The Need for Speed

Tirana’s children slide down the world’s strangest monument

| May-June 2009

  • Need for Speed in Tirana

    image by Bartek Wrzesniowski /

  • Need for Speed in Tirana

It’s springtime, and national pastimes are in full swing all over the world. The English congregate around cricket pitches. The French turn their thoughts to packs of cyclists spinning down country roads. And the Albanians are in the thick of the Hoxha sliding season.

Hoxha sliding is no Olympic event, but don’t let that fool you. The action starts 200 feet up a mammoth triangular monument that has been alternately compared to a crashed flying saucer, a lopsided loaf of bread, and a fist of knuckles. A crazed medley of marble and concrete, it was planted in a Tirana park in 1988 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the birth of Albanian strongman Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985, though local legend suggests Hoxha was born in 1902 and isn’t really dead.

The dates don’t add up, but never mind. The point is that the edifice has a roof that reaches to the ground and resembles a series of toboggan chutes: It’s steeply raked, perfectly smooth, and utterly irresistible to anyone with a thirst for speed.

And speed is very much the point. The rules of Hoxha sliding are simple: Find an empty plastic bottle, preferably a three-liter Pepsi-Cola container, scramble to the top of the slippery slope, sit down on your nonreturnable sled, and slide. Forget about grace or artistic merit; they don’t count.

Clambering up the roof, Klodian Murati gives some pointers. “No technique,” counsels the mop-haired 11-year-old, who is widely regarded as the all-Tirana Hoxha sliding champion. “Go for speed.”

In the field below, a crowd gathers. Lutfi Tota, a 72-year-old farmer, looks up wistfully. “I wish I were young enough to slide,” he says, recalling the days when he went sledding in the mountains near his home village. “If I were 10 years old, I’d be up there with them.”

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