As a foreigner to Sarajevo, the fist thing that pops to mind when I hear this name is the 1992-1995 war that happened in the former Yugoslavia.
About the war
Indeed the scars of war are still highly visible in Sarajevo. Bullet holes such as the one on the right can be plainly seen on almost every building.
Even the nice 4 star hotel that I stayed in was contrasted with another building in front of it which looked like it was showered with bullets.
Some of the damage in the city is intentionally preserved. For example the image to the left shows the site where a explosive detonated. The damage was sealed up with red plastic so that it resembles splattered blood. In this way no one will forget what happened here.
Generally speaking what happened was that at some point certain regions of the former Yugoslavia declared independence. Then civil war broke out when these new regions tried to disband and replace their portions of Yugoslavia’s police and military forces. The conflict quickly broke down along sectarian lines. The different sects ended up fighting each other over territory. The region currently known as Serbia had inherited the largest chunk of Yugoslavia’s military. In 1992 the Serbian forces surrounded Sarajevo with superior firepower, however many of the city’s residents refused to leave their homes and they managed to mount some sort of resistance. This led to the siege of Sarajevo which lasted almost 4 years(considered to longest siege of a capital city in the modern era). During the siege it was impossible for people and goods to enter/leave the city via conventional means. However, the airport(which was controlled by the United Nations) did allow humanitarian aid to flow into the city. Also the airport linked Sarajevo with another region which was not controlled by the Serbs. However getting to the airport was not without its perils as there was a narrow choke point leading up to the airport and Serbian forces had snipers positioned on each side of this corridor. As a result many people died trying to reach the airport.
In order to reach the airport safely, Sarajevo’s leadership ordered a 960m long tunnel to be dug in the corridor leading up to the airport(pictured below). This tunnel was called the “Tunnel of Life” as it provided the city with a great deal of humanitarian aid and allowed civilians to leave the city and soldiers to enter. The tunnel was eventually retrofitted with high-voltage power cables and a oil pipeline. When it rained the tunnel was often partially flooded. The presence of oil and electricity in a narrow and flooded tunnel was obviously a highly hazardous situation but those were desperate measures for desperate times.
It seems that people survived mostly on preserved food and by growing vegetables in the city’s public parks. One elderly gentleman told me that since the beginning of the war he tasted his first potato in 1995 when the siege ended. He also commented that during the siege people would typically be woken at 04:00 by the sound of firefights and that during the day one would be have to run from building to building in order to avoid being picked off by snipers.
Other than the war
The region where Sarajevo is situated was a part of the Ottoman empire in the past and as a result some of the customs and foods of the Ottoman empire rubbed of on Sarajevo. For example, in the Ottoman era it was customary to build a water well at busy intersections so that the people could refresh themselves.
Another custom that the Bosnians share with Turkey is the love for coffee. It is customary to make coffee for your guests and as a guest you should drink the coffee slowly and try to relax because drinking the coffee quickly is a insult to the host as it signals that you dont want to hang around for too long. Conversely a host can signal to a guest that he is not welcome by making terrible coffee, I’m told that this is done by mixing in a lot of water so as to make it almost tasteless. It seems that the traditionally prepared coffee is too bitter to simply add suger to it. Instead one would have to dip a chunk of sugar into the coffee and then put the sugar in your mouth as you sip on the coffee. Personally I didn’t find it any more bitter than the usual Espresso, it was quite good in fact.
One thing thats interesting about Sarajevo is its variety of cultures. One can find Austrian architecture in parts of the city which dates back to around World War 1 when Bosnia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In other parts of the city one can find Mosques and Churches on the same street.
During the night I found a interesting bar in the city. This bar has some very interesting interior decoration, every wall is filled with old paintings/photos and other oddities. Also no two lamps seem to be quite the same. Things get stranger when you enter the bathroom. You will be greeted with a small black and white TV which is playing some sort of really old TV program. Also for some reason there is a old telephone which will start ringing while your attending to your business and the lights will switch on/off in a unpredictable pattern.
One well known and interesting restaurant is the “Inat”, which translates to “Stubborn” in English. The reason for this is that this building used to be in a different location and was moved to the new location one brick at a time. This is because the city council desired to build a museum at Inat’s old location however the owner refused to leave his house unless they moved it brick by brick to the new location.
Public transport is not great, mostly one will have to use a taxi to get around. However there is a very old tramway system throughout the city.
The conference itself, it was average. However I could meet some excellent people from Italy, Finland and a friend who graduated from my lab a couple years earlier. The atmosphere was very social and fun. For me this was probably the best part of the trip.
On my way back to Japan I stayed in Vienna for a night. Vienna is said to be the city of music because several well known composers such as Mozart and Beethoven have produced their work in this city. Im not a big fan of classical music though. However I did find Vienna interesting for its architecture, below are some pictures. Unfortunately I arrived rather late in Vienna so after checking into my hotel, there was only a limited amount of sunlight left. So I had to run around and take as many pictures as I could before night time. As a result im not really sure what the story behind most of these structures is but they certainly are impressive.