Fund in Munich (German funding which will stop in 2020), the SOS Children’s Village in Lekenik is playing a vital role in giving a new start to disadvantaged kids from all over the country, whose initial domestic situations made them the subject of court orders taking them into care.
Keeping biological siblings together in the same families, the kids live in an SOS house with their SOS family and SOS mother. They attend local schools and mix with the local children, and the village has an air of progress, happiness and modernity that one sometimes struggles to find in similar institutions in the region. One of the hard-working staff kindly took a few minutes to sit with us and answer our questions. In response to me asking what was the village’s greatest success in 25 years of existence, the answer was quickly forthcoming.
“Many children have come here from broken homes. Despite that unfortunate start, 399 out of 399 have gone on to be successful parents.”
One cannot put a price on that achievement.
SOS Children’s Villages exist in 130 countries in the world. If you would like to learn more (or donate) about the village in Lekenik, click here.