All across Croatia and Serbia you see these remnants of the socialist era: statues of men of steel (usually men, yes) cast in bronze or iron, standing in martial poses with their fists in the air or guns in their hands having grim, determined looks on their faces. They fascinate and at the same time repulse me. They project an image of fighting, sacrifice and conquering, always conquering yes. I resist the urge to take photos.
How different is this pleasant little town of Karlovci, where I am led by young Sara to see the sights on a chilly and rainy afternoon. The first public drinking water system, symbolized by a fountain. The first public gymnasium, other ‘first’ civilized things. Sara introduces me to the statue of Branko Radičević, one of the most famous romantic poets of Serbia. He is her hero. It is said that you have to have read his poetry before you get to the second half of your life, because only the young can understand his writing. Alass for me…
Sara will be a teacher, she tells me. What she still lacks in knowledge, she more then makes up for with her soft spoken enthousiasm. Knowledge can be taught, fire comes from within. She likes to think in unifying symbols and says that sometimes she feels that her feet don’t really touch the ground. Do I understand?, she asks. I say I do, half. A kind soul, she moves me, warms my heart. I understand her completely.
Urban myth has it that if you drink from the fountain, you will one day return to Karlovci. Many girls drink from this fountain. Boys don’t; they have maybe seen too many other symbols, a pity. I have a drink as well. We’ll see….