By Amanda Allbee
On a typical day, the robust sound of a lonely saxophone echoes down a sequestered street in the city of Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. During the eleven days of Cest is D’Best, Croatia’s oldest street festival, music is ubiquitous; it reverberates throughout the city, synchronizing with the pulsing heartbeat of Zagreb and its people. Inaugurated twenty years ago by famous Croatian street musicians, the Kings of the Street, Cest is D’Best occupies the streets and parks of Zagreb annually. It turns the city’s centers into stages, including Jelačić Square, Cvjetni Square, in Bogovićeva Street, Tkalčićeva Street and in Zrinjevac Park. On its 20th anniversary, the Kings are able to take considerable pride in the fact that their once intimate production has grown into an international spectacle of talent; 2016 features acts from Japan, Venezuela, Italy, Germany, The United States and beyond.
Like Croatian people, the festival is as celebratory as it is reflective and nurturing. While international rock music performed by AC/DC cover bands and dancing German-speaking clowns pump energy through the veins of the city, importance is placed on emotional health of people and the well-being of the city. Hands-on activities include mood-improvement seminars, a famous comical sign language workshop called Rest-Stop for The Tongue, and an opportunity to paint the town with positivity. Pastelizacija Sidewalk is an event intended to “cheer up” the streets of the city through art, anyone is welcome to take a crayon to the sidewalks of Zrinjevac Park. Another popular event to view is a tricycle race between the street sweepers of Zagreb, where those who contribute to the wellbeing of the city are also celebrated in a unique way.
Nationality, religion, language, age- Cest is D’Best allows participants to break free of the single stories which define us in our everyday lives. Judgement is shunned, uninhibited creativity is strongly encouraged. Zagreb, a city with an open-door attitude that already ushers visitors in with warmth and immediate acceptance, not only cheerfully welcomes but fervidly celebrates foreign cultures and talents during these eleven days. Smiling while walking through the city during the Cest is D’Best festival is unavoidable; whether a man perched on a piano with wheels boisterously belting out show tunes is pushed past you down the sidewalk with a line of children trailing, or you witness a troupe of mimes with head-to-toe white painted bodies and faces take a break post-performance, indulging in a beer from a street cart, a feeling of goodness in people and the world is regained in some sense- how often do we all get together just to laugh?
The streets of Zagreb do not just become a venue for entertainment and a stage for creativity and culture during Cest is D’Best. Consistently throughout the summer, the centers of the city become vessels for celebration and imagination. Normality is not customary in this city. Festivals that occur during the summer in Zagreb include “Summer on Strosu,” musical events which take place in Uppertown on Strossmeyer Boulevard; a parade of old-time cars through the city streets called the Oldtimer Club Zagreb, The International Folklore Festival in Jelačić square, film festivals, wine and cheese tastings, concerts, never-ending events for locals and foreigners alike to experience the culture of Croatia typically free of charge.