I left Belgrade at 7.30 am. Finding my way out of town took me – despite or maybe because of the maps – extremely long. In the end I was on the right track straight South, circling first the Avala mountain, then the Kosmaj range (both carrying the official title ‚landscape with exceptional features‘) until I got to the old spa town of Arandelovac. It took me another four hours to get from there to Kragujevac, which had been the Serbian capitel in the 19th century, when Belgrade was still in Ottoman hands. Landscapewise it would have been a beautiful ride, because for kilometres, the road runs on ridge tops with views into the valleys right and left and beyond – but, alas, it was an overcast day which became increasingly misty, so that I couldn’t see farther than 100 or 200 metres. This made me look closer on the immediate surroundings I passed by. It made me sad bordering to depressive to see how thoroughly the road was littered. On the entire 120 km from Belgrade to Kragujevac, there was not a single metre without rubbish – waterbottles, tyres, whole bags full of garbage, empty cigarette packs, discarded sofas and couch tables, millions of cigarette butts. And the villages: become of the villages old farmhouses were left to fall apart, while next to them stand half finished houses on which hadn’t been worked for at least five years or – maybe even worse – they had been finished, adorned with ‚greek‘ concrete columns model ‚Corinthian delight‘ (a Doric one would’ve probably been too simplistic!) from home improvement stores, brick or concrete arches spanning from fencepole to fencepole, baroque balcony railings in stainless steel, monstrous stainless steel gates in front of not really corresponding houses. Other horrific exemples are snow-white plastic housedoors in otherwise beautiful old wooden farm houses, or windows that had been partly bricked up to fit the standard sizes of plastic windows from – again: do-it-yourself stores – every house, every village an insult to the common sense aesthetics, to rules of proportion, to virtues of modesty and ‚less is more‘.
The same applies in a similar way for cities – let’s take for instance Kragujevac, where I stayed that night. It once had even been the first capital of Serbia in the 19th century as I wrote above. The first constitution in the Balkans was proclaimed here in 1835, a little later, a university had been founded, the city boasted then the first National Theatre and a Military Academy, later it became home of the Zastava factory producing Yugoslavian replicas of the Fiat 500 as well as weapons and munition.
And the remains of these days? Some very few 19th century buildings, to which later some quality buildings from the Communist era were added plus swathes of land covered with nondescript architecture. I imagine the city during Tito’s days a bit blank, maybe dusty and run-down, but generally in order, buildings clearly distinguishible. Now the town centre is in a state of utter blur: first floors of buildings are completely covered up with faded-to-illegibility advertisements for fruit-drinks, jeans or motor-cars, the small pedestrian zone is littered (sorry no other word available!) with tentlike open air coffee bars, having with time taken on a very permanent character on public ground.
So far, so bad!