AN AMERICAN IN SERBIA: WHAT LIVING IN BELGRADE IS LIKE AFTER 50+ YEARS IN AMERICA

INTRODUCTION

Three years ago, I arrived in Serbia. The idea was to see what living in my native city for about six months would be like after spending half a century in America. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men…

Three months after my arrival, a temporary living arrangement became a permanent wedlock. I married my landlady. I grew a beard. I still wear it. I lost some weight. Healthier food and lifestyle, I suppose. Those were some of the good things.

The rest… well, it was a culture shock. So much rudeness. So much senseless bureaucracy. So much unnecessary regulation. So much intolerance.

Now we have been back in Belgrade for a fourth summer/fall in a row. I’ve already shared with you a number of stories which document the progression of Serbia into a police state and an economy driven by washed up drug and human trafficking money. And slowed down by nonsensical regulation.

Now I want to share with you some of the good sides of the Serbian capital – Belgrade. Such as its beautiful location at the confluence of two big European rivers – the Danube and Sava.

View of the rivers’ Sava and Danube confluence from the Kalemegdan fortress in Belgrade

BEAUTIFUL RECREATIONAL POSSIBILITIES FOLLOW PROUD HISTORY

BELGRADE’S LOCATION – A BLESSING AND A CURSE

God has blessed Serbia with a beautiful gift – the location of its capital Belgrade at the confluence of two large European rivers, the Danube and the Sava. This offers endless recreational possibilities to the city residents and visitors alike. Now, in 2021. But not always.

The location was also a strategic curse over one hundred years ago. Because across the rivers lay the Austro-Hungarian empire with one of the world’s mightiest armies. Which made Belgrade’s location Europe’s most exposed capital to an enemy attack.

In 1915, the serene scene which lies ahead as one gazes from the Kalemegdan fortress to the west was a fierce First World War battleground. The armies of Austro-Hungarian empire and Germany were launching an artillery and amphibious attack on the Serbian capital from that river island you see in the right part of the above photo. Thus its name – the War Island.

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia about what happened here in October 1915.

The wall mural about this heroic event in 1915 still stands under an overpass near “25 maj” sports complex

Dragutin Gavrilović was born in ČačakSerbia, in 1882. After his graduation from the Military Academy of Serbia in 1901, he took part in every war the Serbian army fought until World War II.

He is best remembered in Serbian history books for his dramatic order to his troops issued on October 7, 1915, the first day of the defense of Belgrade against the Austro-Hungarian and German attack during the First World War. Holding the rank of major, Gavrilović at the time commanded the 2nd battalion of the 10th Infantry Regiment, which, along with a detachment of Belgrade gendarmerie and a group of about 340 volunteers from Syrmia (today’s Srem, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire), was defending positions at the very confluence of Sava and Danube, beneath the Kalemegdan Fortress. In the early morning, Austro-Hungarian troops attacked across the rivers after a heavy two-day artillery barrage; the Serbians in a series of counterattacks trapped the invaders against the Danube with heavy casualties on both sides. The Serbian position grew worse every minute because of an incessant flow of Austro-Hungarian reinforcements and a vast superiority in artillery, which the Serbs countered by employing close-quarter tactics.

The Serbs had their last stand in front of the “Jasenica” kafana, there the soldiers took flowers from a small flower shop and put them on their coats and on their guns as they prepared for one last charge into certain death. Before throwing them into a counterattack, Major Gavrilović rallied them with a call to arms:

Soldiers, exactly at three o’clock, the enemy is to be crushed by your fierce charge, destroyed by your grenades and bayonets. The honor of Belgrade, our capital, must not be stained. Soldiers! Heroes! The supreme command has erased our regiment from its records. Our regiment has been sacrificed for the honor of Belgrade and the Fatherland. Therefore, you no longer need to worry about your lives: they no longer exist. So, forward to glory! For the King and the Fatherland! Long live the King, Long live Belgrade!

The desperate charge that followed, in which Gavrilović was badly wounded, failed to destroy the Austro-Hungarian bridgehead. The timely intervention of Austro-Hungarian river monitors which approached the shore to deliver point-blank artillery fire with much-reduced fear of hitting their own troops, and to which the engaged Serbian units had no effective counter, played a major role in defeating the attack. But the charge and similar acts of bravery and self-sacrifice by Serbian troops and by the inhabitants of Belgrade during the battle earned deep respect from the invaders, who suffered around 10,000 casualties in the course of capturing the city.

The German commander August von Mackensen himself erected a monument on the battleground commemorating the city’s zealous defenders; it still stands to this day and is inscribed with the words “Here Rest Serbian Heroes” in German and Serbian, a rare example in military history, of one army building a monument to their enemies.

Source: Wikipedia

BEAUTIFUL BIKE PATHS

Thanks to the two rivers,, Belgrade will give you plenty of opportunities to escape its smog and inner city congestion. Take its beautiful bike paths, for example.

Starting from the “25 maj” sports complex, you can follow the Danube and the right bank of the river Sava all the way to the Ada Ciganlija sports and recreation complex, an island on the river Sava (left map above) – the blue route. Some 28km and two hours later, you etch in your mind beautifull memories, such as these scenes.

On another take, you can take a different bike route. There is an elevator which can take you from the Sava river bank to the Brankov bridge, so you can cross to the left bank of the river. Such as depicted on the right map above (the red route). About 25 km and 1.5 hours later you can return the bike and keep the following memories.

On both routes, you will discover a true “Belgrade on water” – countless floating restaurants, bars and clubs docked on the banks of the two rivers. There is even a floating hotel on water on the Danube (see above).

And many do. Take a look at this bike counter on the Ada island. I’ve taken the same shot on three different occasions.

You can see how the number of bikers grew over about a month during which these photos were taken.

There are also plenty of beaches on the river Sava where the Belgraders have a chance to cool off the old-fashioned way on hot summer days.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: A THING OF BEAUTY WHICH COST VERY LITTLE

Finally, here’s an example of how much can be accomplished with sheer imagination and creativity and very little money. I came across this beautiful natural sculpture while biking this weekend on the Ada, an island on the river Sava, which is one of the popular recreational spots in Belgrade.

Obviously, there is creative talent here. But not enough manages to bubble up to the surface. Belgrade needs more examples like this.

Oh, by the way, have I told you that Belgrade is the city of my birth? And that despite its many flaws I am a little proud of it.

Bob Djurdjevic, publisher and editor, Truth in Media
Smiley PNG

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