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  • Writer's pictureMatthias

Beginner's Guide through Novi Sad

I had already heard a lot about Novi Sad long before I actually came to visit Serbia's second biggest city for the first time. Not necessarily because it's Serbia's second biggest city, but rather because I was always praising Belgrade for what I loved about it, thus unintentionally provoking certain questions from my surroundings. In fact, between the two places there is a slightly competitive vibe going on – nothing huge, nothing mean, we are not talking aversion or insults, but rather some quiet innocent rivalry.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Telling someone from Novi Sad that I am living in Belgrade might be answered with an ironic eye-roll. Or my seatmate in a Belgrade bar might passionately explain to me why he moved here from Novi Sad. One Novi Sad cab driver that was originally from Serbia's capital even once explained to me that "NS" (the official abbreviation might have German native speakers gulp uncomfortably) would be like Belgrade from 30 years ago. I am not entirely sure if I would agree with that statement, but I will dare to propose a counter-thesis: Belgrade is definitely NOT Novi Sad IN 30 years.

The shocking truth is, there are some quite striking similarities between the two cities. As mentioned before they are the two biggest ones in Serbia, and to the unaware eye of a first-time visitor they can even look similar on a rough map. Both cities have a historically significant fortress towering over the river Danube, as well as a young and creative culture scene. And in both stands (or rather sits) the exact same statue of poet Đura Jakšić (in Belgrade's Skadarska street and in Novi Sad's Dunavski park).

But getting a good impression of both cities you will quickly sense their very different personalities. For instance, the NS attitude does seem slower and a lot more relaxed than its Belgrade counterpart. And somehow my Western European gaze can't shake the feeling that Novi Sad is healthier, more ecological and even more athletical... The latter impression is not least created by the strong local cycling culture. It was in 1880 already when Novi Sad's streets saw the first bicycles. In 1886 the first cycling club was founded and from 1900 on the first bicycle lanes were created. No wonder that the population has completely implemented cycling AND cyclers into their traffic consciousness. Take this, Belgrade!

The best thing to get to know Novi Sad – in 2022 the first European Capital of Culture outside the EU – is a walk through its city center, more specifically around the town square Trg slobode (Freedom Square) that is often referred to as the place 'where everything begins and ends'. First and foremost that little surprisingly means this is where all major events and festivities take place, may it be celebrated dancing, singing or eating. And even without an official occasion people meet here, often enough right at the centered statue of lawyer and politician Svetozar Miletić. If you're not in too much of a hurry, you might wanna use the chance to make your own assumptions who the old chap is threatening so passionately with his high-raised hand. Maybe the rumors are true and it's Jaša Tomić who ultimately married Miletić's daughter and whose monument you can find not far from here at the end of Dunavska street...

Photo by Sanja Kostić

The more likely theory is that he has just left Novi Sad's city hall (Gradska kuća) right behind him, where he so often had fought for civil rights, with not a threatening, but rather a triumphant gesture. The neo-renaissance building (also known as magistrate) was constructed in 1895 – its design based on the Graz town hall – and is undeniably one of the most beautiful buildings in town. Even the opposing Name of Mary Church (Crkva imena Marijinog) cannot keep up with it, no matter how romantic its 72 m high tower shines in the evening sun. Obviously that doesn't hurt the landmark status of the sacral building simply called "the cathedral". Originally there used to be a much more inconspicuous church at this spot which (like countless other things) was destroyed during the Hungarian Revolution in 1848. Since after its only partial renovation it no longer had the appeal of the town's Catholic population an initiative for a new church was started that has now been impressing people since 1894.

If Trg slobode is where life in Novi Sad begins and ends, then the outbound Zmaj Jovina street is where everything in between happens. Formerly the town's market square and now its liveliest pedestrian zone, it's not only home to countless restaurants, bars and shops, but also to some of the most beautiful old buildings – including THE oldest, "At the White Lion" (Kod belog lava) that has even survived the Hungarian Revolution unscathed. The Zmaj Jovina is crowned by the Bishop's Palace, the residence of the bishop of the entire Bačka administrative district. The impressive mix of Byzantine, Eastern and Medieval architecture was created after the previous building had been destroyed in the revolutionary years, under guidance of Hungarian architect Ferenc Raichle (the creation, not the destruction). Right in front of it the statue of Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, the street's name giver depicts the poet life-sized on one of his usual street walks.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

The pedestrian zone as well as the old buildings continue with the Dunavska, which in the bygone days went as far as the docks on the banks of the Danube and where shops sold everything from fresh fish to jewelry. It kinda has retained that personality to this day, which is why here, like pretty much in every pedestrian zone in Serbia, the following applies: Those keen to explore experience more. In the so-called "Pasaži" (passages, duh…) you will come across backyards that are not only something special in their own right, but all keep their own secrets, from cute cafés to architectural gems – at least if you enjoy secretive little backyards as much as I do.

Nowadays the street's original part ends with the aforementioned Danube (Dunavski) Park, one of the most beautiful in all of Novi Sad. In the 19th century a marshland by the nearby Danube, it was decided in 1895 to fill the area with sand and soil, so that today's lake is the only body of water that remained. Make sure you whisper a wish into the ear of Đura Jakšić's monument in the southwest corner of the park – if you dutifully keep it to yourself, there is a good chance it will be fulfilled. Don't waste it on a good cup of coffee though! Let the close and very cute Izlet right in the park take care of that where you should definitely finish your walk.

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