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. 😲
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.
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.
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. 💜
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.”
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.
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.
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! 😱
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.
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. 😂
Anyway, many people find these Brutalist buildings unattractive and ugly, but I would beg to differ. 🧡
As 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.
Anyway, all my Wisconsin followers might like to know that the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center is actually an example of Brutalism.
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!🍺😉
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.
In 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. 🐸
Now, Brutalism is not the only appeal of visiting Belgrade.
To learn more about what to see in this city, I took two free walking tours.
She 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! 💔
Our guide even brought us a sample from her grandfather’s recipe, which included honey, and tasted almost like a berry mead. Delicious!🍶
Now, 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.🌊
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! 😬
For 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! 💚
The 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! 😂
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! 😂I resisted; however, and instead visited the National Museum, the Zepter Museum, did some window shopping, and went to the local cinema.
The National Museum has many ancient artifacts, like frescoes, metal jewelry, and coins.
They also have a gallery of European artwork between the 14th and 20th century, which includes artists like Picasso and Degas.
My favorite piece was this marble carved sculpture of a veiled woman.
The Zepter Museum showcases art pieces from the 20th century to today. I found it interesting how they transformed books into conversational pieces.
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.
Side note: The Serbian dinar has an exchange rate of 1 to 104.
Therefore, paying 350 RSD for a movie, is actually around 3 USD. Score!
Overall, 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. 💜
Serbian food, similar to other Balkan countries, is very focused on meat.
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.
I love how many of the outdoor cafes here either have water misters or fans to keep you cool during the summer!
I also found lots of cheap street eats, like popcorn, ice cream, chestnuts, and cheese burek pastries, which are perfect on-the-go snacks. 🍿
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! 🎸🧡
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! 😊