22 Apr 2014

Trip to Balkans - part 1

DISCLAIMER: Purpose of this post is not of educational nature and historical facts have been greatly simplified.

Hello guys,

I've been on a road trip across the Balkan peninsula (okay, just to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia :P) this weekend and figured I'd share some of the more interesting photos with you. As the purpose of the trip was for my dad to get to know some of the more touristy spots (he's a tour guide), it was mostly driving and not not much actual sightseeing. Still, I've managed to snap some shots that might serve as a nice inspiration for some readers.

To start with, some burned houses. I saw some nice overgrown ruins for Post apoc games, but couldn't take photos. As these are remains from the last war, I found it a bit tasteless to snap photos where people were around. Strictly viewing them as a source of terrain building inspiration, they might be quite handy. Some houses are really large. It's same in Slovenia, apparently Yugoslavia was a great country to build oversized houses, but lately not many can afford them anymore.

 Below is a WW2 era bunker. I haven't found any good info on the internet about them. They are certainly axis, but some people call them "German" while my dad think they belonged to Ustashe (Croatian fascists). I really like the design, it looks like a little castle.

 Photo below is a bit of a joke. The writing says "Garages for guests of the restaurant" and we found it quite funny. The restaurant itself was very nice building, with walls decorated with pebbles. It had parking space outside, so we didn't have to try and squeeze our car in this fabulous garage :D.
 Another WW2 axis blockhouse, much larger design this time.
 Below is a house where Sarajevo defenders (Sarajevo was under siege for duration of war in Bosnia) dug a tunnel. Tunnel was 800 meters long and was running under UN controlled airfield. It connected city defenders to Bosniak controlled territory and it is probably the sole reason Sarajevo didn't surrender during what has been the longest siege in modern history.
 Here are some random items, like shovels, ammo crates and a little push cart that was used to transport goods.
 An entrance to the tunnel. It was 1.6m high and a meter wide. It sucks to walk in it as it is, imagine having a 30 kilogram backpack on your back.
 This kind Turkish mister was kind enough to pose as a model inside  the tunnel. He actually took photo of me first and then returned the favor :P.

 Here is a very simple map of the siege. There were more complicated maps that had involved units drawn in, but this one is just as good. Long story short, Sarajevo is a nice multicultural city that hosted Winter Olympic games back in 1984 (so, an equivalent to Sochi). 8 years later, war breaks up in Bosnia and multicultural neighbors start hating each other. Serbian populations flees the city, only leaving adult men behind. Serbian forces encircle the city and keep it under siege for almost 4 years. In the mean time, they use heavy weaponry on the city defenders and Serbian men that  stayed inside snipe around. Do keep in mind, it wasn't THAT one sided, though. In the bottle neck, there is a UN held airport under which the tunnel ran.
 And a close up on tunnel area:
Olimpijsko selo translates to "Olympic village". In Butmir, EUFOR had their military base just 5 years ago, when I was visiting Sarajevo for the first time. The base is now gone, but we were told situation is not as pleasant as it might seem. Not much else can be expected, really.
 Given how 2014 marks 100 years since the start of WW1, here are this period related photos. On this exact corner (that was swarmed by Italian tourists when I came there :P) Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot. Few years back I was in Vienna museum where they keep his clothes and car, but it seems I don't have the photos anymore.

 What I do have, however, are photos from Czech fort (turned prison in Austro-Hungary, turned Nazi concentration camp during Second World War) Terezin, where Gavrilo Princip, the assassin, was held. Conveniently, I was there last year :P. Terezin as such is a very, very depressing sight and people actually still live there. During WWII,  Terezin was a "stop point" for inmates, that were then transported to other concentration camps. This camp was spruced up a bit for Red cross visit, which made it look like Jews and other prisoners are having a great time, their bank and even their currency. But after that visit, things quickly went back to how they were.

To a more joyful topic, here is a "sebil" - a stone/wooden turkish style fountain in the centre of the city:
 And fezzes. Because apparently, fezzes are cool.
 A random bridge across river Drina in Višegrad below:
 And a WW1 memorial. Serbia was an independent kingdom back then and while occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces, won the war with allies.

This is more or less where photos from Bosnia end and I'll show the rest next time. I got some nice photos of a fortified monastery that I found quite interesting.

I've always enjoyed trips to Bosnia, but I can't really point my finger on what drags me there. The food is absolutely fantastic (kinda like hamburger, but with better meat and accompanied by a stottie - them Geordies are everywhere!), and I like the diversity of the country. Not that I'm a religious nut, but in Sarajevo alone, you can see Catholic and Orthodox churches, mosques and even synagogues. The core of the city centre is turkish, but the city itself is much like other Austro-Hungarian cities. Country as such is nice and hilly, and it seems like a really nice play to be before the war. Now there are some fantastic modern buildings here and there, but in general it seems like time has stopped at least 30 years ago.

Thanks for looking,


  1. Those are really intersting shots Mathyoo, thank you for sharing. That bunker really does look Medieval

    1. Thanks Ad. That bunker is quite fascinating, isn't it? I haven't yet seen modern fortifications with battlements.

  2. No wonder I haven't seen much of you on the interwebs, good lot of photos there. The ruined houses are a sad sight, given that they once held people pre-war and I'm quite amazed that so much WW1 and WW2 stuff still exists.

    1. Ah, I'm always around :P. It's hard to think about the houses, indeed - and seeing those where people still live isn't much better, either.
      There are a lot of WW1 monuments in Serbia especially, as it was "cleaner" than WW2 - there was no civil war there. As for WW2, there is at least a small stone in just about every settlement from "Triglav to Vardar". :P

  3. My brothers both visited Yugoslavia (as it was then) in 1980, or maybe a year or two before this. I don't think they had any notion of what was to come not so long afterwards.

    Rightly or wrongly, my view of the Balkans is of a very disturbed place with a bad mix of primitive xenophobic nationalism and modern cosmopolitan multiculturalism.

    1. Oh, really? Which parts? :)

      Keeping it simple, you could label it as such, I suppose. There were sparks in the area since the three religions formed, and if you only look at 20th Century, the wars look like bunch of paybacks. In the years since last war, people have been slowly moving so that areas are much less ethnically diverse now. It is not all bad, though - in latest demonstrations everyone seem to have stepped together, no matter their religion.

  4. Nice pics Mathyoo.
    Some great inspirational stuff, other ones interesting too.
    It's nice to get away for a break.

    1. Thanks!
      I really love the garage myself, lol. I'll certainly build one for my games one day :D.

  5. I found this very fascinating, Mathyoo. Lots of inspirational photos there. I can see now why you've been quiet over the Easter holidays.

    1. Thanks! I have to admit I thought I had more, but lots were blurry as they were taken from a moving car (our "chauffeur" got sick of stopping every two minutes on my demand :P).

  6. Very interesting trip, thanks for posting the info and pictures. Very interesting to see such a mix of places.

  7. I can imagine how awkward you must have felt taking some of those photos. There is a rawness to the whole history. Thank you for posting them.

    1. It's just too soon I suppose - I was just a young lad back then and I am not really connected to any of it. A lot of people fled to Slovenia, but that's about all I knew.

  8. Great pics and interesting to see a bit of history especially the bunkers and blockhouse. The tunnel was very interesting.

    The damaged buildings certainly offer inspiration for building your own is that a tree growing out the second pic?

  9. That tunnel is great, yeah!
    And yup, trees growing inside the house there - a great idea for post apoc terrain :P

  10. Hi Mathyoo,
    Very interesting account of your trip. But I would very much appreciate your amending just one bit, for historical accuracy - and to be fair to Poland and the Poles who suffered so catastrophically during WWII. Where you mention "Polish concentration camp", I would ask that you assign ownership where it is due, and please amend that to read as: "Nazi German concentration camp built in then-occupied Poland". It's only a few more words, but would be very much appreciated. Many thanks, in anticipation.

    1. Hello Dan, welcome to the blog.

      History (or historical accuracy) is not a main focus of the blog, which is the reasons my posts like this one are written very lightly. Naturally, the only reason for calling camps "Polish" was their location, not ownership. I do understand your point of view, of course, and I have amended that part to be clearer to people that are less familiar with the WW2.

    2. Mathyoo - thanks for the change. I know this may seem OTT but it would be better to write located in GERMAN occupied Poland. This helps inform who the Nazis were.
      Also, the next sentence, The camp was polished up... is clumsy wording. Perhaps, spruced up would be more appropriate.

    3. Hello there :D
      I understand your point of view, but then I would also have to explain the burnt buildings were probably belonging to Croatian population in a mostly Serbian area. I would have to take time to make sure I explain who the Ustashe were and how Croatian Nazi state was formed. I would also have to explain whole history of the Balkans to explain why every war in the Balkans becomes such a bloody affair. Then I would have to explain which organisation Gavrilo Princip belonged to and why he has was there to assassinate Austrian prince and his wife. Then I would have to explain how Czech territory was still part of A-H at that time, which is the reason he was put there in prison in the first place. And only then I could start explaining history of WW2 and the reasons for German decision to build concentration camps in Poland. As this is not historical blog and text accompanying the photos is meant to be very basic (everyone can look up things that interest them more), I hope you understand why I can't explain every single detail - especially on a little paragraph that is only remotely connected to the post as such - they only refer to one photo of around 30, after all.
      I do agree on the "spruced up" being a more appropriate word, cheers for the suggestion!

  11. Once again, thank you for a fabulous trip around the country. I really do enjoy them. Great ideas as well. I love the fort.

    1. No problem mate, but it's "countries" sincer 1991 :P.

  12. There was no concentration camp in "Poland". There was "Germany's" Auschwitz
    concentration camp and other German concentration camps in "German occupied Poland". The terms "Poland", "Germany" and "German occupied Poland" are not interchangeable and refer to significantly different geo-political entities. Please change the text.

    As the son of a member of the Polish underground whose unit "Zoska" was acknowledged by Yad Vashem for saving 350 Jews during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising I would like to point out that referring to a German concentration camp in occupied Poland the way you did is insensitive to the families of the millions of ethnic Poles who were killed, forced into slave labor, tortured, taken away from their families, maimed, terrorized, burned, bludgeoned, turned into soap, starved,etc. during the brutal and inhuman occupation of Poland by Germany. You should also know that the Germans, besides killing Polish children outright, forcefully removed over 200,000 blue eyed, blonde Polish children from their parents to be placed with German families. Most were never found or returned.
    The camps were in German occupied Poland and were created by German Nazis in the name of "Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles" and "Lebensraum" for Germans!

    If you MUST refer to Poland, Poles or Polish in association with these horrific places in which Poles also suffered purely because of their ethnic background then it should clearly identify the victimization of the Poles, which you did not, AND/OR clearly identify the ethnic identification of those who designed, created and ran them, namely Germans. Otherwise, you should leave Poland out of the article!

    FYI. The proper reference to the camps would be one of the following:
    - Museum/Memorial of the former GERMAN camp in PRESENT DAY Poland
    - Museum/Memorial of the former GERMAN NAZI camp in PRESENT DAY Poland
    - GERMAN camp in occupied Poland
    - GERMAN Nazi camp in occupied Poland
    - GERMAN camp in Nazi occupied Poland
    - Nazi camp in GERMAN occupied Poland
    - GERMAN Nazi camp in German occupied Poland
    - GERMANY'S Nazi camp in occupied Poland
    Stefan Komar

    1. Hello Stefan,
      I value your comment (albeit you have completely misunderstood my posts' purpose) and as I've said, I agree in general, but - again - it is not all about Poland everywhere. I understand your feelings, but what I don't understand is the persisting wish to comment on that one, very unrelated, sentence.

      Just to clarify again - this blog's purpose is miniatures wargaming. It is not historical, even less accurately historical, albeit it has some (military and other) history related posts.

      This exact post you are commenting on is titled "Trip to Balkans" for a reason. Because it shows photos that might be useful for other miniature wargamers for that exact purpose. I have barely mentioned Poland as - I believe you are aware of that - Poland is not even remotely close to Balkans. The only single connection to Poland I made was via GERMAN Nazi camp in occupied Czech Republik. If you would take time to check where Terezin is you would understand this is in no way a Museum or a memorial in present day Poland.

      As my explanations about the fate of people held in Terezin during WW2 is very brief (I have explained why I can't afford to explain every single word in this post), I can not understand why anyone would be that worked up about it - it made sense to me. Mr. Zamoyski suggested a simple change and I changed it, as I agree - my wording might be understood wrongly.
      I have no idea where are you guys all coming from, but as it clearly bothers you that much and as that information is clearly not really important to my post, I have made another change that should suffice now.

      Neither I understand the reason you had for sharing your family history. It is an inspiring story and I believe you are proud of it, but what do you want me to say? I live in Slovenia - present day Slovenia was at that time Drava region, so not even a real state. My family members were deported to Dachau as they were not sufficiently "arian looking". My other family members were conscripted in Wehrmacht to fight in the Eastern front against Soviets they saw as "Slavic brothers".
      Territory where Slovenians live and have lived was shared between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and Hungary. People were assimilated, sent out from their homes or deported to concentration camps. Slovenes were being erased from the maps and would effectively cease to exist as a nation, should this kind of action continue.
      I am very well aware of what was going on in Nazi occupied territories, so you can spare me the lessons.
      I am also reluctant to believe you got any other intention but to argue, as I think morbid competitions of "who suffered more" are very disrespectful to those that have actually lived trough those hard times. Thus, your (very sound, as I've said) pledge for me to rephrase the wording out of respect loses it's weight.

      I will admit I might have understood your wrongly and I apologize if I have, but if your sole purpose is to point out every single mistake on the internet, please be kind enough to remind people Slovenia is not in fact in Eastern Europe and Slovakia is a different country.

      I have simply assumed it is a general knowledge that concentration camps in WW2 Europe were ran by Germans in the countries they occupied. You have completely misunderstood the point of that one single statement and I can not understand why you are looking for confirmation on a blog like mine.

      This very same post is made up of very simplified information about Yugoslav wars, as I have already explained in my reply to mr. Jasno above.

      To conclude - I have rephrased the part that mentions your country and I believe this should clearly show I never had any intention of hurting anyone's feelings.