Blast off to Belgrade: Brutalism and Beyond

Brutalism is an architectural style where designers use large amounts of poured concrete to create simple, yet bold buildings with a ‘blocky’ appearance and geometric style. 😲

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Genex Tower in Belgrade

American designer John Maeda once said, “Design is the solution to a problem.” In this case, Brutalism emerged post WWII, as a simple solution to rebuild after so many buildings had been destroyed during the war.

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It’s no surprise then that Communist leaders became attracted to this uniform style, as it would help them in their goal of creating a homogeneous society.

DSC_4075Humans are often a product of their environment, and these unpretentious, yet powerful-looking buildings really promoted the strength and equality communism wished to create within the community. 💪

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As such, the Yugoslav president, Josip Tito, fully supported the construction of these Brutalist buildings around Belgrade, many of which can still be seen today. 💜

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In fact, in Belgrade there was a whole second city developed called New Belgrade, which had the intention of becoming the new capital of Tito’s “Yugoslav Utopia.”

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As Tito once said, “I am the leader of one country which has two alphabets, three languages, four religions, five nationalities, six republics, surrounded by seven neighbors, a country in which live eight ethnic minorities.” The goal was to unify them all, and Brutalism was just one mechanism used to help him achieve this. 󠀽󠀽󠀽

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souvenir of Tito at the Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade

Visionary architect Mihajlo Mitrović designed many of these buildings, and after the fall of Tito and communism, it seems like New Belgrade became suspended in time.

DSC_4229DSC_4188Sure, they may have built a new shopping center here, but the rest seems relatively unchanged.

DSC_4165 I have a feeling like this time warped town will end up in a movie someday…probably with the premise of a post-apocalyptic world. These streets are absolutely enormous and almost entirely abandoned! 😱

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Side note: Many Brutalist buildings in Belgrade and New Belgrade were also destroyed during the 1999 NATO bombing. For two and a half months, 14,000 bombs were dropped and over 2,000 civilians were killed. Some of the bombs contained uranium, which is why the buildings cannot be restored.

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destroyed Yugoslav Ministry of Defense building

Fun fact: Belgrade is also called Beograd and New Belgrade is called Neo Beograd.DSC_4131

Beograd means “White City” and it is written in Cyrillic as Бе̏оград. In this alphabet, the ‘g’ looks like an r, the ‘r’ looks like a p, and the ‘d’ looks like a drunk person tried to write a capital A. 😂

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the bottom says Бе̏оград or Beograd a.k.a. Belgrade

Anyway, many people find these Brutalist buildings unattractive and ugly, but I would beg to differ. 🧡

DSC_4228As Le Corbusier, the godfather of this architectural style, once said, “Brutalism is a play between crudity and finesse.” In this sense, it’s appealing how such raw simplicity can also appear so skillful and artfully created at the same time.

DSC_4068DSC_4069Furthermore, what I found ironic was that, although this design was created mostly during the mid 20th century, it appears utterly futuristic. 👩‍🚀🛰️

DSC_4030Who needs to blast off to space, when you can just blast off to Belgrade? 🚀😜

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Anyway, all my Wisconsin followers might like to know that the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center is actually an example of Brutalism.

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photo courtesy of Google images

And although I wish Milwaukee, a beer lovers’ paradise, could take credit for this, it was a Washington D.C. brewery that created a beer can in Brutalist style. Brew-talism at its finest!🍺😉

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Blue Jacket brewery and their brutalist beer can courtesy of Google images

Now, the Sava River actually separates the two cities, and one cool thing to do while visiting either side is to embrace life by the water.

DSC_4217In New Belgrade, there are numerous floating cafes, hotels, restaurants and clubs along the river, and there’s even a pontoon bridge connecting to Great War Island, which is an uninhabited area that has a public beach and lots of wildlife. 🐸

DSC_4196DSC_4201DSC_4189DSC_4203DSC_4198DSC_4206DSC_4208DSC_4214DSC_4210Likewise, in Belgrade, you can stroll the newly renovated Sava Promenade.

DSC_4157DSC_4159This whole area is actually under reconstruction thanks to a hefty donation by Arab investor, Eagle Hills.

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Beyond Brutalism

Now, Brutalism is not the only appeal of visiting Belgrade.

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To learn more about what to see in this city, I took two free walking tours.

DSC_4093In the first tour, our guide started by teaching us a few Serbian words. First, everyone greets each other with “Ciao” and to say thank you, the word is “Kvala”, which is like koala but with a ‘v’.🐨

DSC_4109She also talked about Serbia’s national drink, rakija. Each Serbian family makes their own recipe, like moonshine. They pick local plums and brew it in their house. She said her grandpa only drinks one glass a day right when he wakes up. Apparently, he believes it kills bacteria and lowers his blood pressure. He also says it’s good for a broken heart. Hah! 💔

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rakija humor courtesy of Google images

Our guide even brought us a sample from her grandfather’s recipe, which included honey, and tasted almost like a berry mead. Delicious!🍶

IMG_1125Now, most of the tour was focused on the White Fortress surrounding Belgrade, which was originally made from white stone, but has slowly evolved over time. Historically, the fortress defended this region, which was coveted for its location at the congruence of the Danube and Sava River.🌊

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What’s funny is that this fortress gate is currently used for many wedding photos, but those towers were originally used a prison to torture captured soldiers! 😬

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During the second walking tour, our guide focused mainly on 20th century historical buildings.

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DSC_4133DSC_4053DSC_4118
DSC_4025For example, we learned about the Hotel Moskva, a Russian Art Nouveau hotel that has hosted guests, like Trotsky, Einstein, Hitchcock and Gandhi, and was the headquarters for the Gestapo during WWII! 💚

DSC_409667696896_10109517350974237_1020092141965148160_oAnother interesting thing I learned about was Belgrade’s parliament building.

DSC_4135The horse statues in the front of the building apparently represent how the people feel about their government. It’s always a struggle to get the right leaders in power (i.e. the horse being pushed in) and it’s likewise always a struggle to kick the corrupt leaders out (i.e. the horse being dragged out). It actually got to a tipping point about 20 years ago were the civilians stormed the building with a bulldozer and destroyed everything in protest. Apparently, the government found their constitution for sale at a local flea market and the bulldozer was being auctioned off as a prized possession on Ebay! 😂

DSC_4143Overall, it’s easy to see that the citizens of Belgrade express themselves artistically and know when to act accordingly in order to oppose oppression and the values to which they do not agree.DSC_4151DSC_4227DSC_4062DSC_4072DSC_4074DSC_4022DSC_4112

Brutal Temps in Belgrade

Now, aside from the two walking tours, I spent most of my time in Belgrade trying to escape the brutal temps here. I saw a dog jump into this fountain and I was tempted to join him! 😂DSC_4132I resisted; however, and instead visited the National Museum, the Zepter Museum, did some window shopping, and went to the local cinema.DSC_3997DSC_4007

The National Museum has many ancient artifacts, like frescoes, metal jewelry, and coins.

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They also have a gallery of European artwork between the 14th and 20th century, which includes artists like Picasso and Degas.

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My favorite piece was this marble carved sculpture of a veiled woman.

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The Zepter Museum showcases art pieces from the 20th century to today. I found it interesting how they transformed books into conversational pieces.

DSC_4018IMG-1091IMG-1090I also just marveled at the vintage decor within the building and the unique accents, like these leather padded doors.

DSC_4016As for shopping, the Serbian fashion is really quite distinct, especially in regards to the footwear. Lots of women wear high heels with bows, sparkles, and fur.

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As for the movies, it was hilarious trying to navigate this Serbian website to find a movie, but I was able to find Lion King, Kralj Lavova, in English with Serbian subtitles.

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Kralj Lavova, or Lion King

Side note: The Serbian dinar has an exchange rate of 1 to 104.

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Therefore, paying 350 RSD for a movie, is actually around 3 USD. Score!

IMG_1137I even went with this American girl I met on my walking tour. She currently teaches abroad in Kyrgyzstan, but has also taught in Oman, China, Czech Republic, and South Korea.

imageAs well, I spent most evenings in the park near one of churches, to eat my dinner and watch the sunset.

DSC_4040DSC_4059DSC_4060IMG_1105I like how there are plenty of clean public restrooms here, making it easy to spend the whole day outdoors.

DSC_4145Heck, to stay cool, even some locals invited me to the makeshift pool party in the back of their pickup truck! 😂

IMG_1141Overall, I won’t always remember every fact I learn from the tours when I travel, but I ALWAYS remember how a place makes me feel. In Belgrade, I felt safe, warm, and welcomed. Mama loves Belgrade, and so do I. 💜

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Food:

Serbian food, similar to other Balkan countries, is very focused on meat.

IMG_1159Heck, one of their prized dishes is karadjordjeva, a pork cutlet filled with ham and cream that is covered in bread crumbs and deep fried.

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Two types of pork stuffed with cream cheese and deep fried (courtesy of Google images). Gosh, I’m sure glad there’s one lettuce leaf on that plate…life’s all about balance. Hah! 😂

That being said, I was still able to find plenty of food at IDEA grocery store, savor the coffee culture in the chic cafes, and peruse the local produce market.

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I love how many of the outdoor cafes here either have water misters or fans to keep you cool during the summer!

DSC_4107DSC_4038IMG_1162The produce market had lots of fresh berries, figs, and seasonal vegetables. Only 2 USD for a cup of berries!🍓

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I also found lots of cheap street eats, like popcorn, ice cream, chestnuts, and cheese burek pastries, which are perfect on-the-go snacks. 🍿

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Accommodation:

While in Belgrade, I stayed at Hostel Beogradjanka. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the staff and the facilities there. The dorm room was chic with a chandelier, the bathrooms were clean and spacious, and the common spaces were well-decorated. They also had two balconies, plus a washer and dryer for laundry. The crowd while I visited was also very welcoming. In the evenings, many people would sit together, play their instruments and sing. All this for only 9 USD per night! 🎸🧡

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Anyway, up next I’ll be taking an overnight bus to Montenegro- country number 70 on my list! Stay tuned to hear all about it! Until then! 😊

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2 thoughts on “Blast off to Belgrade: Brutalism and Beyond

  1. Really interesting read, it’s a city/country I’d love to visit at some point. I love the idea that you could pick up the constitution at a flea market too, how crazy haha.

    Liked by 1 person

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