Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Balkan Diary, Part 3: Belgrade

Our Lonely Planet’s description began, ‘Belgrade is not a beautiful City’, and they really weren’t joking.

Not since Crunk-czar has there been a genre with such an amazing name as Turbo-Folk. But despite the promise of weekly shootings, gang violence and slutty girls, we found Turbo-Folk to actually be surprisingly like a night out in a posh nightclub in Essex. Getting in was the normal story of velvet ropes, guest lists and guys in suits taking your coat. The bar was table service only, and the clientele was strictly middle-aged men and ropey looking women pretending to be in their teens. The music was far from anything as exciting as I had imagined. It seems when they prefixed ‘Folk’ with ‘Turbo’, they didn’t mean ‘wrecklessly fast gabba techno beat’s like I had imagined, but what they really meant was ‘cheesy European pop music’. After half an hour a band came on stage so we thought it might pick up. Instead the lead singer was wearing a suit with a skinny tie and started singing Robbie Williams’ “I just wanna feel real love”. We left.

The next club we went to, Stefan Braun, was at the top of a skyscraper and had metal detectors on the door so looked a bit more serious. In actuality, it was home to exactly the kind of club you imagine Russian hookers go to on their night off; almost everyone was wearing white trousers.. When the bar girls weren’t selling bottles of beer for £4, they would get on the bar and dance while guys took photos of them and compared cameras.
A massive guy got on the bar too and sprayed 5-feet canisters of gas all over the room. I have no idea what it was, but it felt like we were in the gay steel mill from The Simpsons, except it full of lecherous straight men. In fact, the last Gay Pride march in Belgrade had to be abandoned because so many people turned up to beat up those on the march, so I don’t think the people of Belgrade would be keen on that comparison.

The Military Museums are where things really picked up. They had some very gnarly stuff on show from the 1999 conflict with NATO including a machete with (rather a lot of) traces of human blood,
a razor wire string to torture people with,
the uniform of a captured US soldier,
the rear wing tip of a shot down fighter jet, and the full cockpit of the Stealth bomber that was shot down.

The next day was the Belgrade derby which despite the threatening swastikas sprayed all over the toilets and heavy duty riot police was home to some of the best choreographed football hooligans I’ve ever seen.
From sneaking around the pitch to steal each other’s banners, having a man on scaffolding directing the crowd over loudspeakers throughout the whole game and setting off dozens of flares at exactly the same time,
the almost camp guys in Oakleys and tight stonewashed denim really put on a good show. The best bit was once they'd finished singing a song, all the (real) fans took their shirts off and threw them in the air. Shirts Off Crew Belgrade!!

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