After two weeks of staying in various Airbnb rooms in the heart of Sarajevo’s historic Old Town, I’m forced to move to the outskirts of the city for a few nights as Sarajevo deals with an inundation of guests, mostly bussed in from Croatia, for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s Saturday 30th of December.
Under the weight of my backpacks, I jump on the tram at Baščaršija and ride for about half an hour, through the unmelted snow of the previous day’s fall, to the neighbourhood of Otoka, an old-school concrete jungle of Communist high rises, 18 storeys high, built at the start of the 70s to accommodate a rapidly expanding city.
I jump off the tram. The place looks and feels tough, the atmosphere surly and boisterous, completely different to the areas of the city where you might find tourists. The tram line runs down the middle of a wide, miles-long boulevard. Behind the tram station is a bridge lined with old, poor people, mostly gypsies, selling whatever they have laid out on the ground in front of them: Socks, slippers, onions and little bags of lavender. They pay me no attention as I ask for directions. I wander off none the wiser.
After 10 minutes I find the street I’m looking for, but it takes another 10 to find the block as the numbers are not in any sensible order. A plaque on the side of my building informs me that “In this spot on the 9th of December 1993, Serbian criminals killed three citizens of Sarajevo.” The plaque isn’t rare, you come across them at every turn in the city, but it is somehow more poignant when you know bloody death came to the building you’re about to call home, in the form of a mortar round fired in from the surrounding hills. You close your eyes for a second and picture the scene. You hear the screams. You smell the flesh. You can’t help it.