topics: Kajmak (food), shrapnel, Mostar, Mladi Most, HISTORY, Kujundz(h)iluk (Old Quarter), Pavarotti Center, Stari Most (Old Bridge); jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: April 17, 1998

Person of the Day: the gang at the Mladi Most

Our people of the day are the volunteer gang from the Mladi Most Youth Bridge Project (our Place of the Day) in Mostar: Michael, Tamiko, MC, Lukasz and Andrea. click to view a photograph It is quite an international crew, with Lukasz hailing from Poland and Andrea from Germany. The remaining three, Michael, Tamiko and MC, all call the United States (and more precisely Michigan) their home. They have a wide variety of interests, including photography, publishing, theater, drumming, art and music. They have incredible energy. And they have their hearts in the right place.

On the cold and rainy day it was, they generously welcomed us into the cozy Mladi Most setting, fed us delicious brownies and peanut butter cookies (the first that we have had in 7 months!), offered us a warm shower and a place to stay, showed us around town, introduced us to some wonderful cheese, were the inspiration behind excellent conversation... and quickly earned a spot in our hearts.

We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone click to view a photograph for all that they did for us and on such short notice. We wish them the best of luck with their program in Mostar. It is work like theirs that is going to help to heal the wounds that still exist in the area.

Place of the Day: Mladi Most

The Mladi Most (literally "Young Bridge") Youth Project in Mostar was founded in September 1994 in response to the damage and destruction, both physical and mental, that occurred there during the Yugoslavian War. As in many parts of the former Yugoslavia where ethnic cleansing (the process of forcing out or killing the minority members of any society - see also war refugees) occurred, the result is much more devastating than the disappearance of an element of society. Often a vital hole is left where a vibrant culture once thrived. Before the war, Mostar was the cultural and ethnic center of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with Muslim, Serbian and Croatian ethnic groups giving it a unique flavor. However, this mix of cultures was a recipe for disaster during the war when all three different groups fought for control of the city. To the generation of young people who witnessed this, the war killed not only their parents and friends but also their hopes and aspirations.

The Mladi Most Youth Project was created on the belief that the "return to normal existence [in Mostar] begins with the individual." By providing a setting that "allows youth to pursue their dreams without fear of judgement or persecution," the Mladi Most hopes to reunite people separated for years by a nationalistic war. Through activities - "publishing a local magazine, creating a photography exhibition or a theater performance" - the center tries to create an environment where the youths' "differences fade; a supposed enemy again becomes a coworker and a friend."

The Mladi Most center - the building into which we were welcomed upon our arrival in Mostar - is currently being repaired and refreshed by the new group of volunteers (see our People of the Day). It had been closed for a number of months during which time the mission and activities of the center were being reviewed. Wisely, the center's role in the Mostar community will continue, and, with rekindled vigor, the center will again become a focal point in the lives of many young people. We were sad to be missing the door-opening party scheduled for the following night; the celebration would mark the official reopening of the center.

The Mladi Most program is supported by the Aktion Sühnezeichen-Friedensdienste (ASF), a German non-governmental organization that establishes and supports programs (150 volunteers in 10 different countries so far), such as Mladi Most, in countries that were brutalized by Germany during the Second World War. Any one wishing to contact the people at Mladi Most (they love email) can reach them at:

ASF-Mladi Most
55 dr. Mile Budaka
88000 Mostar (via Split)
Email: and

Tech Fact of the Day: shrapnel and "sidewalk roses"

Shrapnel is created when a large piece of metal explodes into tiny pieces. Most bombs and explosive shells are designed to produce shrapnel. Depending on the size of the bomb or artillery shell, shrapnel can be lethal up to, and over, 100 meters (approximately 100 yards) from the point of detonation. Ever since the invention of bombs and artillery, 80% of the injuries caused during warfare are caused by shrapnel.

One of the strange features of the landscape we have noticed in biking and walking around Sarajevo, Mostar, and elsewhere are things called "sidewalk roses" or "street roses." click to view a photograph They are created when a mortar or artillery round explodes against the pavement. If the pavement is made of blacktop (asphalt), it is peeled and chipped away in pieces (by the exploding shrapnel) from the center in a way that forms a flower shape similar to a rose. click to view a photograph (Corinne saw something similar to this on the road leaving Dubrovnik.) They are remnants of the fighting that occurred during the Yugoslavian War and a constant reminder of how brutal and random the war was. We have seen these "roses" all over the former front lines but also in random corners of the cities.

The danger of shrapnel became even more apparent when we would look around and notice fences with thousands of tiny holes in them, or shredded street signs, or garbage containers so heavily punctured and perforated that you could see through them. Obviously, to be on the streets during an artillery attack would mean almost certain death.

Group Dispatch, April 17
photograph of Anthony

Our dispatch opens with the BikeAbout crew dragging itself out of bed and packing its bags in anticipation of an early departure. A quick peek outside reassured everyone that even though it did appear as if the spring weather they had enjoyed the day before had disappeared, at least there was no snow.

After a quick breakfast, they loaded their trusty steeds and headed out of town, stopping one more time to gaze in amazement at what was left of the Oslobod(z)enje newspaper building. click to view a photograph During the summer of 1992, this newspaper publishing skyscraper was hit again and again by inflammable shells fired from Yugoslavian and Serbian forces' positions. Day by day the building was slowly destroyed with the objective being to stop the publication of Sarajevo's newspaper of the same name. In spite of this constant onslaught, the printing presses kept running in the basement of the building and the daily production of newspapers never stopped throughout the war. It was not uncommon for the journalists who had written the articles to assist in the printing and distribution of the newspapers, often carrying them from the burning building in their own hands. Since the end of the fighting, there had been some discussion of leaving the building as it is, a monument to the brutality of the war, but now many feel that it should be razed. click to view a photograph

With one last look back at the Sarajevo skyline, it was finally time to turn back to the road.

In a word, the ride to Mostar was spectacular. Swooping descents, tough climbs, sweeping vistas click to view a photograph and many of our least favorite things (for which we were at least mentally prepared): tunnels. click to view a photograph

Ahhh tunnels. There is little that strikes fear into a biker's heart like a tunnel. Arriving at the entrance, the cyclist is soon after forced into an enclosed, dark area with all sorts of nasty wheeled creatures. Usually these beasts of the road are just cars, trucks, semis, and buses. But here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we also had to deal with Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and military jeeps. It seemed like there were dozens of tunnels, but there were really only 5 or 6. Most of them were short - 70-100 meters (76-109 yards) in length - but some of them were quite long - up to 700 long and dark meters (766 yards). One tunnel was particularly bad in that it actually had a bend in the middle that prevented any light from reaching it. Was it dark? YES! We all had our blinking rear lights on but none of us has functioning headlights anymore. We had to feel our way through the tunnel. Fortunately there was almost always a kind soul in one of the beasts of the road that would drive slowly behind us and show us the way with its headlights.

However, when we were in the light, we were awestruck by what we saw around us. Every once in a while we would stop to take in the impressive views down the magnificent and steep-walled Neretva River valley click to view a photograph or back up the valley the way we had come. click to view a photograph Snow-capped hills almost always framed our views and the Neretva River, famous for its remarkable opaque blue-green color click to view a photograph was with us all the way.

Unfortunately, the weather never improved. In fact, it only got worse. First, we battled a nasty headwind all the way down. click to view a photograph Oh yeah, and let's not forget the rain. Buckets of the stuff poured down on us. Before we were half way to Mostar, we were soaked. By the time we arrived in Mostar, we were basically biking puddles of water. At least it was not a freezing rain....

Despite the poor cycling conditions, as we pedaled, it was impossible not to notice even more devastation from the war. One of the more obvious examples was the damage to bridges. One was completely destroyed while another only had its center blown out. It was this latter bridge that was the most impressive. Army engineers had decided that the two sides of the bridge were strong enough to support vehicles so they placed a steel replacement section on top of the two halves, in essence bridging the bridge! click to view a photograph Today, members of SFOR troops guard both sides of the bridge and control traffic (the bridge repair only allows one-way traffic). But these bridges were pretty much an exception. Ethan remarked that, in general, conditions were vastly improved. Some of the bridges we crossed were brand new. When Ethan had driven to and from Sarajevo two years ago, many of these bridges had been completely demolished. So what did cars do? The bumped and lurched slowly along narrow, dirt, alternative paths that followed the contours of the land (sometimes many kilometers out of the way) and crossed at different smaller bridges. So, yes, great strides have been made in many places.

Once we arrived in Mostar, we headed immediately to the home base of the Mladi Most Youth Project Center, our Place of the Day. They had been warned about our visit by Corinne, following up on the advice of Edita from the Barcelona Club. We were thrilled when the very friendly team of volunteers - Michael, Tamiko, Lukasz, MC, and Andrea (our People of the Day) - that manages the activities of the center welcomed us with open arms (full of tasty things to eat). We changed into dry clothes, devastated their lunch platter of brownies, cookies and coffee, explained what our respective programs' goals are, and enjoyed some friendly conversation. Tamiko even volunteered to give us a guided tour of Mostar which we eagerly accepted.

A medium-sized city surrounded by fields and vineyards, Mostar has traditionally been the cultural and economic center of Herzegovina. click to view a photograph Originally founded by Turks in the 15th century at an important crossing on the Neretva River, Mostar in the 20th century was "instant" Islamic culture for the thousands of tourists that used to flock to the Dalmatian coast. This all came to an abrupt end in 1992 when a Bosnian Serb attack was commenced. It was successfully repelled after two months by the united Muslim-Croat forces defending the city. Then, in May of 1993, Croat forces in the western part of the city turned on their former allies and started a siege of the Muslim quarters along the western edge and on the east side of the Neretva River. For 10 months, the Muslim quarter was the site of random artillery attacks and sniper harassment. The Croats pushed thousands of Muslims from the west bank of Nervata and killed hundreds more. Eventually, all of the town's 16th and 17th century mosques were destroyed. And, finally in November of 1993, to the chagrin of the whole world, Mostar's most famous bridge, the Stari Most (or Old Bridge, also called the Turkish Bridge), once a symbol of unity that had spanned the Neretva River for more than 400 years, was destroyed.

Walking down a street that used to represent the front line between the warring Muslims and Croats of Mostar, the BikeAbouters were amazed by the amount of damage. click to view a photograph Artillery and shrapnel attacks (see the Tech Fact of the Day) on the buildings had reduced them to mere shells of what they had been. click to view a photograph Today, this area is inhabited by only a few brave souls who share their neighborhood with burnt out vehicles and cats. click to view a photograph

Heading into the Kujundz(h)iluk, or old quarter click to view a photograph, the group was impressed by the open cafés, restaurants and stores that signaled a return to normalcy even though just 100 meters (109 yards) away the burnt out shells of the front line were a constant reminder of the war.

Tamiko next led the group through the quaint cobblestone streets and over the Stari Most. click to view a photograph Well, actually she led them over the suspension bridge that has replaced the Stari Most. click to view a photograph The actual Stari Most, built in 1566 and arching 20 meters (66 feet) over the River Nerevta, was the last bridge standing at one point during the conflict in Mostar. For a long time it was the only way for locals to cross over from the western mostly Bosnian Croat side of town to the eastern Muslim side. (Tamiko did make it clear to us that the divisions spoken of during the war were not as clear as the international media had made them seem. For instance, the river was not the natural divider that everyone took it to be. The Muslims actually held the Kujundz(h)iluk area on the [mostly Croat] western side of the Stari Most throughout the conflict.)

The unfortunate destruction of the Stari Most symbolized the divisions that gripped Mostar both then and now. Few people today dare to traverse the bridges as they might have in the past. Fear and ignorance keep both Muslims and Croats to familiar, "safe," and basically homogenous neighborhoods; there is very little mixing of ethnic groups.

Tamiko showed us surreal paintings and postcards for sale in the shops near the bridge that pictured the bridge as it had been - a solid and majestic link between coexisting cultures. No more. Tamiko also let us in on a few secrets about the bridge and its architect. According to legend, the bridge builders of the 16th and 17th centuries had to take responsibility for their labor with their lives. This meant that when the supports were pulled away from newly built bridges, the architect/designer would stand underneath it. If it was well designed and well built, it stayed up, and there was no problem. If there was a problem, it fell... on the architect. Accordingly, the architect of the Stari Most, fearing the worst, experimented with his design by building a small-scale model first over a nearby tributary of the Neretva. It worked and this bridge still stands. click to view a photograph Despite this success, when the full-scale bridge was unveiled, the designer was nowhere to be found. He seemed to have thought that it might not work. Well it did. For more than 400 years. Until modern weapons brought it down.

Looking down from the replacement suspension bridge, it was possible to see a romantic but impressive recovery operation underway. Workers have been carefully dredging the riverbed for pieces of the bridge in the hopes of reassembling it somehow, sometime. click to view a photograph We could not help but wonder if this would help repair the divide between people as well.

Walking through the Muslim area, the BikeAbouters also noticed a sight that was all too familiar. During the fighting, just as in Sarajevo, there was only a limited ability to bury people who died during the attacks. To leave a protected area was suicidal, so burial sights were improvised. The Muslim burial area we saw had once been a beautiful city park. click to view a photograph

Returning to the Mladi Most, the BikeAbouters gathered their gear and headed for their new friends's apartment for a shower and dinner. On the way there they provisioned themselves adequately (they hoped) for the dinner feast they planned to prepare and consume. Ethan, Anthony and Tamiko started the cooking ritual while Corinne and Padraic started the cleaning ritual (not together...silly). Later, Lukasz joined them for the eating ritual. After dinner they all headed to the Pavarotti Center for a musical event.

The Pavarotti Center is a beautiful building whose construction costs were donated by Luciano Pavarotti and Bono (of U2 fame). While these famous sponsors apparently are not around very often, the building is put to very good use. Cheerfully painted, with gleaming marble, a café/restaurant (serving proper pasta dishes in honor of Luciano), recording and performance areas and a gorgeous courtyard, the center is used by the entire community.

Approaching the Pavarotti Center, one walks down a street full of destroyed buildings. But the Pavarotti Center looms like an oasis on the horizon and is a beautiful building. Concerts are held on a very frequent basis and this night was no exception. The BikeAbouters hung out with the Mladi Mosters and listened to several different groups perform including a rhythm group - led by the same guy who had led the drum session at the DIA Sarajevo Euroclub - using all sort of rhythm instruments (such as bongos, tambourines, wooden blocks and, oddly, stones), a local young man that used a computer to synthesize and play techno music, and an American bassist.

Finally the BikeAbouters surrendered to mounting exhaustion and allowed Tamiko to drive them "home" in the Mladi Most-mobile. They collapsed into bed in anticipation of their ride to Split the next morning.

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