*2017 archives I can hardly move. Perhaps I am not moving at all. I am cold and weightless. There is nothing under my feet. I can’t tell if my eyes are closed or it is simply very dark. I touch them to figure what my eyelids are doing. That is when I recognize the dense…Continue Reading “Wandering Through the Black Hole With You”
“Do not cause excess noise near his habitat, that won’t get him to move.” Try to imagine yourself reading this warning. Where are you in that moment? Who is that stubborn lazybones? Let us help you – he lives between the oldest walls in Belgrade. He is also – according to legend – the oldest…Continue Reading “Belgrade City History Through The Eyes of an Alligator”
The year is 1932. On the edge of Belgrade, behind Vracar, there is a hill known as Veliki Vracar, the large, mysterious, forested area which at the time belonged to the so-called “Fifth region” (today’s third zone). On that day, however, a beautiful building appeared at the top of that hill, intended no more or…Continue Reading “The history of Belgrade’s skies”
On the 1st of September 1808 in Dorcol, the oldest neighborhood of Belgrade, a group of boys and their families had gathered to hear what the elegant gentleman with long hair and an even longer overcoat had to say. What he said will, centuries later, be spray-painted by some other boys on the walls of…Continue Reading “The Great School Against the Blindness of Mind”
To set the mood, we need a song in the background: In Serbia, we all know this song, and that means that it survived for 60 years. One of the most famous ‘shlager’ songs of its time was performed for the first time by Vlastimir Djuza Stojiljkovic for the needs of the movie he…Continue Reading “As Once at 8’ I Whistle Down Your Street And Stand Alone Under Your Window”
On a quiet autumn night, you descend into the basement of a stone building, down a musty set of stairs. Your hat is soaked with rain, but you don’t take it off because it goes too well with your suit. Your way is just barely lit by an oil lamp from a distant street lantern. At the bottom of the stairs you see a heavy wooden door. You push it open and enter a whole new world: the air gray from smoke, filled with laughter and the clinking of glasses, accompanied by jazz played on a rickety violoncello in the corner. The only thing missing are some curves on a nice lady, or at least a voice higher than a baritone. However, you’re in Belgrade, Serbia and the year is 1882. Taverns pop up one after the other, this is the pinnacle of Belgrade’s nightlife. By the end of the 19th century, there was a tavern for every 50 residents of Belgrade. The first bohemians are born – or perhaps that was just a romanticized name for drunkards. As morals would demand, their wives, sisters and daughters stayed at home.
We can still imagine a scene that seems right out of the movie “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen and replace Ernest Hemmingway and Luis Bunuel with Branislav Nusic and Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj. We can go one step further and also believe the claim that the first taverns in Europe originated not in Paris or Prague, but precisely in Belgrade.
Coffee on a rug
Turkish cultural heritage has no doubt remained deeply ingrained in our lifestyles. It was precisely under their rule that the first tavern in the city began work around the middle of the 16th century – where else than in Dorcol. It is believed that in the Oriental style the furniture included several low tables around which people sat on the soft rugs distributed across the floor. The institution we grew to love and idolize for centuries to come was back then called “kavana” because inside they served “kava” (coffee).
The concept of “drop by for a cup of coffee” didn’t exist back then for a few simple reasons. For one thing, it wasn’t customary for anyone other than your closest family to drop into your home without a higher purpose, like attending your wedding for example. Another problem was that preparing coffee back in the day was quite the process. In a country where there are four seasons and lunch is cooked exclusively on a fire stove, coffee was a highly complicated endeavor. Imagine having to build a fire in 35 degrees Celsius just to brew a cup of coffee! Taverns, however, had the advanced technology of cinder ovens and hot water always ready to go. This means that taverns were more or less your only option if you wanted to socialize and sip your favorite beverage. And speaking of beverages – it took a long time before taverns shifted their focus from serving coffee to serving mostly alcohol. This brings us to the scene from the start of our story.
Birthplace of colossal ideas
The next stage in the growth of bohemian culture in Belgrade came in 1740, when the tavern “Crni orao” (Black eagle) began work in the corner of today’s Dusanova and Kralja Petra streets. The best in the city and adored in its time, “Crni orao” was proof of how far people were willing to go for good fun and even better exchange of ideas. It was housed in the first story of a building that you could only reach by climbing a rickety set of wooden stairs, while the ceiling was so low that even people of that time couldn’t stand up straight. You had to crouch your way to your drinks and friends – sounds fair.
A century later, prince Milos introduced a new law for tavern owners, who had to adhere to certain standards and pay taxes. With the establishment of the tavern as an institution, the first breweries began work. In 1840 the Knezeva brewery, in ’73 the Weifert brewery, in ’84 the Bajloni brewery. If you are a fan of beer, living in Belgrade around this time, you could choose between three big names – “Prvenac”, “Plzen” and “Salvator” beers. The center of the city, Republic square (then known as the Theatre square) was instead of museums and Communist buildings, surrounded by taverns – up to 16 of them. They continued through Terazije, Skadarlija, Varos gate to Ponkareova street and Slavija square. There begins the cultural, social and even industrial development of 20th century Serbia. Utopian, artistic and political ideas are born, exchanged, traded. Business exchanges are arranged, theatre plays are performed, music is played and songs are sung.
As recorded by chroniclers – “one sin leads to another”. That’s how the tavern community – more precisely their superiors – faced the first public forms of prostitution. Seeing how these were sadly the only women who would keep the gentlemen company at night in the city, business went very well for their employers. The girls were mostly immigrants from the surrounding countries who had no families, husbands or other kinds of protection nearby, and the laws stated that those caught in this line of work should be “thrown in the Sava river”.
A few decades later, women entered the taverns in a legal way and with a grand entrance – as singers!
This is the start of taverns as we know them today – back then paradoxically known as “Christian taverns”, seeing how these kinds of shenanigans weren’t allowed in Turkish taverns. Wooden chairs, tables and perhaps plaid tablecloths. The names of countless taverns came from their proximity to other important locations – “Skupstina” (Town hall), “Cubura” (bridge), “Kod dva jablana” (At two poplars). The ever-famous “Tri sesira” (Three hats) tavern which still exists today originated next to a hat store in the bohemian quarter of Skadarlija. There were also more exotic names such as “Dva papagaja” (Two parrots) – named after the fact that next to it lived a man who owned two green parrots, a true attraction at the time. He would take them to fairs or even just outside his house where a crowd would form to admire the strange talking animals. Then, the tavern naming trends took to poetry and yielded many names you could use in association games “Young Arab”, “Golden barrel”, “Moonlight”, “Golden angel”, “The Torn Underwear” “At last hope” and the author’s favorite “Whose it wasn’t, whose it will never be”.