Belgrade and city identity

by Eva

Belgrade
photo by lumachroma

Belgrade, the most interesting city that never turns out photogenic in my photos so I have to use other people's. Belgrade, the only city I was sure I'd end up living in at some point, but I now realize it'll probably never happen and I don't know what to think of it. Belgrade, the city that has played with my head more than any other (ever will). Belgrade, the city that was and wasn't, is and isn't, will and won't be home. It's inarguably the best city to be young and I can't help but feel a little envious of those who grew up on its streets, especially in the 1960s - 80s when Belgrade was reportedly a whole different story that I can unfortunately only observe via books and films. Not that I would exchange it for the Belgrade I know, though.

I was in Belgrade for 5 days, my second longest visit so far. I saw everything on my agenda in the first 3 days, so the remaining two were completely dedicated to wandering around aimlessly without getting lost because someone will always show you the way, which is why Belgrade is also the only city where I don't have to rely on a map. I think most foreigners experience the same "phenomenon" - hearing different languages always means a lot of tourists are in town, but I didn't see anyone perusing a map/GPS or looking even remotely lost the entire week I was there.

Belgrade reminded me that I must not lose the ability to connect to places and people; no small talk, only relationships that matter. It's probably because everyone I encounter there is always frank; not that I would dare to make a generalization that all Belgraders are this stellar, it's just that my experience has always been such. Also, I suppose that now I'm fine with the fact I'll never be a (true) Belgrader, an irrationally heavy burden that has perplexed me for many years. It all comes down to the fact that my "city identity" has always been fluid (and nationality: Undefined), thus omitting that sense of "belonging". I think in 2007 Belgrade was the first place I consciously wanted to belong to, and it'll probably never wear off completely.

It didn't help that I had and still have no idea what "belonging" means in practice when it comes to cities. Is it enough to like and understand a city in order to belong to it? Or do you have to spend extended periods of time there to be able to claim that special bond? Although these questions have provided much thought material over the years, it seems that I've let them go with this visit to Belgrade. It's better this way because I've never got any fruitful answers from them. Could it be because they don't exist?