Dragons and Beer and Romantic Nationalism

It’s beer o’clock somewhere, right?

This is the main building of Union Brewery – Pivovarna Union – the brewery of Ljubljana (and, according to one member of KAP Jasa team, the producer of the best, if not the only beer in the world – others are just fizzy drinks with low alcohol content). It’s logotype is a dragon, which is apt as the Ljubljana coat of arms features a dragon on the castle tower. And since the Slovene word for a kite – zmaj – means ‘dragon’, it was time we flew one above the brewery!

Logotype of Union brewery and Ljubljana coat of arms

Union brewery was founded by Peter Kozler in 1864 and strategically placed by the main (and only) Austo-Hungarian railway from Vienna via Ljubljana to Trieste:

The bend of a railway coming from Trieste, entering Ljubljana Main station.

Peter Kozler was an intriguing guy. Born in 1824 into a well-off German family in Koce, a village south of Kocevje in what was then Gottschee County, he first studied logic and physics in Padua and later law in Vienna. He served as an actuary in Rovinj and Labin, an assistant public attorney in Tolmin, a district attorney in Gorica, and a secretary of the court in Trieste. But despite being ethnic German and rich, Kozler got involved in Slovene National Movement and the idea of United Slovenia. He learned Slovenian language and gave substantial sums of money to various national awareness projects. And he went to prison for his pet project, the great Map of Slovene Land and Provinces:

Map of Slovene Land and Provinces by Peter Kozler, 1848-52

This map he compiled between the Spring of Nations of 1848 and 1852 was seen as terribly subversive for Austrian authorities. They already had enough problems with the Hungarians vying for autonomy, and really really didn’t want to have another ‘ethnic’ element making troubles in the middle of the Empire. Kozler was briefly imprisoned and the map was confiscated – only to be reluctantly published in 1861.

A true child of Romantic nationalism of mid 19th century this map today seems terribly exaggerated – Kozler meticulously studied place names and if there was but a hint of Slovenian, he deemed the place a part of Slovenia. That’s why vast tracts of (Austrian) Carinthia and of (Croatian) Istria, Kvarner and islands of Krk, Cres, and Lošinj are included. But he did get the boundaries of ethnic Slovene lands at the time more or less correctly!

Kozler decided that prisons are not for him and that it would be best if he would just support the (conservative) Old Slovene movement with money. So he went and made himself not rich, but fitlhy rich. And he started with – beer.

The Ljubljana Tivoli indoor swimming pool by architect Fedja Košir, built in 1973 on the place of former Ljubljana fairground. Union Brewery in the background.

While Union Brewery was probably the greatest of his businesses, he expanded his father’s shop in Vienna, he bought vast tracts of land (Kozler forest still remains as a protected flood forest in Ljubljana Marshes), the Cekin mansion in Tivoli (today this mansion houses the National Museum of Contemporary History) and the baroque Kozler palace (demolished in 1961 in order to “widen the street”).

Today Union Brewery is merged with its arch-enemy Laško Brewery, and owned by Heineken corporation. In its slick, hypermodern, computerized brewery the company produces over a million hectolitres of beer per year, together with still water and various soft drinks. Rarely we think of Peter Kozler when we order a round of draft Union beer … but he did start all this …

One last question remains: is Union beer really the best beer in the world? There is only one way to find out …


… come to Ljubljana and order one (or four). Cheers!

—– All kite aerial photos shot with Canon A810 on a Rokkaku kite.

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