The Changing Face of Belgrade: The New Cool By Ramy Salameh
Belgradians and Beirutis have a shared characteristic – they love to party, and their legendary nightlife has become part of the fabric of everyday life. The other common factor between the two cities is that they both went through devastating and destructive civil wars that remain in their recent history and psyche. The latter encouraged the former; when citizens of both cities lived through the daily threat of bombardment, the local nightlife industry boomed, taking clubbing to an art form. When the sound of battle subsided, the sound of DJs became louder, allowing a hedonistic social scene to get the global recognition it deserved.
Marko Savic, one of Belgrade’s key nightlife dynamos, is owner of Belgrade At Night and involved with Mikser Garden, a bar / design centre that is at the very heart of Savamala district; he says ‘‘the city is more alive than any other.’’ Mikser is also central to the district’s renaissance as a creative hub, as the former warehouse area of the bar exhibits the work of young designers that one can peruse whilst listening to the DJ play a classic set of 80s tunes amongst revellers outside.
Savic buzzes around the hipster crowd, joining clusters of young and beautiful Belgradians who are kicking their night off at Mikser before going to party into the early hours on the river boat clubs. One of the most popular nightclubs is Lasta, which pulsates with light and energy on the quayside. Savamala is ‘‘alternative rather than bohemian,’’ remarks Savic, which reminds me of a Serbian version of London’s Shoreditch. Just around the corner Berliner Bar spills revellers on to the pavement, and bunting zigzags from building to building in preparation for a beer festival. The vibe is cool, relaxed and representative of a young dynamic population.
Neighbouring the hipster bars of Savamala the Belgrade waterfront development along the Sava riverbank, comprising of hotel, residential and commercial space, is defining the future. A model of the new development is housed within the Geozavod (Belgrade Cooperative Building), one of Savamala’s and Belgrade’s most beautiful architectural monuments, built between 1905 and 1907. It is ironic that the Geozavod now showcases the new waterfront architecture, because during the early 20th Century when the building foundations took shape, Serbia was a country demanding a renaissance in architectural style. Today, the Savamala district headlines a new spirit of design and innovation and will become the gleaming face of the capital’s future.
The city is ‘‘compact and everywhere is reachable,’’ Savic says, reminding me that the Bohemian quarter nearby is called ‘‘Skadarlija’’ – or Skadarska Street – and is no ordinary avenue. The simple gradient of winding cobbled alleys in the heart of Belgrade has always been the centre of life, popular with urban bohemians. The traditional Kafanas (bar and restaurants) have inspired many of Belgrade’s actors, poets, directors, painters, musicians and writers, but fundamentally, this is a place for music, dance and celebration. The care-free attitude can be seen on sign boards standing in front of bars, offering “Free Jokes, Free Hugs, Free Advice – Beer Is Paid For” which keeps a smile on the face of tourists and locals alike. The cobble stones give an indication of how Serbia may have looked in the 15th Century under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Belgradians fondness towards ‘‘Skadarlija’’ has preserved it from encroaching redevelopment.
When the sun rises, the place to head for is Kalemegdan Citadel, Belgrade’s indefatible fortress. Centuries ago it was a defensive stronghold perched high above the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers and now is described as the heart and lungs of the city. The ancient walls, arches and ramparts still watch over the city and waterways, but with soft and tranquil eyes. The Citadel is Belgrade’s largest park and is an oasis of open verdant spaces, with pine trees shading the wooden benches that capture a rare breeze and a little peace in one of Europe’s most vibrant and energetic capitals.
For more information, go to www.serbia.travel.