"Sarajevo, Sarajevo" the city’s name kept spinning around in my head. "Sarajevo, Sarajevo..."
Since I had started my trip, more then a month ago, this had been the city which I was most eager to see. I felt drawn to it like a moth to the light. When I arrived, it was almost midnight.
The city lay spread out in the valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides. It was those mountains, from which the Serbian army had fired round after round of artillery shots into the city. From these mountains, they kept Sarajevo under siege and had thereby added to the strange fame, the city had gotten throughout the world.
"Sarajevo". The name in itself sounded like a promise to me.
The high towers of novi grad stood out in the south, while stari grad lay almost tucked away, on the northern end of the valley. During the night, it looked as if a spaceships had landed in the southern part to take the old part under siege again.
I sat on the terrace of the house I stayed in, drank a beer and glanced out over this endless ocean of flirring and jumping lights, illuminating the night's sky. I was so eager to go and see the city, that I didn't fall asleep for another hour, even though the bus drive from Beograd had been exhausting. When I finally did, the city’s name was still on my mind. "Sarajevo, Sarajevo..."
The hot sunlight shone in through the windows and made sleeping impossible.
Anyway, I wasn't around to sleep. Hell no!
I took a bus and drove towards the city center. As in many Yugoslav and generally former communist cities, it was easy to see where the new part of town ended and the old one part started. Just like in Zagreb or Beograd, the two parts lay separated from each other, as if someone had chopped them apart with a butcher's knife. What they shared was the name and the holes from the uncounted bullets and grenades which had struck the city during the war.
Looking around, I felt funny.
After I had been to so many war ridden towns, the bullet holes didn’t frighten me anymore, like they had done in Jajce or Tuzla. In fact, they looked so familiar, that seeing them gave me a strange feeling of being at home.
Down in the center, I walked around for hours, looking at the old Austro - Hungarian architecture in the main roads and the Turkish style bazaar. With the many dwells, mosques, the copestone streets and the open market houses around, I started to believe that, I had once more passed into an entirely different city .
When I came back to the center, hell had gone lose.
The Sarajevo Film Festival (SFF) had started two days before and the city was overcrowded with moviemakers, producers, actors, tourists and both national and international journalists. Nearly everyone had an accreditation tag hanging around his or her neck. At some point, I felt that it should have been me and all those who didn't have one, who deserved a VIP area, for we were really the ones who were exceptional.
Later that day I met a woman who worked at the festival, instead of just standing around, zipping free drinks and having smalltalk.
I had been introduced to her through a friend of a friend of a friend...With her it was always "just five more minutes". Already on our first meeting, I started to feel bad for stealing her time. With more than a 170 official guests, I, as the inofficial #171 came along to ask silly questions about the festival and her work. She rushed from one end of the festivalcenter to another, with her cell phone in one hand and the other free to shake the many ones which reached out to her.
Thanks to her, I got to see some excellent movies (amongst those "Its hard to be nice", a movie, where just the title in itself made me feel that I would like the piece) and to go to some of the dinner parties, where "the industry", as all of the moviemakers called themselves, gathered round to cook in its own juice.
I couldn't help but to think of Tom Wolf's Vanity Fair. The whole scenery seemed so unreal to me. Women and men, all dressed up in fancy clothes stood around, telling each other stories about movies they wanted to make. I was at the very center of it all. It was nice to be around as an informal visitor, but after a month on the road, all this was just too far away from me. Things and people seemed to perfect, to clean, to flawless.
I headed off to see tonight’s concert. During the one week I spent in Sarajevo, I saw four concerts and each one was fantastic. On the first night, it was the Boban Marcovic Orchestra playing.
At some point, I found myself standing in the middle of the crowd, waving my arms into the air, singing songs in a language I hardly even spoke.
When I had seen the show in Prague, during the summer of last year, I had come to love their music and all of the 'cigan' sounds. Now, a year later, I actually knew some of the songs they played.
It felt like XTC. The concert hall was filled with the sound of horns and trumpets. Breathing was impossible, due to both, the lack of oxygen and the surplus of smoke. I danced around without even looking. I started spinning and lost my balance, tipped over, almost fell, got hold of someone’s shoulder, caught a smile and started to spin again. When the concert finished, my shirt was soaked and the cool breeze that blew through the canyons of novi grad made me shiver, both with cold and happiness.
"Sarajevo, Sarajevo" I sang to myself in the tune of the music.
"Sarajevo, I'm here to get you!"
The next morning, I realized that Sarajevo had in fact gotten me.
My legs were soar and my hangover came from outer space. I chased both of them off with a shower and gallons of Bosnian coffee.
When I came by the festivalcenter later that day, I bumped into a girl I had met in Jajce."The whole world's a freaking village, even in Bosnia" I told myself.
We talked for a while and I became more and more happy that I had met her again. Here was someone who actually lived in Sarajevo and had not just come to see the festival or the scars of those darker days, the city had gone through.
We agreed to meet later that night and I went off to pick up Nik, my infamous travel companion. He and I had been on the road together more then once and it was he who had been to Beograd with me and Iza (a girl I knew from Prague days and who is nowadays one of my closest friends - Hi Iza!).
After I had been all by myself for month, it was good to see a familiar face. During all of this time, I had been alone, but never felt lonely. Now, we were out to explore Sarajevo together. Since Nik had been around when I fell in love with the Balkans, he was the best man I could possibly ask for.
We took endless walks around the city, sat in bars and cafes for hours and talked about the people, the women in the first place, who passed by. Sarajevo lay hot under the sun and hot was all the life that pumped through its veins.
Later that night, we went to see another concert and I met Leila from Jajce again. The band, Dubioza Kolektiv, played both English and Bosnian songs and just like the night before, I came out of the concert hall with my shirt cluthed around my shoulders like a wet towel.
The next couple of days became an endless continuation of Bosnian coffee in the morning, Bosnian beer in the afternoon and Bosnian rakija during the night. During the days, we went around to see sights and during the night, clubs, concerts and movies. It was impossible to get enough sleep, food or even just to catch your breath.
I saw the sun rise every single morning, when we walked back home. Especially in those moments, when no one except for Nik an me was out on the streets of novi grad, the impression that I belonged in this place somehow was stronger than ever.
Hasty, I noted a couple of lines in my diary, but Sarajevo didn't allow me to sit still for more than five minutes at a time. To focus and reflect, on what was going on around me, was absolutely impossible.
Every night, Nik and I ran into someone new, chatted for hours with the people we met, listened to their stories about the city, the country and the life in a place, that is practically unknown to the world, for anything but the war.
The war, the siege, the destruction. All of that, I didn't see, I didn’t feel it. The pain or the suffering. There was too much life in the place as to think of death. The morbid fascination which Sarajevo had had for me, when I started off in Duesseldorf, was all gone. It had been replaced by adoration for the intensity and the passion with which the people lived through every day and every moment.
Later, when I spoke with Leila about it, she said that this was partly so because the Bosnians knew what their lives were worth. Many of the people had stayed in the city during the siege and now, 12 years after the war, they were out to make the best of life.
The days kept running and I just couldn't get a hold on myself.
When we finally packed up for Mostar, I had the feeling that not I had walked through Sarajevo, but that Sarajevo had walked through me.
Sarajevo had been the city I wanted to see in the whole of the Balkans.
I was sad, because our little love affair had only lasted for seven days.
Now that I write these words, its been almost a month since the train left the station and I leaned out of the window to wave good bye to the city. For the whole of this last month, I tried to capture the feeling I had in Sarajevo. I wanted to honor the city, its beauty and charm, its people, their passions and their lives.
I couldn't. Up until now, I can't.
Ever since I left, Sarajevo never really let me go. I lost something in that city. Something, that I can find there on every street corner, in every bar or mosque, but I can’t have it back. This little piece of my heart, which I lost, is now a part of Sarajevo, just like all the other hearts which have gone lost there.
In the end I guess, that this is the city’s secret. Once it has gfotten hold of you, you owe it a piece of your heart. You can go, but you can never leave.
Every time that I've felt sad since I left, the words just came running through my thoughts, easing my pain with their magic chant.