The longer I am in Belgrade the more I like it. You cannot beat slow travel for getting to see a city’s other jewels outside the usual tourist attractions. For the last two weeks, I have been exploring the back streets away from the centre. Tucked away underneath the apartment blocks where 1000s of people live are numerous bars, restaurants and coffee shops.
In Ireland and the U.K, we seem to have a mental block to highrise apartments. We love our houses and gardens. What we overlook is that highrise apartments also have benefits. From my experience where you have a lot of people living in or above a street many local businesses flourish.
Hundreds of apartments with thousands of people are customers. They want to have a coffee or a beer. Something to eat. Groceries. Bakeries. Get their haircut. Tailors that can take up your pants for ten euro and in some places I have seen someone who will take your pants down for ten euro.
There is something special about seeing local communities socialising just under where they live. Having lived in an apartment in Las Palmas I ate and drank and socialised on my street. I am converted to highrise.
Belgrade neighbourhood bar
Maybe you have noticed it. I have developed a curiosity for communism history. Communism started falling apart in 1989. It is really only 29 years ago. I would have loved to have travelled around Eastern Europe in the early 90s. It would have been fascinating to see such a system built on total control unravelling. I am happy I have got to see some former communist countries here in Europe. The scars of communism are still visible. I think every decade will have less evidence and that part of history will be available in only books and museums. Unless there is a comeback?
I really have only seen one proper communist country. I travelled throughout Cuba for a month. Everyone has a job in Cuba. The state is involved in everything. I actually went to a gay club run by the communist government in Havana. I spoke to one of the dancers and he told me he was not gay but his job was a dancer. He would be sent to various clubs as part of his job. A big change from days when Castro sent gay people to hard labour camps. He did apologise and admit he was wrong. Better late than never.
I was also in Laos and Vietnam. Officially they are communism but no one is going look after anyone. It is every man and woman for themselves.
In eastern Europe, there seems to have different levels. In Romania, people struggled for food as Nicolae Ceausescu built his peoples palace. In Albanian Enver Hoxha demanded his people have no contact with the outside world while he and his chosen few lived in a walled neighbourhood in Tirana where they enjoyed foreign luxuries. Bulgarians told me there communism was a bit softer then Romania and Albania.
I actually was a Trotskyist as a young man. What is a Trotskyist? I am still not sure. I was never a good one. As far as I remember we were communists but hated the communist party. Basically, we liked Trotsky but hated Stalin. If Stalin had not ordered Trotsky to be killed with an icepick in Mexico city the worker’s paradise would have happened we were told.
That made sense to me as I had spent all my life been told if Michal Collins had not been killed during the Irish civil war Ireland would have had no emigration. Jobs for everyone and a 19-hour working week. A lot of pressure for someone even as great as Mick Collins.
My stint as a card-carrying member of the Militant tendency as it was known back then was brief. There was two of us in Cork. One worse than the other. A guy was sent from Dublin to Cork to sort us out. As he received his orders from our leader who years later ended up serving as a member of the Irish Parliment he was told. Do your best. They would drink it from a shoe.
I think I actually get it. Build a new city where you have plenty of space just across the river from where old Belgrade is now. Here the working class would live in quality apartments. Vast space allowing people to enjoy their free time. No need for capitalist type developments with shops and restaurants. Socialists had no need for such things. When construction started in 1948 I do believe the intention was to build a place that workers would be proud of. Why else do it?
Why did these places turn out to be grey soulless places? What went wrong. To be honest I am not sure but the communist system itself must be the main culprit. Maybe buildings are an individual thing. If you are getting paid every week no matter what the standard of your work that I am sure was a problem. Also once the group get involved it becomes harder to say stop. Targets must be met even if they are only met on paper. People probably did make the best of these apartments on the inside.
The sad fact is when Novi Belgrade was started in 1948 communism was already a flawed concept. Over 30 years of Soviet communism had produced Stalin who went on to kill between 20 to 30 million people.
I am actually staying in a communist period building now in Belgrade. Its ok but you feel and see the flaws. My morning shower has become a nervous experience. About every 5 days I get an electric shock when I use it. I contacted the AIRBNB host and he said he said he told me this. Maybe he did. Must have been just after he told me beer was more expensive in Belgrade then I thought. He was wrong about the beer but on the button about the electric shock in the shower.
Above the Sava concert centre in New Belgrade. Did the building give the inspiration for the design of rubbish bins or was it the other way around.
I took a walk over to the Western city Gate in New Belgrade. It is a 37 story building designed in 1977. I have to say I found it fascinating. People still live in this building despite it looking a bit worse for wear. The area has a Mad Max feel to it. You might think it is ugly but I found it a beautiful building. Probably because of what it represents. Communist era brutalist architecture. History.
Check out this week video on my walk around New Belgrade. Click here
Talking about things around for a long time I was lucky enough to be in Belgrade at the same time when Jethro Tull was playing a gig. The only other time I saw him was in Cork city hall in 2001. I thought at the time that was his farewell tour. I saw posters all around the city so it was to good an opportunity to miss.
I really enjoyed the gig. The voice was a bit iffy but for a guy in his mid-70s he put on a great show and hopped around the stage like a young fellow.
Red Star Belgrade ground
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