There are some towns I haven’t seen, though I wanted to go there a long time ago. One of them is Vranje, in southern Serbia.
My own hometown is Cacak, and the famous trumpet festival in Guca takes place nearby. I am not a fan of trumpets, or rather it’s better to say that I don’t like to listen to them for long (the festival itself is four days of non-stop trumpet music).
I went to Guca just once, more than 20 years ago, with a friend of mine from Vranje. That time in Guca I listened to the orchestra of Bakija Bakic, a Roma from Vranje. That was SOMETHING!
He played like the best jazz musicians. This was “world music” in the best sense of the word, a long time before “world music” officially existed.
A friend of mine told me then: “Let’s go this summer to Vranje. In Gornja Carsija (a part of Vranje where a lot of the Roma live), Bakic plays the trumpet in the street every night when there is a wedding party.
It’s much better than what you can listen to here.” I went to the other side of the world that summer, thinking there would be time to listen Bakic later on. But there wasn’t. He got ill and died soon after that.
I went to Vranje for the first time two weeks ago, to talk to some Roma families who had came back from Germany and Sweden.
They live in Gornja Carsija, and the place still has the “old eastern” atmosphere that I like very much. People live in the street, sit in front of their houses for a long time, often cook there, and talk and drink Turkish coffee....
But no one played trumpet in the street this time. I saw a monument put up to Bakija Bakic, “master of the trumpet”, in the central square of Gornja Carsija.
Instead of Vranje, that summer a long time ago, I went to Hungary, Poland, and the then still existing Czechoslovakia. A couple of days before the end of my journey, I was standing in the railway station in Prague.
A train for Berlin was leaving in 15 minutes, and I still had time to buy a ticket.
I was thinking about famous films about Berlin – “Children from railway station ZOO“, “Cabaret”, “The Third Man”, and about everything I could see over there.
As the holder of an ex-Yugoslav passport I had the privilege of being able to travel both to West and East Berlin without any visa. I could see in one day such a different worlds, divided only by a wall.
But I was also thinking to myself: “I am short of money, it’s better to go to Vienna and after that, back home. To go to Berlin for three or four days makes no sense. It’s not so far, I’ll go there some other time.”
That some other time did not come till a week ago, when I went to Berlin for the first time. In the meantime, so many things had changed. Germany and Berlin were re-united, and now the holders of ex-Yugoslav passports couldn’t go almost anywhere without visas!
Some people told me that Berlin itself had changed so much since the fall of the Wall that it almost wasn’t the same city as it was before.
What I could see was amazing; it’s now a city with a big “C” that lives all day and night. The mixture of cultures, nations, religions and colours is beautiful.
But I’m still sorry I didn’t see it 22 years ago, so that at least that I could compare how it looked before to how it looks today.
I still have feeling that I missed parts of history because I didn’t heed the old traveler’s wise advice: “Don’t hesitate to go somewhere if you want to go. You will be rarely sorry if you do, but you’ll be always sorry if you don’t!”
Momir Turudic from Belgrade, Serbia, is a journalist with several prestigious awards for covering Roma issues. He currently works as a journalist for Serbian weekly Vreme
The collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 triggered a frenzied phase of nation-building in Eastern Europe, while some Balkan nations embarked on armed conflicts aimed at strengthening national, religious and cultural identities.