#5 From a Day or Two in Sarajevo (a podcast by Claire August)

From the road, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Credit: Claire August)

In the center of town, a group of men played oversized chess.

H. told me how, after the war [*1], many countries donated trams to Sarajevo, and this is why the trams came up and down the narrow street in various shapes and colors: they were from Germany, Japan, and Switzerland, to name a few.

From the road at sunset, we look into apartments with rooms so obscure their thick color reminded me of dark red bedsheets. Between the roads, emptied out valleys. It’s possible to forget how flat Berlin is and to forget what hills are like. Hills remind you of the size of a place. Berlin feels like neighborhoods put together like puzzle pieces, while Sarajevo raises its city-edges towards you. It was winter in Sarajevo but it was no longer winter when we got closer to the border with Croatia, where it blushed with warmth and we pulled off the road to eat oysters. They were ice cold. The waiter pointed and said, they come from the water right over there.

(Recorded as H. and I walked through the center of Sarajevo.)

In H.’s house there were 12 jars of honey. We counted.

Trinken wir lieber ein Glas zuviel. I am listening to this song [*2] as we drive, and it reminds me of what it is like to travel. I’ve heard people say that they travel but that they are certainly not tourists. I don’t think this is possible. All recreational travel is plainly indulgent; to avoid the word ‘tourist’ (thereby avoiding all of the word’s negative connotations) is to also avoid this truth of indulgence. Travel like this is to drink a glass from a country that is not ‘yours,’ and to sometimes drink one glass too many. Is all travel a form of excess? I’d like to think not, at least not in every case. Travel can, of course, be an educational experience.

(From a taxi ride on the way to the airport.)

H. and I walk through the center of town. She points to places that she remembers from the time she lived here and that are important to her while describing the vastly different mood of the city between the seasons (this, also, reminds me of Berlin). In the winter it is very windy here, in the valley. Sports betting is a big deal. H. points to the corner where Franz Ferdinand was shot and says we will walk by it later on. I walked by the American Corner of Sarajevo and felt self-conscious. I felt self-conscious when I spoke English loudly and when I passed by the gated American embassy, too, and when we stood under a building with bullet holes and a sign in the colors of the EU that read ‘EUtanasia.’ The buildings are that color because of the smog, which is also an effect of the valley.

(From the return flight.)

The funny thing about spending not a lot of time in a place that you do not know is that suddenly it does in fact feel like a long time. You don’t feel like you know the place– I don’t feel like I know Sarajevo– but I felt like I knew the time that I was there and that it was long and deliberate: I recall sitting and eating a ball of crushed walnuts covered in chocolate and watching men on the other side of the street drink coffee from small cups and smoke; I recall leaning out from the windows to try to hear what they said on the loudspeakers of the cruise ships. Despite my heightened attention I still managed to cut my finger on a can of tuna. We ate it anyways.

The funny thing about being a tourist is that I don’t always shake the feeling when I get home.


  1. Bosnian conflict, 1992-1995.
  2. Lieber ein Glas zuviel by F.S.K
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