My journey to school starts in our flat on Nehruova, where my wife grew up. She came to Switzerland when she was seventeen. It’s quiet on the floor, you don’t hear anything from old Petar and his disabled son. Mileta is in the countryside. I descend the stairwell, open the bulky lock on the barred door to the cellar, and fetch the bike. I’m always afraid I won’t be able to open the lock and the neighbors will then – after hours – have to free the idiotic Swiss man who has managed to lock himself in the cellar. I carry the bike out and set off. First past the renovated playground, which is still empty at this time of day. My children used to play here when they were little. My parents-in-law lifted them into the rusty rocket, they were Astronauts in their little dresses. Now the parents-in-law are lying on Bežanijska kosa and the rocket is gone. Modern playground equipment awaits a new generation of children. I drive along the renovated Šetalište Lazaro Kardenasa through Block 44, where people are walking their dogs. I stop briefly at the Kim bakery on Gandijeva to buy yogurt and baked goods for my break. I eat my way through the range, something different every day: Kifle, Pite, Štapići, Pogačice, Bureci. Then past the block where my brother-in-law lives with his family.
At Delta City, I join the Jurija Gagarina, or more precisely the cycle lane that runs alongside the six-lane boulevard towards the city. Here I shift into high gear. I fly towards the morning sun, wearing only a short shirt. The bike bounces a little at this speed. I bought it from the bike dealer after borrowing it a few times. The bike isn’t great, but it’s nice and big – and now it’s mine. In my opinion, you don’t live in a city until you own a bike. There are numerous building sites along Jurija Gagarina. Visualisations show modern flats. The new bus station is being built. Tepih Centar holds the fort. After the long straight through Novi Beograd, you reach the ramp that leads to the Most na Adi. Downshift. The bridge also has a cycle lane. I look down at the industrial buildings of the old shipyards. You can hear cutting discs, sparks are flying. Material is standing on large areas belonging to logistics companies. I cycle over the Sava at a great height. The wire cables lead up to the spectacular tip of the bridge, Belgrade’s new landmark. It sparkles majestically in the light. To the right are the rafts: Kota 70, Stari Pinguin, Suvenir, Coco, and, more recently, the co-working space Adventure Hub. Sometimes cargo ships are on the water. To the left, the city: the new tower, the Hram Svetog Save.
After the Sava, the bridge crosses the tip of the Ada Ciganlija. Young athletes climb into narrow rowing boats, some are already on the mirror-smooth water and fly rhythmically along like me on my bike. I cycle off the bridge, the road leads in the direction of Banovo Brdo, Obrenovac. The cycle path turns a sharp corner and follows the Sava towards the town center. First, I cycle under the crazy traffic junction of Most na Adi: Countless lanes and loops intersect at various levels above me. The road leads past dilapidated woodsheds, weathered wooden fences, and collapsed roofs. Fishermen sit near the river police station. On the right, the enormous trade fair building, the Beogradski Sajam, appears its bold roof, which I photographed back then, full of enthusiasm for brutalist architecture. I’ve heard they want to tear it down. The cycle path passes under the various Belgrade bridges: first the Novi, then the Stari Železnički Most. I look up to the mighty red steel bands of the Gazela. Now the cycle path is somewhat improvised through the construction site of Belgrade Waterfront. A new city center is being built here: in the middle is the Kula Beograd, surrounded by tall apartment blocks. A spacious Galerija entices my daughters to go shopping. They are not interested in my boring reservations.
By the way: I want to read Dragana Kostica’s dissertation on this project, but let’s move on: I push my way through the still bus station in Savamala and have to wait at the traffic lights. The Urban Incubator project was taking place in the KC Grad and the neighboring ruins. My wife, a performance artist, was involved with the Ginger Ensemble. They called their project Slušaj Savamala, about Archibald Rice’s Čujte Srbi. We got to know several local artists back then: Miša Savić and the people from the Treći Beograd collective.
The traffic lights turn green. I pass under the Brankov Most and reach the harbor. I leave the cycle path at the memorial to fallen coastal workers and carry my bike up the few steps onto Karađorđeva. I get out of the saddle and tackle the short climb under Kalemegdan: the pavement takes me past the ruins of a nightclub, then round the corner into Pariska. The pavement narrows, I take a look back and jump down onto the carriageway. On the left is the Saborna Crkva, where we got married. I turn left, past Znak pitanje and up Kralja Petra to the pedestrian zone. On the right is the Kafeterija, and on the left is the Manufaktura, I don’t have the breath for words of praise. At the top – taraa! – the Knez. The Knez Mihalova ulica with its people, cafés, galleries, and bookshops with the stuff I was reading at the time: Momo Kapor’s Guide to Serbian Mentality. Chris Farmer’s Grumpy in Belgrade. Živadinović’s Ornamenti Srbije. The Snežana is diagonally opposite. It was my mother-in-law’s favorite restaurant of the same name. Next door is the Goethe-Institut, where I read German newspapers and visit Selman Trtovac, who posts touching drawings on Facebook: The father bears his son on his back. Figures surrounded by lightning-like structures, like Tesla. At the Goethe-Institut, I read translations of Branko Radičević’s poetry – Oj, Karlovci, mesto moje drago! – and Serbian heroic epics.
Next: I drive past terrace tables, and through the crowd of delivery vans for the Tržni Centar Rajićeva. Very nice, by the way, the curtain-type glass façade, which depicts the historic building in front of the modern new building. Down to Studentski Trg. On the right is the Faculty of Philosophy, whose façade Selman praised: the integration of traditional Serbian elements into the formal language of modernity. On the left, down Kneginje Ljubice. I get off my bike and look at my watch. There’s still time for a coffee at Eklektika 40, a tiny café that Igor, a young classmate – although for me they’re all young now – a Russian emigrant, would probably describe as spartan on mapamag, his Instagram page where he collates information about a young, cool lifestyle in the city: Gde popiti kafu u Beogradu? At the kafić, I review my homework again and revise the padeži.
Then I go to the house on Simina ulica, ring the bell, and climb the stairs to Radionica za srpski jezik i kulturu. It’s summer and there are quite a few of us in the class. The teacher enters the room full of vigor. As a warm-up, she whips through the declensions: Idem u škol-u, says Igor. The teacher nods graciously. Then Ognien from Australia: Radim u prodavnic-i. Also good. Now me: Imam dvoje dec-a. The teacher rolls her eyes and puts her head on the table. The group laughs, and I rattle through the table in my head: Sredni rod, genitive, plural. Wasn’t that -a? Collective, she reminds me, is declined like Ženski rod in the singular. Imam dvoje dece, I repeat half aloud. I’ve been here for a while. But I still have a lot to learn!
Writer. Blogger. Traveler. Researcher. Electronic Music Lover.