27 August, Serbia – ‘All Over The Place – Europe, Part 2’
This is the last few days of this filming block, and time to meet up with Johny Pitts in Belgrade airport. Visiting Belgrade was never on my radar as something I may like to do one day, and within moments of leaving the airport I had a similar sensation as I have had in many of the other countries in Eastern Europe that we’ve visited this year – wondering why I’ve never thought of coming here. It’s different enough from Western Europe to feel exciting and exotic, but similar enough not to worry about being impregnated by a botfly or something.
The most startlingly thing was the quantity of bold, crumbling Brutalist flats and towers. But enough of those later…
Crashed in our hotel on the edge of the city’ freeways and had an early night, to be greeted at breakfast with tales from the crew about the shanty towns and sorry looking refugees from Syria who are living in tents just over the road. The hotel said to avoid them on the way into town, but on the way back they walked through the camp and by all accounts it’s just a lot of very sad families with young children looking a bit lost and confused by the situation they find themselves in.
We got in our bus and headed back to the airport to spend the morning in an amazing aircraft museum that looks like some sort of giant modernist fruit bowl. It looks like some crazy project from the 1960s left to rack and ruin, but was actually completed and opened in 1989 – just in time for the collapse of Communism and the outbreak of the Yugoslav war. We filmed various pieces in and around WW1 aircraft and lots of old MIG fighters, and got to see the only Stealth bomber ever shot down (they’re very proud about that).
Drove back to the outskirts of the city for lunch and ate in what was essentially a giant shed floating on the river, then got dressed up as something resembling Annie Lennox to sing a song about Brutalist architecture. Johny and I are very pleased to be doing this, as we’re both fans of the stuff and the BBC has to be the only organisation in the world that would attempt something like this for children. We got to pose in front of all sorts of bonkers concrete structures imposing themselves on the local population which, as is often the way with this style of building, can be quite pleasant environments once you’re inside.
Blocks 61 & 62 have the potential to acquire some Trelick Tower coolness in years to come, two connected concrete towers called the Western Gate allowed us access to the 27th floor of their second derelict tower, looking out over seemingly endless blocks of flats below, and the Sava Centre let us fool around in their concert hall which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. As is the case back home, these buildings aren’t being looked after very well from the outside, and I hope enough of them are saved from city planners who grew up in the 60s and 70s hating them, not quite realising their arrogant beauty.