by Emily Millett
Warehouses, barges, malls and mansions, you name it—if it's derelict and abandoned, Belgrade's next generation is reclaiming it and breathing new life into the Serbian capital. What better symbol of a city on the brink of rebirth than the evidence of so many run-down and unused spaces being hauled back from the precipice of disrepair by the creativity and enthusiasm of local residents. Determined to brush away the cobwebs and weave a brighter future, Belgrade is currently undergoing a major facelift—with design, culture and innovation at the forefront.
Belgrade Design District
At first you may think you're in the wrong place. Faded paint peels off crumbling walls, a precariously rickety spiral staircase leads to a long-abandoned atrium, empty dust-covered storefronts whisper of past prosperity. But looks can be deceiving; hidden away in this derelict mall in the heart of the city is Belgrade Design District: A collective of Serbia’s hottest young fashion designers who are taking over the space to showcase their talent. The reclaimed section of the building has been scrubbed up and now occupies two floors of boutiques and communal hangout areas where Belgrade’s fashionable sip coffee, paint their nails and flick through magazines. Check out Ana Ljubinkovic’s rebelliously individual collection or the minimalist chic pieces by No Brothers No Sisters.
Keeping up the spirit of collective collaboration, Mikser House was conceptualized by the creative minds behind MIKSER FESTIVAL as a platform to promote Balkan-based music, arts and design. Located in a cavernous warehouse, the place is one of a number of projects currently helping to inject a dose of urban dynamism back into the previously run-down industrial district of Savamala. The space allows exhibiting designers to sell wide ranges of products and also features a noteworthy restaurant and an indoor and outdoor bar that stays open late. Keep an eye out for the line-up of eclectic nightly music events.
If there is one thing the beautiful people of Belgrade really know well, it's nightlife. The city stays awake 24/7 and no available space or opportunity is wasted. Concerts, gigs and DJ nights have been known to happen in library basements, caves underneath churches, abandoned publishing houses and even in the walls of the ancient Kalemegdan Fortress. For a long-established example of Belgrade’s penchant for alternative space up-cycling, head to the riverside where rows of unused old barges have been reclaimed and transformed into floating bars. One of the best is Klub 20/44, named after the coordinates of the city. Covered in graffiti on the outside, the barge’s dark interior is decked out in kitsch red velvet and mirrored ceilings, while the outdoor floating summer terrace is great for checking out the city's hipper inhabitants.
One of the pioneers of the repossessed space craze, the Kulturni Centar Grad (or KCGrad for short), is located in the first reclaimed building on the railway tracks in the Savamala district. Now being used as a space for cultural exhibitions and events, KCGrad’s diverse program of monthly events includes graphic design lectures, photography shows, world music concerts and thrift fashion markets. While the building next door is so far gone it has to be held up with scaffolding, the surrounding area—with its stylish bars and graffiti-adorned walls—has a distinct air of grunge. KCGrad is open all day and is a great place to bring your laptop to work in the quiet, shaded garden.
Only just visible from the street below thanks to a trail of romantically flickering candles, Basta jazz bar and restaurant is hidden inside a dilapidated old riverside mansion next to Branko’s bridge and could be easily missed. The menu is rich, diverse and brimming with imaginative cocktail recipes—try the fresh berry mojito. And although the building itself shows signs of age—with missing bricks in the walls and slightly uneven staircases—the styling of both the restaurant and its secret garden bar smooths the wrinkles, creating an atmosphere that oozes laid-back antique charm.
Images by Sasha Ljubojevic