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Category: Balkans 2010 (page 1 of 5)

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.

A Letter From My 25 Year Old Self

I made my one hundredth blog post a special one – so it only figures that I should do the same with the two hundredth. And how fitting is it that I am posting this on an important anniversary – four years ago today I left Germany for my Balkans travel adventure, the reason I started blogging in the first place. It’s such a damn platitude, but I can’t believe it is that long ago. I feel so close to the girl I was then – and yet so much has happened. Look at me, just having finished my Master’s degree, ready to take on life, on the very day I left for my trip:

Mariella, Departure Day 2010You know when people write about the advice they would give a past version of themselves? Usually a 30 year old telling their teenage self something along the lines of: „Don’t worry honey, you will have a great job in a few years and have lost 20 pounds.“

I could be telling the girl in the picture exactly that. But honestly, I have nothing to say to her. She doesn’t need to know about me today. In fact I think if anything it might hold her back. In many ways she is a million times cooler than me. Brave – nay, fearless! Excitable, of boundless curiosity, trusting, even naive, but in the best possible way. Open to the world, and confident that life will take her just to the place she needs to be. What I really need is advice from her! So what would she be telling me? What must she have been hoping for me? I am trying to remember it, an act I find it strangely comforting. I am thinking it would go something like this:

Dear 29 year old me,

it feels strange that I could be giving you advice on anything. After all, I am just a younger, less experienced version of you. You could be looking back at me and want nothing to do with who that is anymore. But then I do hope you still value my opinion. Wouldn’t it be a comforting idea that we can learn from our own life over and over again, and that you and I still respect and love each other?

I hope you look back at me and smile, and I hope that you remember vividly how happy I am. I take on this journey knowing that it will be wonderful. I know that it will empower me and make me strong. I am not afraid of being alone. And I hope that after this, you never will be, either. I hope that I will learn for you and all the future versions of us that being by yourself is not scary, but beautiful, even healing. I hope that I will learn how to listen to our own heart’s desires and how to follow them. And I do hope that you will be able to put all that to good use.

I know that I will meet boundaries, both physical and emotional ones. I know that I will push them, overcome them, and sometimes have to step back and just accept them. I know it won’t always be easy, but I am not afraid of any of it. I am excited for it. Please never forget that this is one of our most empowering traits: We don’t shy away from challenge. Never shy away from an opportunity to grow!

I ask you to remember all the things you should be grateful for. This journey surely makes the top of the list. The landscapes that I will see! The people I will meet! The emotions I will feel! It is now all ahead of me, but you will be able to carry the images in your heart as a constant source of comfort. And even once this is all over and has made its way into that foggy, yet golden country called memory, please be assured: There is always something to look forward to. There will always be amazing things to see and discover. Never lose the curiosity and the enthusiasm for discovery that I am bursting with in this moment. It will drive you to greatness, and what’s more, to happiness.

I don’t need to know about you – what you have achieved, or where you stand. I know that whatever you do will be wonderful and good for both of us. I am unshakingly confident that you will have made us both proud, and that you live your life as best you can, striving for happiness and fulfillment. I wish I knew what you think about me today. I am only just realizing that we have an immense capability for love and happiness, you know, and I hope it’s never lost.

Much love,

your 25 year old self xx

I was so insanely hopeful and confident. And then my trip was all I hoped for in that moment of departure – and more. I returned from it a different person – can you tell from the pictures?

Mariella, ReturnDay 2010Now what would this girl say to me, at the eve of her 26th birthday, having just returned from her journey? She would look at the letter above and say: „Told you. All my hopes and dreams came true. We can manage everything. I have nothing to add.“

When I am tied behind my desk these days, working on things I really love and that make me happy, I still feel a lot more cynical, a lot more fearful and a lot more on guard than I used to back then.

Mariella, Regular Work Day 2014It is good for me to think back on the person I was four years ago. I have a lot to learn from her. And I hope that even at my desk, fighting the smaller wars of daily routine, I would make her proud. I am insanely proud of her.

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!

Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey

Today, I thought about which bridge I might write about in my Sunday post for quite a while, and digging through my archive I didn’t really come across anything. That is partially due to the fact that ever since I started using my new camera (so much love for my Sony NEX 3n!!), my old photos look crappy. But then I came across this. And I cannot even believe I haven’t used it yet when it makes my heart sing songs that no earthly words can possibly describe.

Galata Bridge, Istanbul, TurkeyThis is Galata Bridge, in Turkish: Galata Köprüsü, in Istanbul. This is the bridge that connects the two sides of the Haliç, the Golden Horn, connecting the districts of Karaköy and Eminönü. Tourists often get confused standing on one side of the bridge thinking that on the other side they see Asia. This is not the case – the Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosphorus, stretching into Europe, and the bridge connects two European parts of the city.

Being on this Bridge, the Bridge of the Golden Horn, is very hard for me to put into words. I don’t know what it is about Istanbul that caught my heart so forcefully. The fishermen that cast their lines from behind the bridge’s bannisters. The smell of salt water. The sound of waves, ships, seagulls, and of so many people all around you.

The first day I ever spent in Istanbul, I got there early in the morning on a night bus and, before checking in with my couchsurfing host, had breakfast in one of the touristy restaurants under the bridge. It was simple, fresh, overpriced, but delicious. And I felt my heartbeat accustom to the city’s pulse. It didn’t take long until it was in sync. And when I returned to the city, it was the same feeling right away. Istanbul has placed a kiss on my soul, and I have never been the same person ever since.

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!

Travnik Castle Bridge in Travnik, Bosnia & Hercegovina

In spite of the fact that my roommate has today, truthfully, noted that the sun has been shining in Berlin for the past three Saturdays, I miss summer. And I miss the Balkans. And most of all, I miss Bosnia. On today’s Bridges on Sundays, therefore, I am indulging in reminiscence of the wonderful time I had there.

Travnik Castle Bridge, Travnik, Bosnia & HercegovinaThis is me in May 2010 on the grounds of Travnik Castle in the heart of Bosnia & Hercegovina. Behind me is the bridge crossing the moat – white, eternal, covered in moss and weeds, delightfully morbid and beautiful. This was about 6 weeks into my trip and I had finally truly come to and found my place in this lifestyle that I was so incredibly lucky to live for another 3 1/2 months to come. I was utterly happy, and I think it shows in my face.

I went to Travnik with my couchsurfing host from Sarajevo. When I had written to him if I could stay with him for a bit, he’d replied: „Sure, but me and my best friend are going on a road trip that weekend. You wanna come?“ I never hesitated for one second, and ended up on a road trip through Northern BiH with two Turkish expats. At the time it was starting to get incredibly hot in Bosnia. The white scarf around my head I wore as a head scarf half of the time against the burning sun. The guys joked that I would make a pretty Muslima, and then stopped the car by the side of the freeway at what to me were random intervals – for prayer. The green hills, white fortresses and the muezzin’s call for prayer fell right into my heart and I fell for Bosnia head over heels. I haven’t been there in over two years now. But there’s a piece of my soul in that country, always waiting for me, always calling.

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!

Footbridges in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

This may be more of a crossing than an actual bridge. But since it gets people drily across a body of water I’ll count it. Plus, I love the picture. Footbridge, Plitvice Lakes, CroatiaThis is what the footbridges look like in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia – that fairytale place of waterfalls and water of greenish blue colours you didn’t yet know existed. You walk barely just above the water surface on planks, and plants in different shades of green entwine around the planks and seem to reach out to you, wanting to draw you towards them and underwater. The water is gushing underneath your feet. It feels like you could actually walk on water.

One of the best travel decisions in my life was most definitely coming to Plitvice Lakes in April – off-season. Even in the cool Spring weather it was already fairly well visited, and I cannot even begin to imagine what it must look like in summer. Or maybe I just don’t want to imagine. The only thing that saves the place from a complete tourist overload is probably the fact that you are not allowed to swim in the turquoise – no, emerald – no, myrtle – pine – shamrock – good lord, I just cannot decide on a good word to describe the incredible colour of the water. The footbridges blend in so well that they are hardly noticeable – and yet they allow for the visitor to get to the points where the view will be most amazing. Plitvice might not be a secret anymore – but it doesn’t matter, it is a must see for anyone who goes to Croatia.

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“.

Motorway Bridges in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Hercegovina

How is it that mist can be so sad and depressing when it’s outside my Berlin window, but so beautiful when it is covering the forests stretching over a Bosnian mountain?

Sarajevo, Bosnia & HercegovinaWhen I was in Sarajevo, my couchsurfing host took me around town in his car. I am not even sure from where I took this picture, I am just fairly sure that somewhere in it there is the border between the Federation of BiH and the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) – the two entities that make up the country we know as Bosnia and Hercegovina.

The motorway in the picture goes East from the capital toward Serbia. They must have had a lot of fun building it, with its strange bridge constructions passing over the valleys. Take into account that after the war in the 90s a lot of Bosnian mountains are still mined until today and you have to be quite careful to trod off the beaten path, and then look at this elaborate system of bridges and tunnels – quite a masterpiece.

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!

Varadin Bridge in Novi Sad, Serbia

After a lot of bridge posts about Western and / or Northern Europe, today I am taking you back to my beloved Balkans and some summer sunshine while autumn has turned wet and grey in Berlin. Varadin Bridge, Novi Sad, SerbiaThis is the view from Petrovaradin fortress onto the city centre of Novi Sad, Serbia’s second largest city. To the right in the picture you can see Varadin Bridge crossing the Danube river. If you want to go to the fortress, you will most likely cross this bridge. From the bridge you have a gorgeous view of the old castle walls sitting majestically on a hill above the city. From the fortress you have this beautiful outlook onto the city.

Novi Sad is the centre of the Vojvodina. Vojvodina is an autonomous province in Serbia, just like Kosovo is considered to be one by the Serbians (who, as you may know, have not recognized Kosovo’s independence). It is also one of the many multicultural areas in Eastern and Central Eastern Europe – easily recognizable by the fact that it has six official languages: Serbian / Croatian, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian and Ruthenian. I think especially the Hungarian influence on the city is quite noticeable in the architecture and the cityscape. It is one of the areas in which gaps between cultures are simultaneously made visible – via prejudice and exclusion – and bridged – in the necessity to live together in one space.

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 love in places that I 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!

Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Today’s bridge brings you back to that country that has my heart and to a historical place for all of Europe.

1Bosnien - SarajevoThis is Latin Bridge, or Latinska ćuprija, in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. The river that runs under it is the river Miljacka, so beautifully besung by Halid Bešlić in the song of the same name that I have mentioned in this post about the Sound of Bosnia. The bridge is one of the typically Ottoman structures you see so often in the Balkans – with their several arches and curvy elegance and playfulness. The bridge is even part of the coat of arms of Sarajevo, albeit quite stylized.

To be honest, although it may be the prettiest bridge over the Miljacka River, Latin Bridge didn’t impress me much at first, and I found the Miljacka to be shallow and narrow. But then it came to me that in this very spot, few metres from where I took this photo, archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb called Gavrilo Princip in 1914. Many of you will know that this is considered one of the, if not the decisive moment that started World War I. This is typically Bosnia. It keeps surprising you with amazing facts and, I have no other words, a pretty fucked-up history. If there ever was a country that made me understand that things aren’t always what they appear to be at first glance, it was this one.

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!

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