Monday, June 8, 2009

Means of transportation

Sarajevo residents were always relying on public transportation to go places in, and even outside of the city. Those who owned cars would still rather not drive them every day into downtown because of limited parking. We had buses, trolleys, trams and shuttles connecting pretty much every low and high point in town. Sarajevo was actually the first city in Europe to have a full-time (from dawn to dusk) operational electric tram line. Even commuters from the small nearby towns were using the buses on a daily basis. Sure, we had to walk few minutes to the nearest station, but it certainly could not prepare us for all the walking during the war. (picture: Sarajevo tram today)

Most small, personal vehicles were soon destroyed in the war while just sitting in the driveways. Bullets and shrapnels would make them non-drivable and often completely set them on fire. The owners didn't have money to buy gas on the black market, anyway. So these cars would usually end up as barricade piles on the streets.

Besides those armored vehicles from military and UNPROFOR, the large trucks and vans with no windows were usually the only rare vehicles on the streets. We would often catch a ride in one of these when we had to venture downtown. We'd never know what is, or was, in the back of those all closed-in cars. Sometimes when the back door opened we'd be greeted by a full crowd of people all squeezed in. There would be no seats, and no hand rails to hold onto, so everyone would just be squatting down avoiding the dirty and trashy floors, holding onto each other. The roads were absolutely horrible, full of holes from grenades and sagging asphalt from the ditches underneath, that made those rides quite uncomfortable.

Sometimes there would be more than just people transported. My mom once was carrying bags of flour to trade on the market and was picked up by a truck that had sheep in it recently. When the truck hit a big hole on the road, they all tumbled down into the mud left there by previous four-legged passengers, and the flour spilled all over them.

A skateboard was a useful tool to have in transporting heavy load, such as packages mom sometimes received from her former employer from another part of town. Rolling wheels were good, but the nature of the skateboards is to tilt sideways, so the boxes would often fall off.

In the summer of 1994, just before I returned, the trams started operating part of the route. Sarajevo is mainly situated along the river and main avenue that runs straight through the entire city, about 12 miles. The trams followed this road. After spending four weeks on the hills of Grbavica before being able to enter the city, and seeking how visible the streets of Sarajevo were from up there, I was very much surprised to see the tram running. Sure, it was a peace agreement time, but there were still sniper shootings and it only officially lasted until enough people got killed to call it war time again. The people in trams were often the target of snipers, (from the hill in the background on this picture). They would get shot while just sitting by the window. Still, people used them, as they were a sign civilization was coming back.

In the first couple of years of war, the city was full of trams that were abandoned in the middle of their route, then destroyed in artillery fighting and caught on fire. They were good barricades for people to cross the streets by running behind them. Their sight, however, and the debris around them were a horrific image of the state the city was in. So, when the streets were cleared, tracks and electrical lines fixed, and few trains patched into a drivable condition, people were excited. There were really only a handful of trams operating, and just in the middle of the day, 10-4 I think, so they were usually overflowing with passengers. A dozen people, literally, would be leaning out of every door. They all had to get off first at every stop in order to let others out.

Dobrinja has never had trams, just buses and trolleys. The first buses started operated I think in early 1996. In the October of 1996, after the reintegration of those parts of town which have previously been under aggressors occupation (including Ilidza), the tramway line Bascarsija-Ilidza, which is the longest one, has been re-established. A month later, the trolley-bus line opened from Dobrinja to downtown, which for us psychologically meant the normal life is back.


  1. Before the war in 1992 I remember Sarajevo was ranked number one in the world for literacy. I think it was that fact that astounded me so much. How could a country with the highest rate of literacy fall into such an abyss. I think it's a lesson that all countries should take note of.

    That story about your mom and the flour should be in a movie. The image that came to mind was something else.

    Take care.

  2. Yes, that is exactly how my family felt few months before the war, when there were sporadic shootings and we saw heightened activity around the military bases. We were convinced that war cannot happened in Sarajevo, especially with so many families with mixed nationalities. But it did. And in a big way.
    As for the movie - who knows, maybe one day...:)