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Author: Fabian

Balkan style humor

Balkan style humor

If you ever think that the Balkans are boring with boring people who have no sense of humor at all, then I just would recommend you to continue reading. My attention was drawn to the following Tweet yesterday:

Of course this it not in Croatia (it is in  Sri Lanka) , but that does not matter. What matters were the replies from people from the Balkans (mostly ex-Yugoslavia) which gives you a good insight about the humor the people have in this region. For example the beautiful nature of Pančevo in Serbia, which is close to Belgrade and has massive industry.

Another person tweeted:

The Sabacki Vasar is actually a huge fair in Šabac, Western Serbia, where you can buy everything and eat of course a lot of meat. The lions from Croatia would love it:

Meanwhile you can enjoy the beautiful Ada beach in Belgrade, Serbia:

If you are really want to see some beautiful pyramids, you go of course to Bosnia:

The Ohrid Lake in Macedonia is known for it sharks:

And when you cross the Greek-Macedonian border, watch out for snow storms !

Yes the winters can be harsh as well in Croatia:

I only ask how the giraffes survives in Croatia and the dolphins in the Ada lake here in Belgrade?

Stefan from Kosovo reported me that the giraffe there was eaten by dino´s

While Maximus from Kosovo tweeted me that I for sure must have seen the snow leopards in the mountains:

Yes dino´s also exist in Croatia:

But he, we also have giraffe´s in Belgrade I discovered:

We all need a good joke sometimes, beside all the serious news we have to consume daily and people in the Balkan region know how to produce a good laugh ;-).

And yes I hate Mondays too @nada_speranza 😉

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The 100th anniversary of the end of WWI: unknown stories from Serbia

The 100th anniversary of the end of WWI: unknown stories from Serbia

On the 11/11/2018 Serbia commemorate, with its allies (France, UK, USA, Italy, Belgium etc.), that it was 100 years ago that the First World War (WWI) ended. A lot of events are organised in different countries. France for example will organise a big commemoration in Paris on 11/11 and the UK also announced several events. And Serbia, who lost in terms of percentage, the most people? It will organise a kind of “military drill” show through the country, it has some exhibitions and some commemorations,  a big TV show on 11/11, but that’s it. It surprises me that there are no huge commemorations where the public is invited to celebrate 100 years end of WWI.

It is estimated that Serbia lost more than 1.1 million inhabitants during the war, including both army and civilian losses. This represented more than 26 per cent of its then total population and 58 per cent of its adult male population.

Far away from military drills, receptions behind closed doors for politicians and other “VIPS” I think about the Serbian WWI soldiers which were focus of our voluntarily research (see www.secanje.nl).  They must have been very happy that they could go back after the years of suffering in the PoW (=Prisoner of War) camps of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. They were captured in 1914, but most of them in 1915, while their other comrades died on the battlefield or retreated via Albania to the Greek island of Corfu.

Miloš for example from Resnik, a village close to Belgrade, died far away from his family: he was weak after all the PoW camps and the hard labour conditions there. When he got the Spanish flu he could not be saved any more: he died 18th January 1919 in Nijmegen (the Netherlands) while he was waiting to be transported back to Serbia.

Miloš Jeremić, in Emden (Germany) , 1917 (?)

With the help of people from Azanja we found another face behind a name: Milovan Milojević  who died in Garderen also in the Netherlands and also in January 1919.

Milovan Miljojević from Azanja, Serbian WWI soldier who died in NL

When we had contact with the descendants of Đorđe (Đoka) Vukosavljević  they told us that they had also letters. These letters (see here) give an inside in the hard PoW life in the camps. He died also in the Netherlands and was later, in 1938,  exhumed to the mausoleum Jindřichovice (Czech Republic) , just as the remains of 87 other Serbian WWI soldiers who died in the Netherlands.

The mausoleum in Jindřichovice contains the remains of  7,469 Serbian soldiers and 189 Russian soldiers: it contains more remains of Serbian WWI soldiers than the, for Serbs so famous, Zeitenlik graveyard in Thessaloniki.

Together with my wife and our friend John, we did this research voluntarily and we are grateful to the people who provide us help. We created a digital space for these Serbian WWI heroes on the website www.secanje.nl. Tomorrow I commemorate without a parade or a TV-show,but I do it in silence: may their sacrifices never be forgotten!

Inside the mausoleum of Jindřichovice , 28/06/2014
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Belgrade – Bar by train

Belgrade – Bar by train

Belgrade (the capital of Serbia) and Bar (a sea port in Montenegro) are connected by a 476 kilometres long railway. It is one of the most scenic railways in Europe. I already travelled a part of this railway line, but now finally I had the chance to do the whole trip with some friends. We took the Friday night train from Belgrade to Bar where we arrived on Saturday morning.

Locomotive 461-043 from the railways of Montenegro, build in Roumania.

We just woke up on time to see how we passed the Male Rijeka viaduct, the tallest railway viaduct in Europe (and once of the world, but then the Chinese started building).

Mala Rijeka viaduct in Montenegro is 198 meters high and therefor the highest railway viaduct in Europe.

After we passed Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, we saw the beautiful Skardar lake.

Skardar lake

After the 6km Sozina tunnel we could catch a first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea in Sutomore. When we arrived to Bar we went to drop our stuff at our accommodation and we walked to Stari Bar. Stari Bar is the old (stari means old) part of Bar and is very beautiful. Worth visiting is the fortress and be sure you visit a restaurant where the serve fresh fish ! The locals are super friendly and welcoming.

Stari Bar

When we went back to Bar we walked along the sea so we could drink a beer (be sure it is a Nikšićko Pivo, which is a very good beer from Montenegro) and enjoy the beautiful sunset.

Sunset in Bar, Montenegro

After a good night out in some local bar(s) in Bar it was time to go back on Sunday morning and enjoy the scenery of this railway line by day. It was rainy and windy and the autumn colours made it even more special.

A couple of kilometres more to the highest point of the railway line which is 1,032 meters above sea level in Kolašin, Montenegro.

The trip takes more or less 12 hours and we arrived on time in both directions. I can highly recommend you this trip: take your time, enjoy the scenery, talk with the super friendly locals and relax!

Near Zlatibor in Serbia.

More pictures can be seen here: A weekend trip by train from Belgrade (SRB) to Bar (MNE)

And for our train lovers you can go straight to the railway pictures only by clicking on the following link: Belgrade (SRB)-Bar (MNE) by railway

Here are some links to previous blogs which I wrote regarding this subject:

Situation and tips&tricks regarding the railway stations in Belgrade.

Tito’s railway

A small part of the line is passing Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the train does not stop there.
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WWI monument in Kragujevac

WWI monument in Kragujevac

Many times I passed the WWI monument in Kragujevac, without even noticing it. I am interested in WWI monuments here in Serbia since we started to research the fate of the Serbian WWI soldiers who died in the Netherlands (see www.secanje.nl). This time I stopped and took a closer look and to my positive surprise: this monument is beautiful!

Unfortunately there are no names on the monument so also not from Đorđe Vukosavljević (more information) who was from Kragujevac and died in the Netherlands in 1919.

More WWI monuments in Serbia you will find on a, far from completed, map I created on Google Maps. If you know more WWI monuments and you want me to add them to the map you can contact me.

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The Dutch “Florence Nightingale”  for the Serbs during WWI

The Dutch “Florence Nightingale”  for the Serbs during WWI

During the First World War (WWI) several medical mission were active in the Balkans. In Serbia they all know about the Scottish women hospitals (link), Flora Sandes, Archibald Reiss and more. Less known are the Dutch Red Cross medical missions with the doctors Arius van Tienhoven and van Dijk and others doctors, nurses and supporting staff.

During our research to the fate of the 91 Serbian WWI soldiers who died in the Netherlands we found a heart-breaking article from 23rd February 1919 in the “Telegraaf”, a national newspaper in the Netherlands. It was written and sent to the newspaper by  Ludovica Dominica Jeannette Koning, a nurse who served during several Red Cross missions on the Balkans. In July 1913 she served during the Second Balkan War (Serbia) and in July 1915 she served back again in Serbia during the First World War (most possibly in Kragujevac). In 1916 she served in Thessaloniki and Bitola until the summer of 1917 where she helped the wounded Serbs again. In January 1919 she is an active member of the committee who helped the Serbian Prisoners of War in the Netherlands. On behalf of that committee she wrote to the newspaper, here some extracts:

-BIJ DE ZIEKE SERVIËRS- (WITH THE SICK SERBS)

Nurse L. Koning writes to us:
“On behalf of the Serbian envoy in the Hague, I traveled to various cities and hospitals  the where Serbs are being treated so I pay these poor people a visit. When we provided care during the Balkan war to these good soldiers with their great powers of resistance, we could not have imagined that we would see a part of them again in a state in which they are now: exhausted, sick and without energy.

Later in the article she writes about an benefit evening which she helped to organise: In Amsterdam there was an art evening was which was held the 23th January for the benefit of the sick Serbian soldiers in our country and 1000 guilders were collected that evening.

The committee was therefore given the opportunity to provide the Serbs with some refreshments. Through such small acts of sympathy, the sick soldiers forgot their griefs for a moment which consists of ever-recurring melancholy reflections.
“What will Serbia look like? Will my parents still be alive, my wife, my children, my brothers, my sisters? In what condition will I see them again? Does our house still exist? Are we, as we used to be, or did we become poorer? “How many died of hunger? Only a few people live in Serbia somebody told me.

When I asked if somebody wanted to sing the Serbian national anthem or any other song, the answer was: “In 4 years we have not sung, we cannot longer do it; we have had little laugh. We only worked hard, often for little or no food “. 
How Serbia was, I do not remember, said one, I do not know anything about Serbia anymore, but I longing for it.

When I came to bring their lemons, there was a cheer. In Germany there were no lemons or only for 30 Mark each, a Serb informed me, but in Serbia, they were cheap. The Serbs use lemon in tea, in wine, cognac, in sugar water or drink it undiluted. When I told the Serbs that I visited their country several times, their faces were filled with joy and I had to mention in which places and hospitals I worked, which doctors and soldiers I knew.
She ends the article with: I left them with the thought: “How will these undernourished, weak soldiers still come through the long journey? “The Committee for the benefit of the Serbian soldiers in our country – of which the Consul General M. Merens is honorary chairman – is still willing to receive money, cigars, cigarettes, chocolates, chocolates, fruit (lemons), compote and illustrations. Many Serbian soldiers died in our country. Anyone who helps to give the survivors and the sick a few sunny moments do a nice job.

After her charity work for the committee for Serbian WWI soldiers in the Netherlands she continued to do good deeds for the Serbs: she started to work for  a  civil mission in Serbian and American service for orphanages in April 1919. Unfortunately it is not known until now what she did exactly, only we know that in November 1921 she moved back from Belgrade to Amsterdam. She died in an elderly house in Amsterdam in 1955, she became 81 years.

It is a pity that we could not find more information yet, but we should not forget those who took care of others and that also the Netherlands, although a neutral country during WWI,  contributed to help the wounded and the sick Serbian population and its soldiers.

The full original article can be found an Delpher (link) and the full translated article can be found here (link).

Meeting of the committee for the benefit of Serbian prisoners of war, Amsterdam, 23rd February 1919. Source: Collectie Stadsarchief Amsterdam: foto-afdrukken.
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Morning walk through Kalemegdan

Morning walk through Kalemegdan

This morning I had to walk through Kalemegdan, the old fortress of Belgrade, on my way to my office. Definitely not a punishment as it is very beautiful with a lot of green.If the stones could tell what happened here you would stay for sure a couple of days to listen to all the stories. It was here were the first fighting broke out of the First World War (read here more about it), but also where the Ottomans were fighting the Hungarians. But even before it was the military frontier of the Roman Empire.

A panorama as seen from the Kalemegdan fortress in Belgrade, Serbia

The fortress is located on top of the 125.5-meter high ending ridge of the Šumadija geological ridge. It is bordered by the Sava which has it confluence with the Danube here. It is here where the Balkans starts geographically.

The autumn colors, the sunlight and the fact that it was quiet made the picture complete ! Kalemegdan is worth visiting and a must to visit, one of the top attractions in Belgrade which you should not miss!
Keywords: Belgrade, Beograd , Belgrado , Belgrad , Serbia , Servië , Kalemegdan , Danube river, Sava , Donau rivier

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Destruction of railway heritage in Serbia

Destruction of railway heritage in Serbia

Yesterday the Serbian media reported (read here the news report in English from B92) that vandals damaged old steam locomotives in a railway depot from the railway museum near the old railway station. Actually this old railway depot is opposite of the police station and the area is completely being leveled, because of the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project. It did not surprise me that this destruction happened : already in November 2016 I wrote about it, you can read the blog here. The only difference now is that vandals really did their best to demolish irreplaceable railway heritage and that it came in the news.

Photo from Twitter

I know Serbia has a lot of problems, like the healthcare & educational system which is falling apart, a collapsing infrastructure, mismanagement of public services, media freedom, a brain drain etc. etc. , but it sad to see that this could happen and for sure it will happen again in the future. As railway enthusiast and somebody who loves Serbia as well this is sad to see, as if my heart is teared apart twice…..

JŽ serie 1 (click to enlarge) in better times…. Source: Wikipedia.

JŽ 01-085 (left) and 51 series ( right), Belgrade 19/11/2016.
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An old railway carriage with a glorious past (or not)…..

An old railway carriage with a glorious past (or not)…..

Last Saturday I went to our train model club (Klub ljubitelja železnice Beograd) were we have a old Slovenian post wagon as our club premises. The wagon is stationed at the now closed Dunav stanica (Danube station) in Belgrade. The station is still staffed with friendly employees from Srbija Kargo , because there is still a connection to the Belgrade harbor. Old carriages are standing here now and I discovered that they stalled a “new” wagon was standing close to the former station building.The wagon at Dunav stanica

Curious as I was I took a closer look and this is what I saw on the wheels: Written in between the wheels was: ” K.P.E.V. Mod. 18A Wittman Haspe 1918 ”

I took some more pictures,as I thought this is pretty special: a train wagon which is 100 years, standing here now, I was really wow (for those who don´t know it yet: I like trains).The wagon seen from the other side.

Inside view.
I also saw this : Jugoslovenske Državne Železnice (JDŽ) = Yugoslav state railways

When home I was tweeting these pictures and one Twitter follower, Arjan de Boer, who made a beautiful website about railway history (www.retours.eu) wrote to me that this is a beautiful discovery. Most possibly this is a wagon from the famous Wagon-Lits company (who exploited the famous “Orient-Express”). The K.P.E.V. stands for Königlich Preußische Eisenbahn-Verwaltung (KPEV) and they most possibly confiscated this wagon for their “Balkanzug” (Balkan train). The Balkan zug was a train from Berlin to Istanbul during WWI as alternative for the Orient-Express which could not be operated due the war. Arjan wrote me that he thinks that this must be wagon WL (Wagon-Lits) 2463 or 2467-2470 and that it stayed in Serbia after WWI. He sent me a picture of page from a book with some information about these wagons, see below:

I was pretty amazed that I just found such a wagon in ” the wild” .

A same type of wagon which was brought from Hungary and which now stands in the railway museum in Utrecht (the Netherlands)

I don ´t know what the plans are with this wagon, I hope it will be preserved for further generations, because it is a sad when railway heritage is being destructed as so much has already disappeared. I will find out what will happen with this old wagon. Below a picture of how it must have looked like when the wagon was fully operational.

Picture from : “Balkanzug” on www.retours.eu
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Kajmakčalan

Kajmakčalan

Kajmakčalan is a 2528 a.s.m.l. meters high mountain on the Greek-Macedonian border. This is the second time I climbed this mountain, the first time was in 2011 (see here), but this time with my wife and two Dutch friends who are also interested in WWI history (and not only about the Western front). Since 2012 I did read a lot about the First World War and started even a research together with two friends (see www.secanje.nl) of whom one is now my wife (my dear Tanja). Back then it was the end of a tour through former Yugoslavia, just like the famous Yugoslav song “od Vardara do pa Triglava” (from the Vardar river in Macedonia to the Triglav mountain in Slovenia, I did it only the way around). Now it was a climb towards WWI history: on this mountain in September 1916 a battle took place between the Serbian army (part of the Triple Entente) and the Bulgarian army (part of the Triple Alliance) .

The church Sveti Petar (the top is called Profitis Ilias-(Sveti Ilija in Serbian) on the summit of Kajmakčalan.

The battle was eventually won by the Serbs on 30th September 1916, but after huge losses on both sides.  In Serbia this mountain is almost considered holy as it was for the Serbian army the first victory after their losses in 1915 and the retreat of the Serbian army to the Greek island of Corfu via the Albania. It was here, at Kajmakčalan, where the Serbian army resurrected from their ashes and it was here that they started to liberate their country (back then this was the Greek-Serbian border).

Ramonda nathaliae, also known as Natalie’s ramonda. The flower is considered a symbol of the Serbian Army’s struggle during World War and can be found also on Kajmakčalan.

The church was recently restored ( 2016 ?), but unfortunately it was not done properly as the front part of the church is not white any more. It seems the cross on the top was also hit by lightening or a storm. A truly hope that funds will be available to repair the church and to keep it in good shape for further generations seen the historical value of this place.

Front view of the church “Sveti Petar”.

Above the entrance is written in Serbian: 
“Mojim divjunacima

neustrašivim i vernim
koji grudima svojim otvoriše vrata slobodi
i ostaše ovde
kao večni stražari na pragu otadžbine”

Translation in English: 
“To my fearless and faithful

colossal heroes,
who opened the gate of freedom
with their own chests
and who stayed here as permanent guards at the doorway of fatherland”

Inside the church you can light a candle, write in the guestbook and see the urn of Archibald Reiss. Rudolphe Archibald Reiss (8 July 1875 – 7 August 1929) was a German-Swiss criminology-pioneer, forensic scientist, professor and writer. He investigated the Austro-Hungarian war crimes committed in Serbia in 1914 and 1915 together with the Dutch doctor Arius van Tienhoven.  He retreated towards Corfu together with the Serbian army and followed them towards the liberation

After his death, his body was buried in the Topčider cemetery and, at his own request, his heart was buried on Kajmakčalan hill. The urn containing his heart was later demolished as revenge by the Bulgarians in World War II, but there are other stories that the JNA (=Yugoslav army) soldiers took it when they retreated in 1991 when Macedonia became an independent country.

Inside the church “Sveti Petar”, with at the right the urn where the heart of Archibald Reiss was kept.

It is hard to imagine that on this beautiful mountain so many soldiers died. Večna im slava! (=Eternal glory to them !)

Panorama picture of Kajmakčalan (click to enlarge).

*All pictures on this page are made by me on 18/08/2018 when I climbed Kajmakčalan.

And for those who want to climb this beautiful mountain themselves, here the route:

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Hvala Srbijo ! Thank you Serbia ! Dank je Servië !

Hvala Srbijo ! Thank you Serbia ! Dank je Servië !

It is today 4 years ago that I took the plane to Serbia to live there with my Serbian wife. A year ago I wrote already a blog (see here) about the mixed feelings and the questions popping up when you move too another country, relatively close, but still far away from your family and friends in my old home country.

In this 4 years I developed a hate-and-love relationship with Serbia: I love the nature, I love the people, I love the food, the drinks,the music, the humor and many other things. I hate the trash everywhere, the bureaucracy, the chaos in traffic, the inefficiency… But when I was in a unpleasant situations, there was always a Serb with a smile and the famous “nema problema” (no problem) sentence: at the end everything will always be alright. Fortunately there were many more funny, nice and pleasant situations which let you forget the negative ones.

Christmas in Serbia: Cvetke, 06/01/2018
Received in July 2018: a permanent stay with an ID for foreigners, old Yugoslav style.

Serbia and its people give me so much inspiration to write many beautiful, but also nasty stories. I truly do feel happy here when I am driving for example through the beautiful Serbian landscape on a crappy road to visit my family in law, friends or a beautiful touristic spot. It are the small things which you have to learn to appreciate in this country and there are many of those things.

I still need to learn many things about this country and its customs, but many I already discovered. Mostly they are pretty funny for a foreigner and I have the intention to write them all down one day. The publicity below from “LAV” ( a beer from Serbia) has it all : they are celebrating “Slava” (a religious celebration of the family saint) and the foreigner here tear apart the T-shirt from the host…. You don´t do this during a Slava, but you do this when you celebrate that somebody became father and then you tear apart the white shirt of the father… and no, I was not in such particular situation, but sometimes I  thought “what the heck…”

Serbs are an amazingly friendly people and very hospitable to foreigners, I repeat it again. Yes in these 4 years I also discovered nasty characteristics of Serbs, but he, nobody is perfect? And you definitely can´t generalize of course. The main conclusion is that I am very grateful to the Serbs to do their best to make me feel home: my family in law, friends, colleagues, unknown people in the bus, the shops or elsewhere. But  most of all: Hvala draga (=Thank you my dear) that you are always there for me : to be patient when I am inpatient; to listen to me when I am talking nonsense, to be with me at the MUP (=police) when I want to explode for missing a form which they did not told me to have it with me; to translate conversations when I am lost in Serbian language; to help me to fill in incomprehensible forms, but most of all to love me for who I am. Hvala draga, hvala Srbijo !

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