City Tales

Streets Paved with Memories
One way or another, from that hollow barrel at the source of the stream (čud bure), the name for the famous Belgrade quarter emerged. Once the periphery above Englezovac, later the center of the ”mystical bohemia”, ”guardian of the Belgrade spirit”, Čubura counted among its own Libero Markoni, Soja Jovanović, Crnjanski, Raičković, Đuza Stojiljković, Bata Stojković, Milena Dravić, and Gaga Nikolić... Legends that kept this city alive were made there. But there is no more that Čubura, it seems, nor that city. Different people and different money have arrived. The city no longer defends itself from destroyers but from overzealous builders

By: Miloš Lazić
Photo: Rade Krstinić and NR Archive

Once upon a time, the present-day Južni Bulevar was traversed by an unnamed stream whose banks were inhabited by the Gypsies. Life by the water was fertile, but when heavy rains fell, the source beneath Denkova Bašta would get muddy, and mud would flow through the streambed. Then, they devised the idea to place a wooden barrel on the spring, breaking its bottom. With their invention, which they probably called ”čud bure” (or hollow barrel), they named the stream that flowed into Mokroluški Stream near today’s highway, continuing together towards the Sava. However, that stream became crystal clear, with potable water throughout its course!
There are more legends about the origin of the name Čubura, but this one is closest to the heart.
The Gypsies believed that the mythical Aunt Bibija, a noblewoman who saved them during an epidemic in the 17th century that threatened to thin out Europe, helped them in this. In gratitude, near the stream, on the slope of Pašino Brdo, they built a makeshift temple for her. Because of her, they built an altar in the courtyard of some forgotten compatriot, and on the front side placed a picture with her likeness, similar to an icon. Since then, they have celebrated it as a holiday called Bibijaka. They also named the stream that flowed through the former Gypsy neighborhood (today’s Skadarlija) after her.
Those streams still murmur, but now through wide pipes buried deep below the city’s traffic arteries and the most famous Belgrade promenades.
And then it began: at the end of the century before last, the owner of a newly opened tavern near Vračar field, excited by Gypsy expressions of gratitude, decided to name it ”Čubura”. The entire neighborhood was later named after the tavern.


About fifteen years ago, on Sunday, October 26, 2008, a modest ceremony was held at the ”Pejton” tavern to celebrate the eightieth birthday of the poet and writer Slobodan Marković, alias Libero Markoni. There were whispers that he had died in 1990, but he had promised long ago that he would definitely come! It was known that he had been dying several times before; neighbors and friends were accustomed to his dark jokes. However, he hadn’t been around for nineteen years, so they were worried if he would manage. Would he recognize Čubura and the rest of Belgrade? Besides a few survivors, would he meet familiar faces? Would he be able to pair old names with new faces? What remained the same, and what had changed beyond recognition over these long years?
The meeting was preceded by a warning that the birthday celebration would take place at ”Pejton” provided it wasn’t leveled to the ground by then. Someone had noticed the construction site where, back in 1968, the late architect Ranko Radović built that small craft center (immediately dubbed ”Gradić Pejton”) and received the October Award of Belgrade.
Indeed, that neighborhood had been the largest construction site in the capital for decades: small houses with yards that gave charm to Čubura and part of Neimar were demolished, their residents disappeared without a trace, and expensive buildings sprouted everywhere. New and different people began to arrive at the former periphery. Living there was ”trendy”, so even today, every inch is worth gold.
But before that invasion, life in Čubura was both more beautiful and more interesting, and neighbors were as close as the closest family, regardless of the differences that marked them.
Alongside Slobodan Marković, who still leads the queue, Čubura was home to Soja Jovanović, Miloš Crnjanski, Stevan Raičković, Žika and Bata Stojković, Miodrag and Čedomir Petrović, Petar Kralj, Bobi Stojanović, Đuza Stojiljković, Buca Mirković, Muharem Pervić, Vasko Ivanović, Vasa Popović, Raša Popov, Cile Marinković, Kemal Monteno’s mother (so he occasionally passed by), Milena Dravić and Gaga Nikolić, and Nada Vukićević, who later became Mamula and the queen of sevdah through marriage... and many others who can be found in various lexicons of the city’s cultural history. And scientists and athletes... In contrast to the bistro, on the corner of Sokolska, architect Bogdan Bogdanović lived his century, who gained fame with the monument ”Stone Flower”, unveiled in 1966 near the former Jasenovac concentration camp.
Due to the operationally interesting society in Čubura’s cafes, some prominent officials of the Service also settled there, but even today, a veil of secrecy covers their names, those ”strictly confidential”.
Others either tried to reach them or remained sympathizers.
How did the former impoverished Čubura, from the cursed periphery, transform into a residential district in such a short time?


Once upon a time, in the late seventies, Slobodan Marković, in a hushed tone, suggested to the society of aging ”Kominform agents”, who regularly held their secret meetings at the connected tables of the ”Mala Vltava” (Little Vltava) bistro, to re-establish the League of Socialist Youth of Yugoslavia. If he had introduced Ćeća, Marko, and Kaponja, the infamous overseers of the independence of the second Yugoslavia, they would have been less scared. They fell silent and, without a word, leaped to their tired feet and headed towards the door. One of them gathered courage, turned around, and whispered, ”Don’t do that, Slobodan, even the walls have ears... especially in a tavern!”
He ran after them and somehow persuaded them to come back. But as soon as they sat down again, he leaned over their seated heads, with his head pointing somewhere through the cafe window, theatrically threatened: ”Don’t worry, we will settle the score with them when the communists come back to power!” This reminded them of the post-war period when Vračar was not the youngest and smallest municipality in the capital but the Fourth District.
For days, they didn’t visit, moving their meetings into secrecy. And no one could convince them that Slobodan was deadly serious, not joking! Like in 1982 when, at the same place, he suggested to some young ”recruit” to volunteer for the war for the Malvinas, or Falklands, and on the side of the Argentinians: ”I, as a lieutenant of the Red Army and a colonel of the JNA, and you as my adjutant, let’s take revenge on the English who bombed the Queen Marija Maternity Hospital in Krunska Street on Easter 1944”.
Great people frequented ”Mala Vltava”. Although most weren’t born in Belgrade, they became part of the city and its legends. Some left forever, and some, even if they wanted, could no longer visit the cozy tavern. Because that narrow and always crowded peripheral bistro, the refuge of generations of Čubura residents, closed its doors, reopening as a café-patisserie, ”Velika Vltava”, became a grocery store, and the famous ”Trandafilović” store of personal and household chemicals! When they tried to cut down the old plane tree in the ”Tranda” garden half a century ago, only Slobodan stood in their way, threatening that this crime could only be committed over his dead body, then recited his wonderful poems until they were exhausted. The plane tree was saved. Steva Stanić described it in NIN as one of Slobodan’s famous heroic deeds. The crown of that plane tree still provides shade today, but now it’s over trendy perfumes, expensive body care products, and laundry detergents.
When the builders demolished the building on the corner of Makenzijeva and Knjeginje Zorke streets, along with Rista Rumun’s pastry shop, the locals took the children for sweets to ”Pelivan”, or even to ”Medžed,” and for festive cakes, they went to Mr. Petković’s shop in Ilije Garašanina Street near Palilula Market and the former First Female, now the Fifth Belgrade Gymnasium.
This is neither the first nor the greatest loss of the singing periphery. According to the late Mr. Mile Miladinović, a Belgrader born in the old house that once stood where the new building of the municipality of Stari Grad is, along Makenzijeva Street, from Slavija to Čuburska, before the war, there were more than thirty taverns, mostly with live Gypsy music. Due to their playing, academician Mihailo Petrović often visited, noting old and forgotten songs from their repertoire, which he dedicated to his orchestra ”Suz”. Before the war, he recorded them in the studios of Radio AD, the precursor of Radio Belgrade, which, like the National Library on Kosančićev Venac, shared the fate of the archives.
At that time, Čubura was a true bohemian refuge, so the tavern ”Tabor”, near the Kalenić Market, got its name because Belgrade night owls camped there (”Poslednja šansa”, an equally famous nocturnal refuge, opened decades later).
That it was an ”Eldorado” for taverns is also witnessed by the first Association of Tavern Musicians (tavern, not pop!) founded and long dining at the corner of Čuburska and Dragačevska, today’s Patrijarha Varnave Street.


The bohemian halo of this neighborhood was precisely given by Libero Markoni with his companions, the painter Slavko Bogojević, a ”naturalized Čubura resident” and the merrymaker Vojislav Dinić, nicknamed Voja Kokoška. He was the son of a brigade general in the Yugoslav army, who was almost disgraced because Voja, then a young trainee at the non-commissioned cavalry school, sold the entire equestrian herd of the Novi Sad cavalry regiment to some horse dealers and squandered all the money on dissolute revelry, with music, good company, and curvaceous, light-fingered girls... or was that just Libero’s poetically embellished version of Voja’s life?
They would have an answer to what happened to Čubura and its sons and where its soul disappeared. Or did the answer lie in Slobodan’s somber predictions? He even recorded a verse about it because he knew better than others that poetry feeds on memories as a reminder of the future.
Perhaps the answer is in those narrow shops lined along Makenzijeva, from Katanićeva to Sokolska Street, where the last Čubura craftsmen huddle?
– They will demolish them too, and along with them, the good spirit of this quarter will irreversibly disappear – said Mrs. Ksenija Šukuljević-Marković, the poet’s widow. – My Sloba dreamed and wrote about preserving those little shops for the future as cultural and historical monuments because a Belgrade Montmartre could emerge there! But in their background, builder mastodons are already growing, insulting good taste, erasing memories, and spreading sadness.
New residents of the old periphery never dreamed of a modest brick house with a shady courtyard, with walnuts and a well: where a tree provides shade, and in the well, wine and vegetables cool... if guests arrive.
When someone thirsty for memories passes through Patrijarha Varnave Street, where the greatest poet of Čubura lived, it would be hard to recognize. Old houses are gone, replaced by villas and mansions, and the only consolation could be found in the fact that no solitary high-rise has sprung up. Not yet. But it’s under construction, there are scaffolds everywhere, and the street is congested with cars of those who have already settled in. Along Graničarska, next to Stojana Protića Street to Šumatovačka, you pass by the gloomy ruins of old buildings on whose remains new ones will grow, in harmony with the taste (and pocketbooks) of future Čubura residents.
– The new construction mafia has demolished more than all the bombings – sighed Nidža Rumeni, the owner of the antique shop in ”Pejton,” a born Čubura resident. – As someone said, woe to a peace between two wars. And there are too few of us left to resist it: no one wants to hear our plea. It’s terrible that old Belgrade is disappearing in front of us, before the eyes of Belgraders, who are largely plunged into apathy.


Urban Geography
The epicenter of Čubura was a space bordered by Čuburska, Prištinska (today Cara Nikolaja II), Kičevska (Maksima Gorkog), and Orlovića Pavla streets, woven with alleyways and a labyrinth of narrow passages. It was home to the taverns ”Čubura”, ”Struga”, and ”Kikevac”, reliable beacons in the opaque darkness of the cursed periphery. During the construction of the assembly building called ”Gradić Pejton” with the eponymous tavern, Čubura Park emerged in its place. Only one small building made of ”solid material” survived, housing the Pigeon Breeders Association until it ceased to exist when the pigeons stopped socializing with the clouds.


Entering the 20th Century on a Tram
When ”Belgrade Railways” extended its first electric tram line along Svetosavska, from Slavija towards Vračar field and beyond at the end of the previous century, the only vehicle circulating there was called ”prištevac”, named after the tavern that settled right across from the older step-sister ”Čubura”... or perhaps after Prištinska Street? Because of tram tracks, important alleys were first paved with cobblestones. The tram turned into Katanićeva, then into Makenzijeva. It would cross Novopazarska, circumvent Cara Nikolaja II through ”Kikevac”, returning to the initial (or final) station near the tavern ”Priština”. Thus, Čubura approached the city, and Čubura residents paved their way through Englezovac, stepping into the next century.


Mija Alas Collection
In the late nineties, the Cultural Center Gallery organized an exhibition of works by Slava Bogojević, a good painter and occasional Čubura resident, to mark two decades since his departure. The exhibition featured over a hundred miniatures drawn with a graphite pencil on cigarette packs. However, at the explicit request of the owner, the curious were not informed of the name or origin of the collection. A decade later, it was revealed that Miodrag Stefanović, better known as the restaurant owner Mija Alas, who ran his tavern in Makiš, between the old Obrenovac road and the Sava River bank, donated his collection to the exhibition organizers. Mija admitted that the collection was created as Slava, perennially short on cash, often paid his bar bills with paintings, usually miniatures that were created on the spot.

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