Sarajevo - The Healing Wounds

Summer 2013 - Albeit the scars remain, Sarajevo's wounds are healing. The last two times when I was standing in front of the former national library Vijecnica, you did not have to look twice to see the damage that was done during the siege. Today I see a reconstructed facade in front of me. Its yellow and red colors are a typical feature of the Austro-Hungarian period of Bosnian architecture, corresponding to the colors of Bosnia's flag at that time. In case of Vijecnica, these firy colors additionally and uninentionally serve as a reminder of the fire in 1992, from which the building has now almost recovered. It should not take too long until the restoration will be completed. 


Three years ago I met Indira in front of Vijecnica. Today we meet at the very same place. "It starts raining whenever you arrive"; she says to me with a smile, while we make our way to Ilidza and talk about past, present and future. After drinking a coffee, we agree on meeting again in a few weeks when I come back to Sarajevo with my travel companion Julia, whom I will soon meet in Belgrade to initiate our long anticipated Balkan round trip. But before we reunite in Belgrade, there is still one thing left to do here.


Unlike in 2011, this time I planned on purpose to arrive in Sarajevo while its annual film festival is taking place. Among the party animals I meet a Bosniak and a Serb man who stress their friendship, defying the hatred that has been fueled between the different ethnicities in this region not long ago. The streets are filled with locals and visitors from all over the world, which could make one assume that children would be begging on the streets even more than they usually do here in Sarajevo, but apparently many local females in particular keep the children on the streets occupied with a special task anyway, a little secret that Indira revealed to me earlier today when we talked about organized begging in Sarajevo. According to her, many local women pay the children on the streets and use them as spies to find out if their boyfriends meet up with other girls. 

Weeks later I return to Sarajevo with Julia on my side. Not long after checking into our hostel, our Bosnian neighbours approach us and give us a basket full of grapes, letting us know that we can feel free to take fruits and vegetables from their garden. A taste of Bosnian hospitality. On the same day Julia and I walk on the Tito street, when a young man suddenly begins to hastily follow us. Once he stops us, he hands a fifty Euro bill over to me, informing me that it just fell out of my pocket. That is much more money for an average local than it is for an average German citizen.


On our first day here, I show Julia everything that Indira showed to me when I first came to Sarajevo, but I gain some new insights as well. One fun fact revolves around a public toilet in the Old Town, where we overhear a tourist guide: "This is the oldest public toilet in Europe", he explains to the tourists. Julia and I look at each other, wondering if we just heard correctly. Later I would find out that the almost 500 year old sight is indeed Europe's oldest public toilet. 


The owners of the "Bosanska Kuca" restaurant in Carsija confidently advertise their food as the best food in Sarajevo, and it is indeed delicious enough for Julia and me to have lunch here in the following days as well, although we ended up in this restaurant by accident. Indira recommended a "Bosanska Kuca" (Bosnian House) to us, but was actually referring to Svrzina Kuca, a traditional Bosnian house that serves as a prime example of Bosnian architecture in Sarajevo, which we would eventually visit on our last day in Bosnia.


Once you stand in front of Svrzina Kuca, you can hardly guess that it functions as a museum today. Despite its traditional design, it much rather looks like a private house owned by a wealthy local. Not much effort has been put in drawing attention to the fact that the house is open to visitors, which somehow only contributes to its authenticity. The moment you enter the Ottoman house, you leave the present and get a feeling of how the Bosnians used to live in the 19th century, with a lot of stress on the partiarchal family relations that are for instance reflected by the separated rooms for men and women. The red carpets optically dominate the main rooms, as opposed to the furnitures, of which you often only have a few in traditional Islamic houses.

We had to search for a while to find Svrzina Kuca. But nobody needs to search at all to find anything in Sarajevo that reminds you of the war, be it damaged buildings, traces of mortars on the concrete, war museums or memorials. Perhaps there is no sight in this city that is more heartbreaking than the memorial in front of the park on the Tito street. From a distance we can already see the two glass sculptures on the water fountain that symbolize a mother who tries to protect her child. This monument was established in May 2009, dedicated to the children that died during the siege. It was partially made from weapons that were collected during the war, such as spent cartridges and bombshells. 521 names were engraved in the columns that were erected in May 2010. Hundreds of additional names of the young war victims have been added ever since. The foot prints on the fountain belong to their siblings, cousins and relatives.


One thing is different here today. There is an object lying on the fountain. It is a doll that apparently belonged to one of the victims and was just recently placed here by its family members. It prompts me to remember how toys containing explosives were placed on the streets to lure children during the war. Then I recall what Indira told me when we met a few weeks ago. She herself was only a child when the war took place. "What must have gone through your head as a child, when the war started and how did you perceive it?", I asked her. "It was like a game", she replied. Indira went on to explain that she and her friends only knew war as a game. How can you be scared of weapons if you are just a child who has known weapons only as toys? "So when the war started, we just thought that it is a big game", she recalls. One can also imagine that many adults preferred not to scare the children, concealing the horrific developments. "We were even looking forward to it and were excited", Indira says. Then the reality of war surfaced.

Before returning to Belgrade, I meet Indira one more time and introduce her to my travel companion from Russia. Julia and I already enjoyed a nice view on the hills a few days ago, but Indira suggests that we go further up the hills. A cab takes us to a spot near an old fort called Bijela Tabiija. Once we arrive, we are overwhelmed by the spectacular view on Sarajevo, watching the sun go down, while listening to the Adhan that can be heard all over the city.

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