In the heart of Belgrade, the vibrant and resilient capital of Serbia, a slow and colorful transformation is taking place.
Once ugly and industrial, the historic neighborhood of Savamala has emerged in recent years as the thriving epicenter of the city’s cultural life. Following decades of neglect, Savamala is now blossoming back to life as a diverse crowd of artists and entrepreneurs have poured in to reclaim the area and transform its run-down warehouses and abandoned spaces into hubs of creativity.
At the center of this urban remake is Mikser House, a previously derelict state-owned garage that has now become a booming cultural space showcasing the best of Balkan art, thought and design.
“It’s a roof for many different activities,” says Maja Lalic, the creative force behind Mikser House. “It’s basically connecting creative people of very different disciplines but with a similar goal and desire to be productive and constructive,” continues Lalic, an Ivy League-educated architect.
“These small-scale skills of surviving and being able to make something out of nothing, this kind of bitter-sweet attitude to life, and we used to say ‘who if not us,’ and ‘when if not now.'”
Such a transformation is not new in Belgrade, a city that has been destroyed and rebuilt some 40 times throughout its long and tumultuous history.
Lying at the confluence of the great Danube and Sava rivers, Belgrade — home today for some 1.5 million people — is strategically located at the crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe and a meeting point of different civilizations.
Nowhere is Belgrade’s historical and cultural significance more evident than in the imposing ancient fortress that towers over the point where the Danube and Sava rivers mingle.
Standing in some form since the second century on top of a cliff-like ridge, the sprawling castle has over the years sheltered Serbian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman troops — to name just a few.