An Illustrated History of Slavic Misery: Osijek

Posted on May 5, 2013

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The next bus will never leave from platform 4.

The next bus will never leave from platform 4.

Despite being the fourth biggest city in the country, I would wager that not many of you have ever heard of Osijek. Aside from being the club that I took to the Croatian championship on Football Manager (https://penguinorchestra.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/the-sad-lonely-world-of-a-croatian-football-manager/), it is also home to the largest city in Slavonia, the birthplace of Jelena Dokic (Aussie tennis player with mental Dad) and the great Davor Suker. Yes, that Davor Suker, winner of the golden boot at France 98. It was a well regarded city in the Habsburg Empire, but the 20th century saw it fall on tough times, like a host of cities in this part of the world. When walking around Osijek, more so than any other town off the top of my head it is easy to picture it as a glorious empirical city, with baroque architecture at its finest throughout. This same architecture has been left to ruin in the last century unfortunately, seeing more of the Slavic Misery that is constant throughout.

During the war in the 1990s, Osijek itself managed to stay fairly undamaged. Sure, there is the odd burst of shrapnel damage that is prevalent in Bosnia, but on the whole it wasn’t so bad. Well, for the Croats anyway, as a number of Croat officials were accused of commiting war crimes against Serb civilians. This was the seat of Branimir Glavas after all, one of the two regional politicians who really upped the Ustase history of Croatia, calling for all manner of horror to rain down on the Serbs. Nearby Vukovar wasn’t so lucky however, being the most heavily destroyed city in all of the former Yugoslavia. But more on that another time.

Always on the lookout for the Slavic Misery that warms my heart so, I had a faint flicker on my way to my hostel from the train station yesterday evening. The bus station is adjacent, and looked pretty run down, so instead of looking at potential buses I figured I might as well find my hostel. This wasn’t easy, as the only directions they gave were ‘it is a 10 minute walk from the main train station’. No direction, no roads, no nothing. So I wandered aimlessley, taking the tried and tested (and frequently failed) mantra of ‘follow your gut or wrench it out’. I got there, but christ it was frustrating. Not quite as frustrating as the hostel being directly above a nightclub, or the wifi not working, or there being no kitchen, or the bedrooms not even having frickin light switches. Croatia, I love you, but you don’t do yourself any favours sometimes.

Back to the bus station however. Today I got up early (well, I had practically been up since 2am because of clubbing noise guff anyway), and headed into the centre with the plan of eventually heading to the station. The centre is typically lovely in that falling apart Slavic manner. The bus station is probably the most desolate place I have ever seen. Well, its not really a station, more a succession of platforms with bins falling off their posts and the walls falling apart. You peer inside and everything has been abandoned, almost as if the war was still going on and people were just upping and leaving. The usual pekara stands are equally empty. Posters for gigs long ago still adorn the walls, in various stages of decay. Weeds are the new kings, the concrete their subjects. I began to think that something was up, as this surely couldn’t be the bus station of one of the biggest cities in the country? Well, I was right, it couldn’t be, and it isn’t. Turns out there is a brand new one a few hundred metres down the road. Still, as I stood on platform 5 of the old station, I found it hard to imagine any activity taking place there. Ever.

Osijek is a strange place. I feel like I could genuinely love this town, but it seems to be doing its hardest to stop that. Maybe being here on a Sunday doesn’t help. The architecture is lovely, but it is decaying. The hostel looks like a nice place, but it is in a terrible location and lacks basic hostel etiquette. However, I’m currently sat in an outdoor cafe near the centre, and this is the first outdoor cafe I have ever been in that is blaring a Deftones shuffle out. Usually you have to go into specifically metal or underground bars for that to happen. Not here it seems. Osijek, you confuse me.

Oh, I’m going to Belgrade tomorrow by the way. The summer is here.

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