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Category: Mostar (page 1 of 2)

Memory as Morbidity – Mostar’s Partisan Monument

I came to Bosnia this time around wanting to relax, to let go, and to find inner peace. I wanted to go somewhere I knew, without feeling the inner pressure of needing to discover a new place and finding out how it works. I didn’t want to wake up in the morning thinking: Today I need to see the following twenty-five things, or else I won’t feel like I have properly visited this place. So I came to Mostar, strolled the familiar streets, noticed how it had changed, but also felt very much at home.

Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaIn spite of that, I wouldn’t be me if at some point the urge hadn’t occured to dig deeper and expose myself to as of yet unknown impressions. And so I went to a place in Mostar I had never been to, that hadn’t even been on my inner map of the city. I went to the Partisan Memorial Cemetery, or Partizansko Groblje. And I discovered yet another part of Mostar that helped me understand the city and the complexity of the Balkans‘ history.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaThe Partisans of the former Yugoslavia are somewhat of a founding myth of the state. I have colleagues who do extensive research on them, and not only their military history, but also their culture – their songs, their manifestos etc. The way it was explained to me, there is a very plausible reason that they are so important. You may know that during the Cold War, Yugoslavia was a non-aligned nation. They were socialist, yes, but they didn’t „side“ with the Soviet Union. That was possible only because the Red Army didn’t free them from fascist rule in World War II – their own people, the Partisans did. Based on their victory, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could come into existence, and was a really well-functioning state until Tito’s death in 1980. But that’s a different story.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI had learned about the monument that it was set up in the 60s, so during Yugoslav times, to honour the Partisans who died fighting against fascists. It is a Bosnian national monument, however, even upon entering it was visibly unkempt and overgrown. I didn’t understand why at first, since the Partisans are such a pan-yugoslav motif of remembrance. But then my friend Majda pointed out to me that the Partisans didn’t only fight German Nazis, but also Croatian fascist Ustashas. Mostar’s local government is made up mainly of ethnic Croats, and apparently some of them are not too keen on remembering the fascist part of their own heritage in any way at all. It is a shame. If you google pictures of the monument in its prime, you will see how beautiful it was.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaPartizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaNow, grasses, ferns and weeds have taken possession of the originally neatly kept three terraces with their cleanly kept gravestones, and moss is covering the walls and grounds in the shadier places. The gravestones are strewn about haphazardly. It is likely that quite a few of them have been broken – purposefully? Vandalism does seem to be a problem, and there is lots of rubbish hiding in the greenery. I still stand and contemplate the names and numbers I see on the uniquely shaped stones. The lives that hide behind them – what may they have been like?

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaPartizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI wish I understood more about the tradition or the symbolism behind the strange, uneven shape of the gravestones. Most of the decor of the monument seems to me to contain some hidden meaning that is inaccessible to me. A lot of it reminds me of war, though. Gun barrels. Crenels. Sniper hideouts. For the life of me I can’t make sense of the big ornament in the center of the top terrace.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaAgain the pointy part in the middle looks to me like it might be symbolizing firing guns, but the circles around are a mystery to me. I am still very much intrigued. The whole area reminds me of the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park (a place I have been wanting to write about in forever and may now just have to very soon!), they share a similar kind of aesthetics which is of course grounded in their relative contemporaneity and common ideological socialist background – and the fact that they are both monuments and cemeteries at the same time. Pompous, impressive, very much thought through, carefully arranged with clear shapes and their play on perspective. The Berlin one is a bit more blunt to me, very rectangular, whereas this one is softer with its winding walls and circles. To me, they are both really beautiful in their own way.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaThis used to be a well, and the water ran down the middle of the terraces to be collected in a pond a few levels below. Now it is filled with garbage and dried up. I imagine that water must have added a yet more peaceful quality to the place. But it is a pretty peaceful place today in the heat of late May – summer has definitely begun in Mostar. However overgrown, the place invites one to laze around, and I do lie on one of the walls in the sun for a while just daydreaming away.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina From up here, it almost still looks as pretty as it used to be. The high grass next to me with the chirping crickets, however, reminds me of the wilderness this is now. It is hard to recognize, but in the circleshaped round down below someone has graffitied „One Love“ and a peace sign in the middle. It’s a beautiful gesture, especially when one also comes across indicators of Croat nationalism tagged on the wall, such as Ustasha signs or this line that says „God and Croats“:

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI do wander what will become of the place, if it will ever rise to former glory. It would be a brilliant place for Sunday strolls. Funnily enough, I even pictured it as a great concert venue – slightly inappropriate, I take it, with it being a cemetery. But now people come to hang out here anyway – is that more appropriate? Granted, there are very few of them. I, however, see myself coming back here when I’m back in Mostar. For some quiet time away from the growing masses of tourists in the old town. But then, I am a fan of the morbidity of forgotten places. I am somewhat torn. I think this is a place that needs active memory culture, that needs appreciation and care. But I also love the way that nature has come to take it back for her own and made it so morbidly eerie.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina (III)

Yes, yes, this is the third time I am blogging this bridge for Bridges on Sundays. But it did give the blog its name. And isn’t it fantastic? Starim Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina Stari Most, which I have talked about previously here and here, is not just an architectural marvel. It is a symbol for many things that have taken place in Mostar through the ages. The economical and political significance of a bridge in the middle ages is probably quite obvious, and city life has always centered around it.

When now I stand in this probably most favourite spot for taking pictures of the bridge, at night time, seeing it in the spotlight against the schemes of the hills in the background, my heart is full of love. But it is not because of the beauty, or because I understand the historical impact fully – I could probably never get to a point where that was the case. No, I stand, deeply moved, because this place means something to me that I have no words for. It symbolizes too many things to phrase in even a whole book. And yet so many people just walk idly by, admire it for a moment, only to basically forget it just after having left Mostar. This is not to judge – au contraire. This is to express my heartfelt gratitude that I have been given the gift of loving places as much as I do.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

The Irony of Finding Peace in Bosnia

On my last night in Bosnia this time around (because let’s face it, I will come back!) I sit with new friends in a beautiful tea house in Sarajevos Baščaršija quarter, the ottoman downtown. We drink Salep, a delicious hot drink made of ground orchid spice cooked with milk. It is naturally sweet and tastes like thick vanilla milk. Heaven in a glass.

Salep in Sarajevo, Bosnia

The magical Salep – a true Sarajevan drink from what we learned

The owner of the place, Hussein, speaks German and French, we translate into English for each other, of course the occasional Bosnian word is thrown in. The country’s multicultural heritage comes alive again.
At one point, Hussein excuses himself to us and explains that the call for prayer is on outside and for the next two minutes he will turn off the music. We start listening. Hussein encourages us to keep talking, but I tell him in German that we think the muezzin’s prayer is too beautiful. So he opens the door of the tiny shop and we listen to prayers being thrown and juggled from minaret to minaret. Deeply spiritual, peaceful sounds.

Cajdzinica Dzirlo, Sarajevo, Bosnia

Hussein’s beautiful tea house

When I came to Bosnia this time, I was thoughtful. Overworked and a bit worn out from different things on my mind, yes. But also thoughtful in terms of cultural sensitivity. I do love the country, and I came here looking for peace. Is that ironic concerning not only the country’s history, but also its recent struggle with the floods? Overflowing rivers have done great damage in the North, drowned out whole villages and taken everything from people that have taken 20 years to rebuild their lives after the war. Is it even right to come here looking for peace?

Kovaci, Sarajevo, Bosnia

War graves are ever present in the cities where the cemeteries aren’t shunned to the outskirts

In Mostar I talk to Majda, the hostel owner and, I am proud to say, my friend. During my four previous stays we have formed a bond. We have coffee in town, just the two of us, and talk about life. About finding yourself, getting to know yourself, personal growth. She says such profound things in her beautiful singsong Bosnian accented English. She says: „Politicians are dishonest. I like to surround myself with things that make me happy. Just because bad stuff is out there, I don’t have to talk about it all the time.“
Majda is a heroine. She has seen tough stuff in her life. But she has pushed through and emerged ever stronger, creating a wonderful life for herself. When she links her arm in mine on the way back, I feel the warmth and strength she radiates even more. The many things I can learn from her amaze me.

Majda's, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Majda’s Hostel – one of my safe havens and favourite places in the world

I also talk to Bata, Majda’s brother and every bit as much the heart and soul of the hostel as she is. We speak about me coming back so often, and I confess my deep love for and neverending fascination with Bosnia and Hercegovina. Bata says: „That’s cool, you’re becoming a bit of an expert on our region. It’s your destiny I presume.“
Bata is a hero. He has taught me almost all I know about the war and the lingering ethnic and religious conflicts in the region. Many travellers gain perspective through his stories and his outlook on the past and the present. He has opened up his life to people from other countries and let them in, and hundreds must have gained a deeper understanding of BiH, but also of life itself through conversations with him. I am pretty sure I would be a different person today if I had never had the honour and pleasure to speak with him.

Bosnian Coffee, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Bosnian coffee – a drink so intense and delicious you will never forget the taste of it

It may be strange that, looking for balance, I come to a country struggling with inner conflicts, with poverty and corruption, with deep cultural and political abysses and with coming to terms with its own past. But I maintain that it does it for me. It brings me peace. It puts things into perspective. Most of all, it teaches me humility, a widely underrated quality.

Lillies, Pocitelj, Bosnia & HercegovinaIn Sarajevo, the day I leave, I have a breakfast coffee with Unkas, the hostel owner. It is the first time I stay at his place, but I think I may have found my favourite. Unkas is a bubbly, friendly and talkative man. He says: „It is such a beautiful country, my country – and such stupid people.“
I perceive him to be very much a Yugoslav. He’s been married to a Croat and a Russian woman, being of Muslim heritage himself. He embodies the peaceful coexistence of different ethnicities and nationalities that Yugoslavia was all about. But while that is somewhat what they call „yugonostalgic“, he never loses the smile on his face. He speaks about the beauty of our mutual favourite Croatian island Vis with as much verve as he speaks about the beauty of Sarajevo. There is hope.

Slatko Cose, Sarajevo, Bosnia

Having coffee at an amazing patisserie at Slatko Cose in Sarajevo

The taxi driver who takes me back to the airport and I get into talk about travel. I say that I think it’s important to travel while you’re young and see different things. He says: „I was 16 when the war started. I was 20 when it finished. They say those are the best years of your life. They were sure hard for me. When it was over, I struggled to understand there was peace. Then I found a job, made a life. Now I have no job and…“ – he starts laughing hard – „…I think: God, why did you not kill me in the war?

How do you even respond to something like that?

Vandalized monument, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

A memorial to the Bosnian victims of the war – vandalized. The conflict still swelters in some places.

The driver goes on to imitate the different sounds grenades make, and tells me how your most animal instincts tell you when to duck and when to run. He speaks about looking for joy in war time, in the midst of misery, sharing five cigarettes between five people over a period of twenty days, playing music with a guitar and making each other laugh.
Humour is crucial to me when I try to understand Bosnia and Hercegovina. When a Bosnian laughs, it means so much. Because they have prevailed. They have stuck. They have survived. They laugh in the face of life. As Bata puts it: „You tell us you hate us? Well, we’re gonna love you some more!“

Mariella, Pocitelj, Bosnia & HercegovinaI go back to Germany having realized once more that my life is small and in many ways insignificant. The journey has shown me beauty and sadness – inside myself and in this country I love so much. It has above everything, reminded me that I should and will fight for my happiness or die trying.

If you would like to stay at the places I talked about, here you’ll find information on it:
Majda’s in Mostar for Majda and Bata
Balkan Han Hostel in Sarajevo for Unkas
Čajdžinica Džirlo in Sarajevo for Hussein
None of them asked (let alone paid) me to mention them. I just think meeting them will enrich everyone’s life.

 

Bullet Shells and Bullet Holes

Mostar, that town that gave my blog its name, is pretty. It is thriving and gorgeous and attracts more and more tourists every year. But that is not why it caught me so much. I only fell in love with it when I started to understand how torn it was. I am drawn to complicated things. Mostar has a pretty face, but it also has many scars from the war in the Balkans. And nowhere did I find them to be so painfully visible as at the Sniper’s Nest.

Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

There is a building in Mostar that had been just newly built when the war came here in 1992 for a bank. It is set right by where the front line was – the line that still divides the city into a Croat and a Bosniak side. Croat snipers were set up in here to have good aim at Bosniaks down in the street. It was never torn down nor rebuilt. I haven’t been to Mostar in nearly 3 years, so I am not sure what it looks like now, but between 2010 and 2011 when I visited the city frequently it never changed much.

Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaEerie, abandoned, somehow even belligerent with its jagged design, it sits there with no purpose. Upon entering I feel a little strange, but there is not even a cutoff or a sign that says to „Keep out!“ or „Beware!“. What’s more, there are no signs of life, really. I would imagine that in Germany a ton of homeless people would live in a building like this.

Sniper's Nest, Ground Floor, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaWhat strikes my eye even at first glance is that the naked walls have been made canvas for street art. Some is more elaborate, some is just wild scribble and nonsense. A lot of it, however, is not just illustrations, but writing, and the things written there show sadness, sometimes desperation, but also hope for a better tomorrow. A lot of them are most certainly very political, and when you look at recent protests in Bosnia and Hercegovina, the problems addressed are still the same.

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaSome other things that you can read there are a lot more personal. Like this scribble which almost tore my heart:

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

„When everything I love and everything I dream cannot be…“

As you move upward floor by floor, the building shows you different faces. In terms of creepiness, I think the first floor might top the list. My pictures were taken in 2010 and 2011. The war had been over for 15 to 16 years. Yet it looks like the building was bombed out only yesterday.

First Floor at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaYou can find account statements, customers‘ files, accounting documents… and they are strewn about as though people had had to leave in a hurry and never managed to take anything. The papers are dated to the early Nineties, too. History that you can touch.

The next floors are as empty and eerie as the ground floor. They are were the snipers sat. And what would be more obvious, yet horrible proof of that than the many many bullet shells that line the floors.

Bullet Shells at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaTourists take them as souvenirs. I am not even sure how I feel about that, but I have one too. When I picked it up from the floor, I thought that I wanted to make it a lucky charm. Cruel? Ironic? Sometimes you have to take something that means something bad and turn its meaning so it can become something good. The bullet shell is a link to one of the places in the world I love the most. It has the ambivalence if Mostar written into it.

Floor at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaOn the upper floors, the paintings and writings on the wall change. There is now much more evidence of the nationalist scene, the Ultras, and of racist ideas. Not seldomly are they accompanied by the Croatian coat of arms.

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaWalls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaIt is still so hard for me to grasp, the strange interlacement of ethnicity, nationality and religion in this part of the world. In the Balkan wars of the Nineties, it is not quite correct to say that Croatia fought Bosnia fought Serbia (or whichever way around you would want to phrase it). There is such a thing as a Bosnian Serb (someone of Bosnian nationality who is orthodox and an ethnic Serb). „Bosniak“, „Croat“ and „Serb“ are notions that assign ethnicity, and ethnicity is linked to religion – Islam for Bosniaks, Catholicism for Croats and Orthodoxy for Serbs. But in a secularized world, how religious are these conflicts? How much are religion and ethnicity an excuse to redefine power structures? I am not an expert in all of this, and I am still in the process of getting a hang of it. But it is so complex – and so sad.

View from Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaFrom the top of the Sniper’s Nest, you look down onto the Spanish Square. The big orange building is a high school that operates in a segregated system. Bosniak and Croat children go to the school, but they are taught by different curricula and in different languages (even if the differences in Bosnian and Croatian are minute and speakers of both languages understand each other with ease most of the time). Knowing this, it really makes you wonder when the war will be truly over.

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina (II)

Lately I have developped a strange fascination with the ground. I think it is because I feel literally grounded these days, both in the sense of being slightly captive and of having to be realistic. When life gives you lemons, make them lemonade – so I am looking to discover beauty in and on the ground. And how would that be easier than re-travelling some of my favourite places in my mind.

Stari Most, Mostar, BosniaThe bridge that gave this blog its name, Stari Most in Mostar, that place that stole my heart in that country that holds part of my soul, Bosnia & Hercegovina. The stones are just as shiny and soft as they look in the photo. The material is calles Tenelija, as I recently learned, and seems to be a specific local stone that I did not find an English (or German) equivalent for. They are slippery, the raised parts are necessary to even walk across the bridge without falling. I have managed to slip on it a few times anyway. I am so proud and happy to know that I have walked that ground so many times. I feel like every time I crossed the bridge, a piece of me was left clinging to the stone.

It is strange, but with Stari Most, the Old Bridge, it never bothered me that it was a reconstruction. The bridge was destroyed by Croat forces on November 9th, 1993. Just one more historically significant thing that happened on that day (next to the November progromes of 1933 in Nazi Germany, or the downfall of the Berlin wall in 1989). The reconstructed bridge has only been opened for ten years, so it isn’t actually the 400 years old that it looks. But it’s still full of history, and of individual stories. It is full of life.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Anecdotes – The Time I Was Taught About Defiance

When I travelled in Central and South Eastern Europe, I had my heart stolen by the town of Mostar in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Mostar is the inspiration for this blog’s title and theme – the place is all about the bridge. And not only about THE Old Bridge, the city’s symbol, but also about metaphorical bridges – between time layers, between ethnicities, between people. I had many experiences there that put my own fortunate life in perspective. One of them was particularly noteworthy, and as is the case with most good stories, it is about an encounter with someone who impressed me.

It was the thrid time on my trip that I came to Mostar, in the worst heat of July. Majda, my gracious host, measured 50 degrees on her balcony in the morning. All one wanted to do was sit by the cool waters of the emerald green Neretva river. One of these insanely hot days, I made it into town anyways in search for a Bosnian coffee kit (a post on the deliciousness that is Bosnian coffee is absolutely in order and will follow!).

Old Town, Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

The Old Town cuteness of Mostar with its many souvenir shops

In the burning heat, going into the air conditioned shops was a temptation, but I was careful not to go into any place I didn’t want to buy anything from, because all the jewellry, scarfs and handbags were hard to resist as it were. Finally there was a shop that sold the cannikins called „džezva“ and the little cups called „fildžani“, and the ones on display outside were really pretty. So I went in.

It was nice and cool in the little room, and behin a small cashier counter there was a man in his thirties sitting and smoking a cigarette. He asked if he could help, and in broken Bosnian I said I was looking for a džezva and fildžani, and he motioned me smilingly to take a look around, obviously happy I spoke his language. He then asked me, again in Bosnian, where I was from. I told him, and he asked which city. „Hamburg“, I said, and he got very excited and said „HSV!!“ – which is Hamburg’s professional football club. I nodded, and he added: „Mostar klub – Velež!“ I knew that Velež was the Bosniak football club of town, and that their motto was „Mostar in the heart – Velež to the grave“. So I said this motto, in Bosnian – „Mostar u srcu, Velež do grobu!“, and my counterpart nearly exploded with enthusiasm. In one quick motion, he got up, obviously to fetch something – and it was only then when I noticed. He was missing a leg.

Shells in Snipers' nest, Mostar, Bosnia and Hervegovina

If you go to the bombed out bank building known in Mostar as the Snipers‘ nest, you will find bullet shells abound spread on the floor – a reminder of war

By this time our little talk and my looking around the shop had been going on for a good few minutes, and I had just thought he was being comfortable sitting there. When he got up, he did it with such matter of course and ease that it baffled me. I didn’t even have time to think it horrible, tragic, or anything of the sort. I was just completely taken aback how I could not have noticed it!

War is ever present in Mostar. You can see it in the buildings – although the vast majority has been restored – and in the people’s faces; you will find someone who is willing to share their story of loss and suffering easily, and you can see the ethnic city divide into a Croat and a Bosniak side of town easily. I had spoken to people about war. I had been to the museums in Mostar and Sarajevo, I had heard of flight, fight and fate. I never spoke to this salesman about his personal story. But the way that he got up so swiftly on his one leg, showing me that this was his daily life, his normalcy, impressed me deeply. He smiled at me with an untainted, open, whimsical look on his face. He had lines in his face, sure, but there was nothing speaking of tragedy in his behaviour. He was just there, making the best of life, his cigarette locked between his lips as he employed his crutches.

He had moved to his board of magnets and looked for one with the Velež sign on it, but hadn’t found one. Instead he gave me a regular Mostar fridge magnet that is on my fridge to this very day.

So in the end, Mostar showed both its torn and difficult past and present and its sublime beauty again – its beauty, which lies in the will of its people to persevere, not give up, and believe in a happy ending inspite of all the ugliness of history. They defy tragedy. They defy life, or better yet, death. It feels like things are condensed in that town. You look into the abyss. And then, again, you find yourself face to face with unearthly beauty and peace.

Waterfront View, Mostar, Bosnia

View from the Western side of the Neretva onto Old Town houses on the river’s other bank

The value of travel has been discussed at large in many different places. All our favourite travel quotes speak of it, innumerable songs have been written about it and hostel common room walls are probably bored with the stories of how amazing and life-changing travel is. I am not here to convince anyone of it who isn’t already. But I will tell you anecdotes that happened to me in my travel life that have changed my perspective on life forever. This is an irregular series on the blog tagged „anecdotes“.

Bridge Metaphors

There is a feeling of autumn grabbing a hold of me, earlier in the year than I am used to it. I feel like retreating into my shell for a while and reflecting on lots of things, and that goes with moments that lack inspiration. This feels like a time to think, not a time to create. I find such breaks immensely important, but they don’t necessarily go well with maintaining a blog.

Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

I cannot go without a bridge pic in this post though – this old favourite is Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina – the bridge that inspired my blog’s name and theme.

Now, I still have loads of stories and thoughts to share that I have stocked up on over the summer for my weekly posts. But as I went through my photos, there was no bridge that inspired me enough to do my Sunday piece on this week.

Instead I remembered that I had seen on twitter this week that Istanbul’s slogan for their application to host the 2020 Olympics was „Bridge Together“, and I was once more reminded of the power of language and the power of the Bridge as a metaphor. And it made all the more sense to me that I was always meant to love Istanbul – as a city of bridging two continents together literally and metaphorically.

But there is more ways in which the bridge is present in our language. When there is need of calming down, of letting things come to you, we decide to „cross that bridge when we come to it.“ When we want to cut off all opportunities of going back, we say we are „burning bridges“. And there is the playful merging of the two that says „We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.“

Bridges thus seem to be an inherent part of the metaphor of the „path of life“. They hint at overcoming obstacles, but also at the fact that the road won’t always be the same and there are bound to be transitions. Whilst on a bridge, there might be a feeling of in-between. But only while on the bridge do you have a distanced outlook on the lands on both sides of the bridge. Maybe that is what my current autumnal need for solitude is for.

The Sound of Bosnia

My favorite travel chat on twitter was on the topic of SOUNDS this week, and it made me finally want to write about a force that drives me in my everyday life like almost non other – music. When it comes to music and travel, the sounds of the Balkans have left a deep and lasting imprint in my heart

When I visited Bosnia on my Balkans trip, I fell in love with the city of Mostar. There, one of my favorite hostels in Europe, Hostel Majda’s, was offering amazing tours of the Hercegovina region. As we were dashing along Bosnian freeways through sometimes meagre, sometimes overflowing landscapes, our wonderful tour guide Bata would put on this song:

It is called „Miljacka“, which is the name of the river that flows through the Bosnian capitol Sarajevo, and is sung by Bosnia’s king of folk, Halid Bešlić. It is essentially a love song that tells of missing someone and wanting to be with them, and about betrayed love:

Jednom si rekla, nisi porekla, da sam za tebe jedini.
Mene si zvala, a srce dala drugome, da ga isprosi.

Once you said, and you didn’t deny, that I’m the only one for you.
You called to me, but you gave your heart to another, when he asked for it.

The lyrics are corny to a degree that I can only take in Slavic languages, and they really don’t correspond much with the feelings the song triggers inside of me. It transports me right back into the midst of green rolling hills, to rivers of an unearthly green-turquoise colour, to never-ending blue skies, whitewashed houses and pebbled streets in medieval old towns. All my love for Bosnia & Hercegovina washes over me when I hear this song.

I went to Mostar three times on my Balkans trip in 2010 alone (and I’ve returned there since, if only once). During my second stay, I took a day trip with a Canadian friend I had made in Mostar to the nearby town of Blagaj. We wanted to spend some time in the Tekija which, I swear, is one of the most spiritual, peaceful and truly indescribable places I have been to in my life. But before we treated ourselves to the peace of mind that we knew we would find there, we climbed up the steep hill to the old fortress of Blagaj which used to accomodate the rulers of Hercegovina. It is in ruins today, but it is still mighty and proud. If you know me, you can guess what happened when I got up there. I felt an overwhelming urge to sing. And I did.

Fortress, Blagaj, Bosnia & Hercegovina

And I sang this song:

It is called „Đurđevdan“, St George’s Day, and it was written by famous Yugoslav artist Goran Bregović. Like „Miljacka“, it is about missing the one you love.

Evo zore evo zore
Bogu da se pomolim
Evo zore evo zore
Ej đurđevdan je
A ja nisam s onom koju volim

Here’s the dawn, here’s the dawn
That I might pray to God
Here’s the dawn, here’s the dawn
Oh, it’s St George’s Day
And I’m not with the one I love.

Singing out in nature is one of my favorite things to do. You should try it sometime. It is so liberating.

My third time around in Mostar I hardly could tear myself away from the magic of the place. More posts will have to be written on it. When I finally had made a decision to leave, Bata came to me and told me that there would be a concert the next night by a famous Mostar based band called Mostar Sevdah Reunion, and that I was surely going to love them. Bata knew me well already at that point. Even though I had never heard of the band before, I was sure that if he said I was gonna love them, it had to be true. I extended my stay for the concert and never regretted it.

While the song „Miljacka“ is typical Balkan folk, and „Đurđevdan“ is essentially an old gypsy song that has been modernized and, well, balkanized, the music style you have here, in the song „Čudna jada od Mostara grada“, is very specifically Bosnian. It is called Sevdah – hence the name of the band – which is a Turkish loan word in Bosnian meaning a variety of things ranging from love over caress to longing. The song’s title means „Strange pain from the city of Mostar“, and it is again about disappointed love. In the song, a girl says:

“Mene boli i srce i glava,
Jer moj Ahmo s’ drugom razgovara!”

„There is pain in my heart and my head
Because my Ahmo is talking to another!“

The girl’s mother then tries to curse Ahmo, but the girl won’t let her because she still believes in his promises. It is all very endearing, and granted, the range of topic isn’t huge in Balkan music – it is always, always, always about love – but the drive of melody, the variety of instruments and the spirit that runs through the songs in unmatched elsewhere, I think. Seeing the Mostar Sevdah Reunion live, in Mostar at that, open air, and dancing under an endless starry sky, made the beat of the songs and the beat of my heart melt into one another. The rhythm of Sevdah has never left me since.

If you are on twitter, you should join my favorite travel chat #RATW, which stands for Reality Abroad Talk Wednesday, when you next have a chance. It is a weekly chat on Wednesdays 12 pm EST which makes it 5 pm for me in Berlin and a convenient end-of-work-day activity. It is hosted by the lovely folks of Reality Abroad who make everyone feel like family and are absolutely worth a follow!

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. From now on I plan to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog – ideally once a week. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

This is the Bridge that made me fall in love with Bridges.

Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

When I first came to Mostar on a bus from Split in Croatia, it wasn’t a great start. The fifty year old bald bus driver made a pass at me, I didn’t find the hostel for an hour, and when I did, I was so relieved I started crying and had an asthma attack. But none of it mattered the minute I set foot into the old town.

I am in love with Mostar, with its complicated history and its cultural and ethnical difficulties, with the color of the Neretva river that is unlike any I had seen before I came there, with its people that have, or so it seems, never lost hope and radiate with the knowledge that it is a great gift to be alive, with its overflowing beauty and sadness and complexity and joy.

The river isn’t the line that divides the city into the Bosniak (muslim) and the Croat (catholic) halves of the city. The old frontline is, and it’s a few hundred meters to the right of this picture. I still feel the Old Bridge, or in Bosnian Stari Most, has the potential to connect the two halves. I learned from the locals that everyone loves the Bridge. It was destroyed by Croat forces in the Balkan wars in the 1990s, and was remodelled and finished in 2004. It is the heart and soul of Mostar, the city carries the Bridge in its name – Mostar means Bridgekeeper. People from all sides and backgrounds identify with the Bridge in this city – through their segregated schooling of Bosniak and Croat kids, through their different football clubs, even now that the Croat side is building their own bus terminal as not to have to use the one on the Bosniak side.

The Bridge brings them together as one.

Mostar, Stolac, Kravice, Pocitelj und Sarajevo

In Split am Flughafen empfaengt mich die Hitze, die ich den Sommer ueber in Berlin vermisst habe. Palmen stehen vor der Ankunftshalle. Die Luft flimmert. Ich teile mit zwei Australierinnen ein Taxi in die Innenstadt und springe fast uebergangslos in den Bus nach Mostar.
Die kroatische Kueste ist mir vertraut mit ihrer sich sanft schlaengelnden Strasse, den vereinzelten Glockentuermen in den kleinen Siedlungen und dem Blick auf ueberfuellte Straende. Verkarstete Berge liegen zu meiner linken, die Adria zur rechten. Noch vor der bosnischen Grenze wird der Himmel langsam dunkler, die Nacht senkt sich auf die Landschaft herab. Nach einer Busfahrt, die mir laenger vorkommt als im letzten Jahr, scheucht mich der Busfahrer in Mostar aus dem Bus. Ich habe diesen Busbahnhof noch nie gesehen. Ich mache mir kurz Sorgen, dass ich in der falschen Stadt ausgestiegen bin. Ein Geisterbahnhof, er sieht aus als waere er noch nicht ganz fertig gebaut, als wuerde hier eigentlich niemals ein Bus halten. Lebendig ist nur die Tankstelle an der Strasse. Ich fasse mir die zwei schwedischen Maedels, mit denen ich mich im Bus unterhalten habe, laufe vor zur Tankstelle, zeige dem Tankwart meinen Mostarstadtplan im Lonely Planet und frage auf bosnisch, wo wir sind. Unbestimmt zeigt er auf eine Gegend im kroatischen Teil der Stadt. Ich frage nach der Altstadt. „Taxi…“ lautet die Antwort. Ich bitte ihn, ein Taxi fuer uns zu rufen, weil wir keine bosnischen Telephone haben, und fuenf Minuten spaeter kommt auch eins. Ich nenne die Adresse von Majdas Hostel, der Taxifahrer weiss gleich bescheid. Die Schwedinnen sagen ihre Adresse, der Taxifahrer kennt sie nicht. Viel spaeter wird mir klar, dass das Hostel der Schwedinnen auf der bosniakischen Seite der Stadt liegt, der Busbahnhof ist neu, er wird auf der kroatischen Seite gebaut, damit Busse aus Kroatien und aus der vornehmlich kroatisch bevoelkerten Umgebung nicht mehr bis in den bosniakischen Teil fahren muessen. Ich bin wieder in die politische Sphaere eingedrungen, die Mostar heisst.
Im Hostel gibt es ein grosses Hallo und herzliche Begruessungen. Wie nicht anders erwartet: Ich fuehle mich, als sei ich nie weg gewesen. Der erste ganze Tag vergeht in entspannter Traegheit. Bosanska kahfa, an den Moscheen in der Altstadt vorbeitroedeln, in kurzes Bad in der reissenden Neretva, um der Hitze zu entfliehen. Abends gehen wir ein Bier trinken auf einer der kleinen Terassen ueber dem Fluss, die den wunderschoenen Blick auf die Bruecke freigeben. Dahinter ist eine Islamschule fertig restauriert, die letztes Jahr noch nicht da war. In meinem Kopf ersetze ich die Klaenge der Balkanmusik durch Bombenlaerm und Kriegsgeraeusche. Alles an diesem Ort ist herzzerreissende Schoenheit und abgrundtiefe Traurigkeit zugleich.
Am naechsten Tag fahre ich mit Brent, Else und Nick aus dem Hostel nach Stolac. Es muss im Krieg voellig dem Erdboden gleichgemacht worden sein, und man sieht deutlich mehr Kriegsschaeden als in Mostar – Einschussloecher an den Waenden, mitunter Haeuser von denen nur noch die Waende stehen. In den Ruinen hinter der Moschee liegen, wie in Vukovar, noch die Bosenfliesen in einem rotweissen Karomuster, ein intakter Fussboden in einem vollstaendig zerschossenen Haus.
Wir klettern ueber verschlungene Pfade einen eindeutig inoffiziellen Weg hoch zur Burg. Eine Herde Ziegen versteckt sich vor der brennenden Hitze in einem der alten Wachtuerme. Sie maehen uns klaeglich an. Weiter nach oben durch das Gestruepp, immer hoeher, bis wir im obersten Burghof ankommen. Hier steht ein ueberdimensionales Steinkreuz, davor ein grosser steinerner Altar. Mich erinnert die Szene an die Chroniken von Narnia und die Szene, in der der Loewe Aslan sich auf dem steinernen Tisch opfert. Die Steine sind neu, und der Putz auch, eindeutig sind diese Dinge hier erst nach dem Krieg hingesetzt worden, um kroatische Besitzansprueche zu demonstrieren. Immerhin ist die Moschee im Tal in sehr gutem Zustand und von aussen entzueckend mit einem kleinen gepflegten Friedhof voller bluehender Rosen. Leider ist sie geschlossen.
Wir fahren durch die Umgebung, schauen uns die grossen Grabsteine der bosnischen Kirche an, die von eben dieser christlichen Bewegung des Mittelalters zeugen. In Mostar gibt es ein altes ausgebombtes Einkaufszentrum, das noch immer ruinoes in der Innenstadt steht und dessen Aussenwaende ebensolche Zeichnungen aufweisen, wie wir sie hier auf den Grabsteinen finden. Die bosnische Kirche ist durchaus Teil der genuin bosnischen Identitaet.
Die bosnische Kirche soll auch Blagaj bereits als heiligen Ort genutzt haben, wo wir ebenfalls noch Halt machen. Heute steht dort die herrliche Tekke, in der ich letztes jahr so viele ruhige friedliche Stunden zugebracht habe. Sie wird durch tuerkische Geldgeber restauriert und man kann nicht hinein, aber die Quelle der Buna ist ein Naturereignis wie eh und je. Dennoch kommt mir der Ort irgendwie entweiht vor durch den Baulaerm, und ich habe auch den Eindruck, dass mehr Restaurants dort geoeffnet haben und alles etwas touristischer geworden ist. Bata versichert mir spaeter, dass dort genauso viele Gebaeude stehen wir letztes Jahr und es schon immer genauso touristisch war wie jetzt. Aber mir wird trotzdem etwas wehmuetig, als ich dort stehe und auf die Tekke hinuebersehe.
Der Weg zurueck nach Mostar fuehrt durch eine trostlose Landschaft. Auf der einen Seite verbrannte Erde, auf der anderen karges Heideland. Ich habe Bosnien gruener in Erinnerung. Ob der lange heisse Sommer die Gegend so ausgetrocknet hat? Ich bin froh, wieder in Mostar anzukommen, die gruene Neretva im Blick. Abends gehen wir mit Hostelgaesten essen. Im Restaurant hoere ich eine Gruppe am Nebentisch aufbrechen, einer der jungen Maenner sagt: „Ajde!“ Mein Herz huepft. Ich bin tatsaechlich wieder auf dem Balkan.
Ich fahre noch einmal mit auf die wunderbare Tagestour, die Bata anbietet. Sie ist etwas anders als im letzten Jahr und umfasst nur noch zwei Orte, darunter die wunderbaren Wasserfaelle in Kravice, an denen wir viel Zeit verbringen. Bata bringt uns diesmal etwas abseits von der Fuelle der Badegaeste in abgeschiedenere Gegenden. Ich springe von einem elf Meter hohen Kliff in das gruene Wasser und schreie dabei laut. Es ist befreiend.
Die zweite Station heisst Pocitelj, und die Schoenheit des Ortes geht mir wieder ans Herz. Die anderen Reisenden erklimmen einen der Festungstuerme der mittelalterlichen Stadt, ich bleibe unten, schaue auf die Moschee hinueber und sehe zu, wie das letzte bisschen Sonnenlicht hinter den Bergen verschwindet.
Am naechsten Morgen geht der Zug in aller Fruehe nach Sarajevo. Ich fuehle mich nicht ganz gesund, habe Magenprobleme und bin sehr muede, ich habe die letzten drei Naechte sehr schlecht geschlafen, weil die Klimaanlage so kalt eingestellt war. In Sarajevo angekommen checke ich im Hostel ein und gehe in dem kleinen Innenhof hinter dem Taubenplatz eine bosanska kahfa trinken. Anschliessend beschliesse ich, mich im Hostel ein bisschen hinzulegen. Nach zwei Stunden wache ich auf, mir ist eiskalt, ich zittere, aber ich fuehle mich heiss an, ich glaube ich habe ein kleines Fieber. Ich gehe direkt schlafen – aus einem schoenen Tag in Sarajevo wird so nichts, aber ich kenne die Stadt ja und bin froh, wenigstens ein bisschen das besondere Flair der tuerkisch gepraegten Innenstadt aufgesogen zu haben. So werde ich hoffentlich wenigstens fit sein fuer die lange Busfahrt nach Trebinje am naechsten Tag.
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