When the USSR finally collapsed in 1991, most of Eastern Europe's caviar-puking oligarchs got busy buying up all the expensively-built factories and refineries that sat abandoned across the old Soviet Union. Patrick Lion wasn't one of those proles who simply downed tools and wandered off to dig for vodka in the snow, but he wasn't the sharpest rich orphan in the Motherland, either, so by the time he arrived at the party, all that was left was the last standing collective Farm in the Baltic. But Patrick's a good sport, so when faced with the dilemma of what to do with his newly-acquired plot, he did what I think anyone in his position should do: he built a theme park that doesn't make any sense.
What you're looking at is not just a collection of weird little communist cars, dilapidated slaughterhouses, and idly grazing livestock. It is actually the site upon which will one day stand Europe's No. 1 Leninist Christmas Utopia. When I arrived, Patrick was in good spirits, as you'd imagine anyone building Europe's No. 1 Leninist Christmas Utopia would be. He offered to give me a tour.
After Lithuania declared independence in 1991, collectives like this one in the small town of Kernave were shut down, and ownership was split between the residents. Barely worth the paper they were written on, most happily gave up their sliver of cake to guys like Patrick at a time when a small deposit of cash was more useful than a timeshare in a tractor shed.
Overjoyed with his unrealized Atlantis, Patrick had a vision: to build a Christmas-themed culture park in this former backwater of anti-materialist oppression. Patrick is Finnish-French and grew up in Lapland, so to him it seemed like a good idea to bring some of that Santa magic to a place where winter temperatures regularly dive below -20f.
Perhaps he forgot that for half a century Santa was re-named "Father Frost" in Soviet Lithuania and was turned into a nightmarish communist bogeyman. Thankfully, when the USSR died, "Father Frost" died with it, and the Lithuanians turned to a more happy-go-lucky nation to set its festive agenda: Australia. Now, these guys make sure that everyone in Lithuania gets a stolen car and a punch in the mouth for Christmas.
Through his site re-invention, Patrick hopes Kernave, already an underplayed UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its ancient burial mounds, will become the new center of Eastern European tourism. Who needs the competitive sex economies of Prague or Tallinn, when you can have ancient burial mounds and a kitten on a horse?
That is a horse, right?
No, you idiot, it's not a horse. Having already brought the first ever donkeys to Lithuania from France (apparently donkeys are not the air-mile hungry globetrotters I thought they were), he is currently training up a load of reindeer from Finland to get used to a new climate in the Baltic. Nice to see him continuing the traditions of the collective farm with a series of forced deportations.
Patrick received the farm as is – littered with its former residents' abandoned stuff and all the rusting technical equipment that ensured the farm remained woefully inefficient and unprofitable. Patrick shows me the collective's original highway code revision board. He says the men here had to revise and recite it once a month, because they were all so deeply absorbed by alcoholism they'd often forget what a red light was and crash into a sheep.
Here's another cartoon, which shows us that the people of the Kolkoz were so absorbed by the Communist hivemind that they had to be reminded not to let smoking wolves cook dinner.
I don't know if the former occupants had left their booze behind, too, but Patrick told me he's actually been making good headway with his project so far. With the help of a few local laborers and visiting teams of boy scouts, he's been rebuilding the site piece-by-piece—rounding up the Communist paraphernalia, including a host of the era's vehicles, and slowly rebuilding the interiors of rooms to make them look pretty again. He's even started digging an underground sauna, an idea that only served to remind me a lot of hell, but then I haven't spent decades living under the Kremlin yoke.
As we walk around the grounds, Patrick shows me stacks of paperwork in Russian in every corner. “I've been collecting this stuff,” he says, “one day I'll search through it all and see if I discover any secrets of the Soviet Union.” For now, the Leninist Christmas Utopia remains the priority.
When we're down by the manmade island that he hopes will one day become an adventure playground for the kiddies, Patrick gives me the rub. It's going to take more than a few Christmas hats shoved on old Lenin busts for this to work. Really, he needs six million Euros, not boy scouts, to get his dream off the ground and into action by 2015, his deadline for opening. “We're looking for investors, so anything you can tell the world about us will help.” Can anyone afford a bridge?
There's more imperial chat about building a mini-Europe in one corner of the collective where you can sample all the different cultures of the great continent. Patrick has turned an old Mercedes 508 into a sort of shed on wheels, which he hires out to the kind of wedding parties that think hiring a shed on wheels is the best preparation for a new life of monogamous antipathy.
Personally, I'm right behind Patrick. Maybe the idea is just zany enough that it's actually going to work. I mean, it probably won't, but hey, pretty much all the other theme parks I've gone to have been little more than relics; dowdy memorials to shattered Empires and the egos of the dead dictators that ran them into the ground. At least Patrick, with his adventure island with no bridge, stashes of Soviet secrets, and kitten on a horse, has it all in front of him. And if turns out that he doesn't, I'll see you back here with my camera in a decade for some grade-A, top shelf ruin porn.