48 hours in Belgrade.
Between Serbian folk rock and a nostalgic atmosphere, "the gateway to the Balkans" more than lives up to its reputation as an insider's tip.
When we arrived in the capital of Serbia it was shrouded in its winter coat. The grass was frosty-white and the frost had painted pretty patterns on the windows. The "white city" at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube is one of the largest and oldest cities in Europe. In the midst of Wilhelminian and Art Nouveau houses, socialist state buildings and shops, we
checked into the Hotel "Moskva". We could feel the famous history of Belgrade as we entered the hotel. The bar pianist provided an atmosphere of splendour and nostalgia, and we could see why guests such as Albert Einstein, Jean-Paul Sartre or Mikhail Kalashnikov stayed here.
Surreal film set.
We are off to Ada Ciganlija – a peninsula in the city. In the summer, up to 300,000 people per day come here to bathe, fish, picnic or relax. Now, in the winter, it is more like a surreal film set – abandoned deckchairs on the beach, empty ice cream stands on the promenade and the occasional solitary jogger on the cycle tracks. The Concept Store, which we went to see after having a cup of coffee, is not at all like an ordinary supermarket. Here, you can obtain everything from household goods to fashion and lifestyle products. If you are looking for international or local design products, you are sure to find what you are looking for here. And the business policy works, as is shown by the well-filled store. There are plans for a branch to open in Berlin. We set off for the "Holsterol".
When we reached the little restaurant, the waiter immediately explained to us what was on offer. There is good reason why Serbian cuisine is famous for its wealth of meat. Somewhat daunted by the menu, we went for "Bakina Supica" – Grandma's soup.
Alice in Wonderland.
In the city centre there is the "Belgrade Design District", where Ana Ljubinkovic, a Serbian fashion designer, told us all about the vivid history of the buildings. As a result of the need to organise and present themselves, the Serbian designers have taken the initiative into their own hands and renovated the shopping centre. In between about a dozen designer stores, Ana's shop stands out. Her designs are reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland – they are imaginative, playful designs with many small details. Her fashion has long stopped being an insider's tip. In February 2013 she presented her designs in London at the International Fashion Showcase, part of London Fashion Week. As a true Belgrader, Ana told us as we left that we simply had to visit Sava Mala. There, the slow improvement in the city was most obvious.
Fellow diners and Serbian tapas.
In Sava Mala you will find KC Grad. It's a gallery, concert and party venue all under one roof. Since 2009 the manager, Ljudmila Stratimirovic, has been the curator of more and more exhibitions by national and international artists. It was not without reason that it was Sava Mala. The old industrial quarter with heavy through traffic has now become one of the city's hot spots with a future which could go anywhere. Here we also bumped into Juan Pablo Delgado. He is a Mexican photographer and visual artist who currently lives in Belgrade and is an ardent fan of Belgrade's cultural scene. We could see why, and we celebrated this fact next door at Bašta. It was incredibly cosy, but also very cramped. But that meant people got talking to others at their table.
Serbian tapas were served with the wide range of alcohol the country has to offer. A group of elderly gentleman provided the music – a great finish to our first day in the capital of Serbia.
Our second day began with a small breakfast at the "Pastis Bistro" in the Dorcol district. But we were drawn back to Sava Mala, where we met Ilija Lazarevic from the "Next Sava Mala Project". The aim of the project, initiated by the Goethe Institut, is to improve this underprivileged district.
The driving force is the need for more participation and co-determination. For example, the Mikser Festival, workshops in the Spanish House or first micro-economic structures are the first fruits of Ilija's work.
Spring Belgrade, summer Berlin.
We noticed that in addition to participating actively, young people feel the need to place their city in a better light internationally. We met Lazara Marinkovic, who uses an unusual tool for this purpose: the Serbinale – a four-day festival with films, music, art and political discussions. And the work is worth it, because in future the Serbinale is due to be held twice a year. In spring in Belgrade and in the summer in Berlin. We wanted to conclude the second day with culinary delights. But first we went to the number one sight to see – Kalemegdan. After the Goths, the Huns, the Byzantines, the Hungarians, the Ottomans and the Austrians, now it was our turn to climb up the fortress above the city. Really, though, we only wanted to enjoy the wonderful view of the city. In summer, loving couples, people out walking and tourists teem here – but in winter at 2 degrees Celsius, we almost have the fortress to ourselves.
We will come again.
We headed for the Restaurant Toro. Richard Sandoval, who runs the restaurant, would like to win over the Serbian palate with contemporary Latin American cuisine. The interior of the Toro Latin Gastro Bar looks like a picture from a design magazine: long wooden tables, designer chairs and artwork on the walls and ceiling. And there is a special plan behind the food too. We chose what we wanted to eat, enjoyed this culinary experience, drove back to our hotel and made a firm decision. We will come again, in the summer, when it is warmer. We want to jump into the water at the Ada Ciganlija and dance on the tables on the banks of the Sava. And who knows, maybe we will smash glasses whilst traditional Serbian folk rock booms out of the speakers.