Having a drink in Sarajevo

Sarajevo’s classic drink of choice is Turkish coffee. Naturally, it is called Bosnian coffee here, but the procedure of making it does not differ much from that used in Turkey and many countries of the Middle East. The basic principle is that of water being boiled in a long-stemmed, copper-plated pot called džezva before the coffee powder is added. Once the concoction has been brought to boiling point, it’s time to wait. Quite some time. Not because the coffee is too hot — it for sure is also too hot — but because the coffee grains need to sink to the ground before one can pour it into  minuscule coffee cups, usually over one or several sugar cubes, without having to chew the grainy powder while drinking the brew.

Having a drink in Sarajevo, a real drink, however, can be a much harder affair, especially these last years. Alcohol has been largely banned from many inns and eateries in the old town, mostly for religious reasons. Already in the late 1990s the restaurants in the Baščaršija did not sell beer or other alcoholic beverages, so this is nothing new. But the alcohol ban seems to have spread to other parts of town, which would indicate a more rigorous religious interpretation of Islam in Sarajevo than 20 years ago. This is also easily visible in the city when observing the flow of pedestrians, since many women choose to wear the headscarf and a lot of Arabic can be heard in the streets. Multiculturalism has always been a hallmark of Sarajevo and made it an exceptional place in south-eastern Europe. Until the civil year of the 1990s, there was a careful balance between the different faiths and identities. The war brutally brought an end to this balance. And 2018 does not appear too different from 2000: Most of Sarajevo is now Bosniac, that is Muslim, while the Bosnian Serb population of the capital city has retreated into Istok (East) Sarajevo, known to me still as Srpsko Sarajevo. The euphanism only hides very superficially that the dividing lines of the war have become permanent.

Public fountain at the Ghazi-Husrev Beg mosque, 1997 – and 20 years later, as pictured on top.

For the thirsty, there are still the public fountains in the Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s Ottoman-inspired old town. There, water spouts deliver water for citizens and tourists alike, which has not much changed since the 1990s. Perhaps people do not fill up large canisters anymore — the water supply is more or less stable now — but people still appreciate the clear waters coming direclty from the mountains surrounding the city. One can imagine many famous or notorious visitors to Sarajevo drinking from these fountains, from nobel prize winner Ivo Andric to assassin Gavrilo Princip. Perhaps one of them also came up with the myth that you will return to Sarajevo once you have drunk its waters. In my case, this was true.