Journey to the Centre
by L.A. Davenport
A voyage around Central Europe and the Balkans, via Berlin, Munich, Venice, Prague, Warsaw, Belgrade, Sarajevo and Mostar.
In late 2011, I embarked on a journey that would have a major impact on my life. I had been fascinated by Central Europe and the Balkans for many years, but after a rather tumultuous period in my life, I finally decided to take a step back from daily life and explore both the region and myself. And the journey proper began, as all great journeys should, with a train, this time from Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
In Munich, I managed to fulfill an ambition I had harboured since my early twenties — to visit the Oktoberfest. I found the event, and its atmosphere, extraordinary. I had been friends with German people for several years and knew how fun they are, but seeing the Bavarians in their lederhosen and dirndl, giving their all as they sang along to power ballads in a packed wooden tent was something to behold.
And yet some things in Munich were no different to anywhere else. It struck me as incredible that everyone sat at this tranquil spot on the Isar should have their heads buried in their mobile phones. I cannot imagine that anything much has changed since 2011.
Visiting Dachau concentration camp and confronting the brutality and banal cruelty of humanity was a powerful and deeply moving experience, and one that everyone should go through. After the horror of seeing the tools of the holocaust in situ, the Jewish memorial was a simple, yet beautiful, symbol of defiance.
During the trip, I was called away to Venice, to work at a conference. Our hotel was far from the centre, so we had to take the Vaporetto every morning. I suppose taking your dog for a walk takes on a different meaning when you are surrounded by water.
In 2011, the Old Town of Warsaw was finished but lacked the sense of being a lived-in place, especially in winter. It felt empty and a little odd, like a theme park to someone’s impression of a lost national identity. When I returned a few years ago, I was pleased to find it had come alive, and the once-pristine restored buildings now had the requisite lived-in feel to make them seem real.
Prague was a city of delights, small and large. Steeped in history, beautifully preserved and extremely welcoming, it made a deep impression on me. Travelling there in winter, I later discovered meant I wasn’t exposed to the other side of one of the stag-do capitals of Europe.
The Memorial to the Victims of Communism, by Olbram Zoubek, I found by chance when I crossed a bridge in Prague and headed into a park. To me, it is a dignified response to one of the most traumatic periods in European history.
Belgrade was, for me, a city of contrasts. It was a once-noble city that was drifting into obscurity, and although I spent many a happy hour with wonderful people in my hostel on the Danube, the streets felt a little forbidding. In many ways, I would like to return there the most out of all the places I visited, to see how it has evolved over the intervening years.
I visited many other cities other than those shown in this collection, but Sarajevo was the one I fell in love with. The old town is of course very well restored and it is in many ways very pretty. But there is something extraordinary about the place, perhaps the entire valley, where it sits. There is a type of magic in the air, and one cannot help but feel sad at how much these wonderful people have suffered.
Finally, Mostar. Another Bosnian jewel that has suffered so much. In 2011, I had to do a lot of mental work to imagine how it would have been before it was destroyed. I hope one day to return and see more of it like this.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.
Journey to the Centre | Pushing the Wave