The kids in Serbia are a pretty wild lot these days. The heartbreaking conflict that led to the fall of Yugoslavia left its legacy – the ousting of a widely reviled leader (Slobodan Milosevic) and almost two million locals on a peacetime high, determined to squeeze every euphoric moment out of their new lease on lifestyle. The action unfolds in the buzzing cafés, bars and parks that dominate this architectural chocolate box on the tributaries of the Danube.
Naked on the Danube
An 18-foot naked man stares out over the sweeping outfall of the brown Sava river where it meets the green Danube. Despite his muscled beauty and air of stoic defiance, he’s a bit of an embarrassment to the people of Belgrade – the very people this bronze adonis, called Victor, represents. His lack of underpants means he has been shunned from standing in the city centre, so instead Victor guards the old part of city where the huge and ancient Kalemegdan fortress sits on a rock ridge over the two rivers. Inside the fortress, families picnic, visit street markets and occasionally look out over the water, or the statue’s bare behind. This brings us to the second reason he’s an embarrassment: according to the boys of Belgrade, his penis is too small to represent the notoriously virile Serbian male. And so Victor faces out over the wide Danube with his back to the city.
Poor chap. Victor is known as the mascot of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia since 1404, Serbia and Montenegro since 2003 and of Yugoslavia from 1918-2003. The buzzing bohemian centre of Belgrade lies behind Victor, on the right bank of Danube, and on the left bank begins Banat plain – the capital’s obligatory stretch of suburbia. Between the Danube and the Sava is the new city Novi Beograd, a more picturesque answer to our Canary Wharf and a source of pride to Belgrade’s young.
Bohemians like you
Since the war, it seems the youth of Belgrade run the city and their presence can be felt in the café culture around the university buildings of central Belgrade, where indie band T-shirts, flowing purple skirts and scruffy hair is de rigeur. Granted, the new cultureof Belgrade is divided between this neo-intellectual crowd and what is known as ‘Pink Culture’ – the Heat readers of Belgrade, who love celebrities, gossip, pop and plastic surgery. Hence, the affluent corner of the city these pink people inhabit is known as Silicon Valley and the people who sit in Silicon Valley’s cafés craning their necks to watch the boobs pass by are known as giraffes”. And so, despite the presence of bombed city blocks around Belgrade (leaving large concrete hulks teetering menacingly over busy streets), the powerful clash of art, architecture, history and pop culture means these shells are more ofa faded and fascinating curiosity these days, overtaken by a renewed zest for peaceand partying.
Since the tough Milosevic days, hundreds of funky Pink Culture bars have sprung up over Belgrade, offering the standard heady mix of sex and spirits. But to “understand” Belgrade you need to hang with the Bohemian set and find out where the underground scene is hiding. What might appear like a normal Art Nouveau apartment building from the outside, often hides a huge hidden club in the basement with lounges and courtyards and flowing cocktails. These gems are legacies of the ’30s, when partying was underground and raw. Worth sniffing out.
Worth a look
As you head out of Kalemegdan fortress and head right towards the city centre, stop and take in the street markets, where you’ll find odd remnants of surrounding former communist countries, including old 500bn dinar notes (yours for £1), weird Moscow Olympics memorabilia, ’40s Disney toys, old soviet uniforms and ancient photographs from the turn of the century.”