There are things that one does not like in advance. Nobody likes to think about themselves as prejudicial, but there is no nicer way to put it. So let me make it clear, I never liked Titograd, although I’ve never been to it. It had some kind of odium within my perception of the world that I cannot explain. Maybe because of the fact that it was the capital of the most underdeveloped republic of all (snobbish reason, I admit), maybe because it just seemed ugly while I was passing by and through it (aesthetical reasoning, dare I?) I cannot be certain, but my dislike was rather strong.
It is easy now to confess my sins, since I’ve started to fall in love with the city and several very special places in it, but most of all I fell in love with the people, because they are the icing on the cake, and it is because of them that one happens to love an abstract notion such as “city,” any city, for that matter. It is easy to say, for instance, that I love Barcelona, or Paris (again, snobbish and aesthetic). In these cities, one can feel the energy even without knowing the people, because of the beautiful architecture, or the history, or the cultural importance of past and present, all due to the colonial power of Spain or France, not only in their history, but in their cultural omnipresence, as well. In Podgorica, one has to have people filling the places to turn it into something beautiful, since the town by itself simply is not. It is kind of the Hunchback of Notre Dame – it has an ugly exterior but a divine interior. The interior of Podgorica is the people who I meet every time I go there, and the dense energy between them that one cannot but adore.
Creative power migrates. It sounds like a theory brewed over one beer too many, but I am completely positive that the most inspirational one right now, in the region of former Yugoslavia, resides in Podgorica. It was in Zagreb, at the beginning of the 2000s, but it had moved to Sarajevo in 2005, and after that it had its flashes in Belgrade, Ljubljana, Novi Sad, Rijeka, but now, whether you like it or not, it is in Podgorica. It is, without the slightest doubt, connected to the financial aspect of cultural production. The politicians in Montenegro somehow realized that culture is a very, if not the most, important factor in the preservation and consolidation of national identity. Since their state still has very young sovereignty, the need for uniqueness is strong. In that sense, the state promotes culture, and it is good while it lasts, because in the moment when they realize that they can do without it, the money will cease to flow in. But until then, the artists in Montenegro can enjoy a relative golden age of state-supported cultural production.
Because of that input of reasonable sums of money, young artist are keen on staying and working in Podgorica, and in Montenegro, in general. Writers, filmmakers, visual artists, musicians, you can meet them all in the streets and cafes of the capital. And especially in the cafe called Berlin, the greatest of them all. I’ve been to many juke joints, but Berlin is really something. It has a power of attraction that makes you want to stay there forever. It has that very rare homey character, as once you’ve come in, you don’t see any reason to leave. Nothing particular happens. The music is fine, kind of a retro rock and roll; the owner, Nešo, is a man of few words, but has the attitude of a person who is willing to do anything and everything. You can find quotations from contemporary literature on the toilet doors, written in crayon. Everything looks shabby and worn, but still it is the cafe one has to visit in Podgorica, in order to meet people, to feel the energy, or just to drink famous Deutsch coffee which is, by the way, just an ordinary cafe latte.
Podgorica has another comparative advantage in that it is rather small. According to Wikipedia, the city itself has a bit more than 150,000 citizens, but the metropolitan area is larger, with over 187,000. You can meet all the important people in just a few nights out. So the artistic scene is very tight. Sometimes it can be choking, but in all my visits, I never felt that. Quite the contrary, I felt the openness and the constant need for communication, something that often lack in that kind of small city that usually has a false sense of self-sufficiency.
If all that I said is not enough to convince you to come and visit Podgorica and have a cup of coffee or a pint in Berlin, just think of a plate full of hot “priganice” (it looks like a doughnut, but it usually comes with white cheese) that you have to have for breakfast. What else? You won’t be eating cereal, god forbid. For me, that’s plenty of motivation.