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Category: Yugoslavia

“Belgrad, ici Belgrad”

“Belgrad, ici Belgrad”

“Belgrad, ici (=here)  Belgrad”, you hear in the James Bond movie “From Russia with love”, when the most famous British spy 007 arrived with the mythical “Orient-Express” in Belgrade (or in Serbian “Beograd”  which is the capital of Serbia, before Yugoslavia) from Istanbul while he was on his way to Venice.

James Bond arriving in Belgrade in the movie “From Russia with love”

Not only James Bond made a stop in Belgrade. Many, many celebrities and ordinary people passed here and set their first steps in Belgrade on the main railway station, including myself.

Belgrade´s main railway station in 2014

The main railway station of Belgrade (in the movie they used another station I think) was once a huge railway knot in Europe: if you traveled from West to South-East Europe or from North to South you could not miss it.

Sign for the international train Malmö-Beograd 

It had connections with many railways stations in Europe, like Paris (Gare de Lyon), Roma Termini, Zürich, Köln HBF, Dortmund HFB, München HBF, Hamburg HBF, Malmö C, Istanbul, Athens, Moscow, Warsaw and many others.

A page of the timetable of the Jugoslavenske željeznice (Yugoslav Railways) from 1983

In the last decades many connections were lost, minimizing the importance of the railways in Serbia. Unfortunately another sad story regarding the loss of (railway) heritage can be added on the 30th June because then the main railway station of Belgrade will be closed. The last scheduled train will arrive at from Vienna at 20:48. Then at 21h40 the last train ever from Belgrade´s main railway station will leave to Budapest.

Entry of Belgrade railway station, 2017

Beside that it is a really sad that Belgrade will be one of the few capital cities where the main railway station will not be in the city center. A historical place for the city of Belgrade and Serbia in general which disappears…

Belgrad, Belgrade, Beograd, ici “Belgrad” 

On the banks of the last kilometer of the Sava river there once was a famous railway station.
A station where people started their travel towards their dreams, their families, their loved ones.
For others it was an arrival back home or a start for new adventures.

On the platforms people cried, laughed and sad farewell to their loves.
Kings, emperors, generals, adventurers all passed here,
when travelling to or from far destinations.

A bureaucratic pencil stripe ended it all.
The rails to the station will be disconnected and
no more trains will ever departure or arrive here.

Modern times will simply vanish  everything away,
but they will never erase the memories of the people
when they heard 
“Belgrad”, “Belgrade” “Beograd” , ici “Belgrade”.

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Kovačica, the centre of naïve art

Kovačica, the centre of naïve art

Yesterday it was 1st May and that means a public holiday in Serbia so we decided to finally go to Kovačica, a village approximately 47 km north-east of Belgrade in the autonomous province of Vojvodina. We heard nice stories about the village, which is called “the centre of naïve art”, so we took the chance to finally visit it.

Gallery of naïve art in Kovačica: Painting of Zuzana Chalupová, 1986.

Naïve art is any form of visual art that is created by a person who lacks the formal education and training that a professional artist undergoes. The result is nevertheless beautiful and very touching.I really like it, the scenes in these paintings are mostly innocent and very down to earth: scenes of daily (village) life and done in a very colourful and lively way. The most famous painter of them all was Zuzana Chalupová, a Serbian naïve painter Slovak origin (Wiki).

Gallery of naïve art in Kovačica: Painting of Zuzana Chalupová, 1986.

Kovačica is a multi-ethnic village with 6469 inhabitants and exists of: 41% Slovaks, 34% Serbian, 10% Hungarian, 7% Romanian, 8% Others*. The naïve art is mainly done by the Slovaks as they told us.

Multi-lingual street sign in Kovačica.

It is a very nice village and a very nice gallery, well worth visiting it. They have other things (galleries, churches etc.) which can be visited too, but they were closed, because of the public holiday. There is, definitely, a reason to go back!

More info:
Gallery of naïve art: http://www.naivnaumetnost.com/
Municipality Kovačica: http://kovacica.org/

Gallery of naïve art in Kovačica.

(*Source RZS)

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“Sorry we did not know it was invisible”

“Sorry we did not know it was invisible”

When NATO started to bomb Yugoslavia on 24/03/1999, it was the 1st war of NATO without an UN mandate. In the heart of Europe bombs were dropped and the results of these bombardments can still be seen and felt in Serbia.

18/03/2018: Monument on the hill of Straževica (in the Belgrade suburb of Rakovica) commemorating two non-commissioned officers killed by NATO aggression. This hill was the most bombarded place in Belgrade as underneath the army HQ was located.

Besides the huge economical loss of which Serbia is still suffering, there also a lot of personal tragedies which never can be calculated in money of course. During the 78 days of the military campaign, the Serbian government estimates that at least 2,500 people died and 12,500 were injured (article).

The first time I visited Serbia, in 2004, I did not feel any hostility towards me and I was positively surprised. Ten years later I decided to live in the capital of Serbia, yes Belgrade, with my Serbian wife. In those 3,5 years I never ever felt being blamed or attacked about these bombardments. I have noticed that many people don´t want to talk about it in detail, it is still considered a traumatic event for many which I of course completely understand and respect. To quote somebody: “we could not believe that we were being bombed at the end of the 20th century”.

One truly amazing story which keeps inspiring me is the story of my dear friend Zoltán Dani. He was a colonel in the 3rd battery of the 250th Missile Brigade from the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When NATO started the bombardments he had of course to do his duty and defend his country.

In the evening of 27/03/1999 he and his team shot down a stealth F117A from the US Air force, this type of plane was thought invisible. Zoltán and his team made some modifications on their radar system, spotted the plane and shot it down. The pilot, Dale Zelko, used his ejection seat and was later rescued by US forces.

That is already amazing, but what is even more amazing is that years later Zoltán came in contact with Dale by accident and they became….. friends… First Dale came to visit Zoltán in Serbia and later Zoltán went to the USA. Two documentaries were made about these visits: 21 sekund (link) about the first and “Drugi Susret” (the 2nd meeting, link) about you guess their 2nd meeting. These documentaries are very interesting to see how foes became friends (see also article here).

Dale Zelko (left) from the USA and Zoltán Dani (right) from Serbia.

Zoltán told me the background and reasons why he became friends with his former enemy, because he remembers also the pain, the fears and the angers just like many other Serbs when NATO started to bomb Serbia.

The author of this blog and Zoltán Dani, Belgrade, February 2017.

Everybody can shoot a plane down, but not everybody can become friends with his former enemy. Let this story give inspiration to many.

If you want to see “Drugi Susret” then you can come on the special event on 27th March at 17:00 to Art Bioskop Kolarac Studentski Trg 5 (Google Maps) in Belgrade (fb event here). 

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Holocaust memorial day

Holocaust memorial day

The 27th January it is #HolocaustMemorial day so that we never forget the Holocaust. Unfortunately, it seems that anno 2018 we seem to forget a lot of things.

Recently I had the honour to meet one of the survivors of Jasenovac on a preview of the exhibition about this concentration camp, which was “the Auschwitz of the Balkans“, where at least 100.000 people were killed (and this is even a low estimation). Even German SS officers at that time were shocked by the crimes committed by the Croatian Ustasas (which collaborated with the Nazi’s).  There was also the only concentration camp for children…

13/01/2018: Mr Rončević talking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade, Serbia.

The exhibition opened today at the United Nations palace in New York and Mr Rončević (the survivor) spoke at the opening today about the horrors he witnessed.  When I brought him home 2 weeks ago he told me that he is satisfied that finally after all these years he could speak freely and that the government finally acknowledged the horrors he had to witness. The Serbian government arranged that he could speak in New York today, as during Tito’s Yugoslavia it was forbidden to speak about Jasenovac, because it could damage the brotherhood and unity between the Croats and the Serbs. Now he could speak freely about the crimes he had to witness.

Meanwhile it is for me unbelievable to see that an European country like Croatia (even member of the EU)  tried to prevent this exhibition (see article B92) and therefore try to cover the genocide of Roma, Jews and Serbs committed in Jasenovac.

Pictures below: Made by myself, 13.01.2018 at the Serbian ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade.

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Sided

Sided

The area around the (current) main railway station is in development for the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project. The current station will disappear and new buildings will arise along the riverbank of the Sava river. Last Saturday (19/11/2016) construction workers, bus drivers, truck drivers, railway workers, refugees and a lonely trainspotter could be found.

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Belgrade’s current main railway station where once the Orient Express arrived.

The preparations started with groundwork so I took the opportunity (maybe one of the last) to photograph these old steam-locomotives. With the help of other Balkan railway fans on the internet I got actually to know which types of locomotives I saw.

Once those locomotives were driving through the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later Socialist Yugoslavia, connecting the people of Yugoslavia. We can only guess how many kilometers those locomotives were driving through snow, rain and heat. They connected business people, diplomats and loved ones with each other…

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JŽ (=Yugoslav Railways) 01-085, Belgrade 19/11/2016.
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JŽ serie 1 (click to enlarge) in better times…. Source: Wikipedia.
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JŽ 01-085 (left) and 51 series ( right), Belgrade 19/11/2016.
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JŽ 038-072, Belgrade 19/11/2016.
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JŽ series 51, Belgrade 19/11/2016.

Now for ever sided in the rubbish and soon they will disappear because the future is waiting and it seems there is no place (so far) any more for those oldies…. Let’s hope they will not disappear as this is historical railway heritage.

 

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Ode to the Railway museum!

Ode to the Railway museum!

For a question which I got via my network I had to do a little research of the signalling system in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during the thirties of last century (the inter-war period). The Orient-Express was in full operation and from Paris to Istanbul it passed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the person who contacted me need very specific details for a film production.

So the first step was the Serbian Railway museum close to my work here in Belgrade. I had been already many times there and it is an old style museum: when you enter you make a step back in time, but the step back in time is for free as the entrance is (still?) for free.

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When the employees listened to me last week of what I needed to told me that they could and will help me. Today I went back and the lady was very friendly: she heard already about the story and her colleague, who is soon going to retire, would get the desired item for me: the “signalni pravilnik, važi od 1 aprila 1932 god.” (the signalling rule book, valid from 1 April 1932) from the “Državne Železnice Kraljevine Jugoslavije” (State Railways of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). In 15 minutes I was done and had the whole book photographed.

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Mission accomplished and I am very grateful to the kind help of the employees of the Serbian Railway museum. While chit-chatting with them they told me that due the split up (aka privatization) of the Serbian Railways the museum would most possible disappear on it is current location and current form. All alarm bells went off.

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Why ? Because during the nighties of the last century the Netherlands was in full privatization mode: let’s privatize all government tasks, because the market could do it better! I am from a family where everybody worked for the Dutch railways and I worked there as well. I was part of the bigger (European) railway “family” which thus was privatized and after that it did not exist any more.

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This did not happen only happened with the railways, but it also happened with the Dutch health care system, the post & telephony services (PTT) and many other government services. It seems this trend started now in Serbia and I personally think that it is not a good trend. Yes efficiency of course, but basic government services (health care, PTT, transport) should not be privatized. Back in the Netherlands more voices are against further privatization are even reverse it in some cases.

For Serbia it is easy, because they can learn from the mistakes they made in Western-Europe / European Union with privatizing basic government services.

 

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The statue of Rocky Balboa / Statua Roki Balboa

The statue of Rocky Balboa / Statua Roki Balboa

Until yesterday I never knew about a village with the name of Zitiste, a village in Vojvodina, a region in Serbia. It is not far from the Serbian-Romanian border and before 1914 it was part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. I will not bother you with more historical facts , but I will save you for now.

Screenshot from 2016-09-19 19:03:10

Have you ever heard of Rocky ? Yes of course you did ! Now guess what? In the village of Zitiste they have a statue for Rocky, the famous Hollywood star Silvester Stallone.  I could not believe my eyes , but yes it is indeed.

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I can not verify the story 100 % , but it seems somebody influential in the village wanted to get more attention to his village Zitiste. Mission succeeded according to me 🙂

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A picture a day in the year 2016! Overview 1st-15th January

A picture a day in the year 2016! Overview 1st-15th January

I try to make every day a picture this year, let’s see where it ends. Here pictures I took from 1st January till 15th January 2016:

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An ordinary Belgrade street…

An ordinary Belgrade street…

Imagine just an ordinary street in Belgrade, nothing special, it is not even in the city centre of Belgrade. There is a Kafana, an exchange office, an ordinary small restaurant, a very expensive “fancy smency” restaurant, a garage for tires, a shop where they sell things on demand (I still do not know what I actually can buy there), a bike shop, an auto parts shop, a kiosk, another small supermarket (but there you can take the things yourself), bakery and a takeaway food counter.

Beside that you will find also a taxi stand, a gas station, a bus-stop, another small garage, an office which sells and repair air conditioners, some other small offices from various companies and yes if you want to buy a stove, it is also possible in the same street.

This ordinary street can be very busy, with cars, busses, people and street dogs passing. The guy from the exchange office is originally from Montenegro, the guys from the tire garage are from all parts of Yugoslavia, the Kafana owner is from Bosnia (I hope he will hang back the portrait of Gavrilo Princip at the entrance after he finished refurbishing his Kafana), the lady making me a pljeskavica is I think from Slavonia which is nowadays Croatia (yes that used to be also a part of Yugoslavia) and for sure I forgot something.

Aha, I remember, it seems there is every day a strange Dutch guy walking to his work with a too big smile and saying “dobro jutro” to everybody. He thinks he knows them all in that ordinary street, but every day new surprises pop up. When he goes back he says “doviđenja” shake some hands and thanks them for a nice day. Just an ordinary street in Belgrade….

Thank you for making me feel welcome!

-Hvala vam- 

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Đerdap

Đerdap

The National Park Đerdap, where I was this weekend is a beautiful area. It is situated on the bank of the Danube , which forms the border with Romania. The Iron Gate is situated here, it is the smallest point of the Danube river and the gorge formed by this mighty river is impressive.

The region is truly beautiful: it has historic and cultural monuments, the nature is outstanding. The Roman Limes were here for example, but before (+/- 6000 years before) a settlement was already here (Lepenski Vir). Now it is the border between (EU-) Romania and Serbia and in the middle the mighty Danube flows as always towards the Black Sea.

 

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Golubac Fortress, 14th centuary
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The Iron Gate, with left Romania and right Serbia. This is the smallest point of the Danube.
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Serbian border pole: the border with Romania is in the middle of the Danube river.

 

 

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Lepenski Vir (Лепенски Вир) is an important Mesolithic archaeological site : the latest data suggest 9500-7200 B.C. to be the start.
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