Somewhere in the noughties Then it was over to Petrit’s bar on Hobrecht Straße for the grand opening of the joint. Ladaslava, a Slovak Gypsy girl from Prague had stenciled “Gypsy” flowers on the wall. Petrit had managed to scrounge together an ensemble of secondhand furniture, mostly bought at the flea market at Boxhagener Platz. I had arranged for a ...

(back to part I) Sauntering up Balkanska ulica I noticed her verging towards me, a black-haired girl in a black dress clicking along the cracked pavement past cheap shops selling cheap wares, swinging a tiny patent leather handbag. She sidled up to me and said: “Do you have any gum?” Guma, she said. I said I didn’t speak Serbian. And then ...

                                      Snow dusts the ground on Ada Ciganli, Gypsy Island, a popular get-away on the banks of the Sava river, a short taxi ride from the center of Belgrade, where, after  a brief walk through darkened woods we reach a creaky wooden gangway leading to a rickety wooden houseboat with a sign in Cyrillic. Lighted windows blaze into the winter night and ...

How did you get your break? My first break, after playing the local Balkan stuff in the hood, you know, was playing a klezmer gig. That was what broke me. That was with Harold Seletzky. He brought me to a whole other world. Up  until then I was stuck in Ridgewood. Harold Seletzky is no longer around, but he was a ...

Yesterday I biked around the Wannsee, to Potsdam and back to Berlin. Then I went to Isigym, boxed a little and rode my bike to Centrala just as the bar was beginning to get crowded. I pulled up on my bike in lederhosen shorts, blue Serbia  jersey and black wraparound shades - my usual summer attire. Szilvia stood behind the bar. ...

Right here, at the very tip of Belgrade, on the Kalemegdan fortress promontory overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, is where Central Europe ends and the Balkans begin. Ahead stretches the flat Pannonian plain into Hungary and Central Europe. At my back the city of Belgrade, straddling the ridge of the first hilly outcroppings of the Šumadija, which ...

A Serbian pundit of the nineties once said if you want to get to know the Oriental mindset, you needn’t travel to Turkey and make the acquaintance of any exotic Mehmet or Ahmed. Rather you need look no further afield  than the Serbs themselves.  This may come as a surprise to some Westerners, for whom the Serbs are supposed to be the guardians ...

Robert Soko: We are about to compose a book in the next year or two. Something similar to “Please Kill Me”. Robert Rigney: The Balkan version. Robert Soko: Yes, the Balkan version. Let’s say thirty years of Balkan mayhem.  Billy Gould: Cool. Robert Soko: And we are trying to get in touch with everyone who has something to say, on a bigger scale and ...

The train line from Prijepolje in the south Serbian Sandžak to Podgorica in Montenegro is perhaps the most dramatic in Europe. You go through tunnel after tunnel, skirting the precipice of one of the world’s deepest canyons. The mountains here are indescribably rugged, barely cultivable and scarcely inhabited. Here and there in the midst of this grey wilderness of barren rock you ...

The deeper I got into the Balkans the more I began to feel the magnetic pull of Istanbul. As of Novi Pazar, everything started to tilt towards the Bosphorus. The food, the music, the language, the mannerisms, all began to assume a Turkish touch. I realized that if ever I were to unwind the knotty issue of the Balkans in my ...

The guy that worked the hotel reception desk looked at me, as if to make sure he had heard correctly. “Tallava? You want tallava?” he said, like I wanted a dose of the clap. “Are you sure you really want to hear this shit? I know of a place on the edge of town. But I’m warning you, it’s a bit ...

From Budapest to Belgrade is eight hours. You travel along the Pannonian plain; the great plain of Hungary; Transdanubia; the westernmost steppe in Europe; all flatlands and fields, and the heat doesn’t let up in your non-air-conditioned compartment, as you pass by dusty, flyblown  villages with sweep-wells in a sea of wheat and cornfields.  At the border to Serbia a burly ...