New York to New… Nork?


…it’s a helluva town!

Stari Grad’s up and the Limans are down,

The fortress on the hill has tunnels underground.

New York!  New Nork!  Both such hellsuva towns!

Liner notes:

“Nork”: a shopping center ‘for the people’ (and actually, there’s a huge “IDEA” supermarket—a relatively new concept here in Serbia—on the basement level of New Nork).

“Stari Grad”: old town.  Despite its name, Novi Sad has a quaint downtown lined with multicolored two-story structures that have a distinctly Viennese flavor.  This, for example, is Dunavska Street, which extends to the Danube River (or Dunav) behind the camera, and connects up ahead with Zmaj Jovina, Novi Sad’s café-lined pedestrian zone.

IMG_0025Most of these buildings were constructed while the city was under Austro-Hungarian rule in the eigthteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Established in 1694, obtaining its present name and status as a free royal city in 1748, Novi Sad soon became the cultural and economic center of the region. The first grammar school opened in 1791 (a good 30 years before Brooklyn’s P.S.1!),  the Serbian National Theatre was founded here in 1861; Matica Srpska (a time-honored cultural institution and the center for the study of Serbian language, literature, and philosophy) moved here in 1864.  Even after being attacked by everyone from the Turks to the Russians to Hungarian Fascists, even after NATO bombardment left Novi Sad without bridges, communication, and a water supply for months in 1999, the center city is charming, elegant, and welcoming.

If you could step into that photo and walk into the heart of town, you’d find a quirky antique shop (just on your right, with the gated windows), gelato stands, boutiques like the Manual Company (selling fine leather goods like exquisitely tooled book covers), arched entrances to alleyways with more shops (lingerie and shoe stores with tightly organized display windows), and Novi Sad’s oldest building— Beli lav, or the White Lion, dating from 1720.  Dunavska Street melts into Zmaj Jovina here, where the Bishop’s Palace (circa 1901) suns itself while looking down its nose at the popcorn vendors, dripping gelato cones, and too-tight jeans.


Wander outside the well-tended walks of stari grad and you’ll pass buildings of similar architectural interest; they just haven’t been as well tended.  So, if you continue down Zmaj Jovina (the old “Hauptgasse” of the nineteenth century) and pass through the magisterial Trg Slobode (Liberty Square), keeping magisterial City Hall (an exact replica of the city hall in Graz) on your left, you’ll soon cross Uspenska and wind up on one of my favorite streets, Futoska Jevrejska (those “j”s sound like “y”s, okay?).  On this part of this long street, you’ll see New Nork and a gorgeous synagogue on your left—more on that later!  It’s used for concerts and gatherings now, since the congregation couldn’t afford to keep up the property.  A hint of what it might now look like without the city’s support can be seen directly across the street.  I love the juxtaposition of the praying angel and the weirdly (typically!) named sporting goods store.


“The Limans”: four connected neighborhood districts about 15 minutes’ walk south of Stari Grad.  This is where you’ll find the University of Novi Sad, nicely situated on a curve of the Danube.  It’s also where you’ll find me a great deal of the time, either in my office at the U., in my apartment taking in the interesting view, or enjoying the walk in between.

So how does one live here?  And what’s life like at the University of Novi Sad?  This photo, taken from my apartment on the first day of class (taken from my balcony) addresses both of these questions…

IMG_0134City buses packed with students, campus buildings gazing indifferently over the lives of everyday folk, the obligatory, ubiquitous ads catering to Generation O (or whatever they call it here): this is life in a college town, in New Europe as well as the good ole’ US.  What you don’t see here are the many cafes (with names like “Buddha Bar” and “Mammis”—yo, who out there remembers “Grandma’s” up at Columbia?) tucked underneath the buildings facing campus and the shopping mall (“Spens”) complete with swimming pool, ice skating rink, and boxing club.   There are also countless “fotokopie” joints as well as a great coffeehouse-bookstore, Nublu— you East Village denizens may know owner Ilhan Ersahin’s club by the same name on Ave C.

All the same, I’m constantly reminded that it’s just not the same…


Welcome to the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Novi Sad.  In this young-ish university, this faculty is one of the two oldest, founded in 1954.  The pleasingly ‘70s-style building not only survived the 1999 NATO bombings; it had a front-row seat when NATO rockets destroyed two bridges that linked Novi Sad with Belgrade and the south.  Nowadays, its view of the Danube is interrupted by the skeleton of a building that awaits funding for completion (and has become a rather spectacular showcase for political graffiti).  Here’s the view: Faculty of Philosophy on the right and the Danube on the left, behind  the concrete monolith.


“The fortress on the hill has tunnels underground”: I’m ending where Novi Sad’s history begins.  Petrovaradin Fortress looks over Novi Sad from a strategic vantage point on the right side of the Danube.  The hill is a perfect place for a lookout or safe haven, particularly if you consider the super-flatness of the Pannonian plains around it.  The remains of Paleolithic settlements have been found on the site of the Upper Fortress, and ramparts from the Bronze Age (about 3000 BCE) suggest that Petrovaradin has a long history as a fortified settlement.  Everyone from Celts to Romans to Hungarians to Turks to Austrians to (most recently) Exit Festival participants have attempted to siege the fortress.  It stands as a testament to Novi Sad’s diversity and fortitude through the most trying of times.  And the ten miles of tunnels underneath it… who knows what they might hide, protect, reveal?  This city, this culture has extraordinary depth that I aim to explore over the next three months… for now, it’s g’night, Novi Sad.


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Karen Karbiener

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10 2009

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