At the entrance of the city a graffiti is shouting „Welcome to Hell“. Concrete and steal dominate the cityscape. From time to time blue glazed new towers sneak in. Or neo-ottoman mosques, renovated to a state of unrecognisable conditions. Or even a statue of Bill Clinton. Little city parks shine bright like blurs of colour on the grey canvas of the city.
The architecture of the capital is dominated by a kind of urbanism that does not really seam to make sense. There is for example the Palace of Youth and Sports, an half abandoned wreckage of steal, exposed concrete and glass. Like an abstract tent it is sitting in the middle of the city with its pseudo towers being visible from almost everywhere. Quite impressive from further away it reveals it true conditions the closer you get. Smashed windows. The forecourt is covered in half weathered stone tiles. Light grey plastering, once poorly applied to cover wounds of time, is already flaking off again. With every step you have to be careful not to stumble into a pothole. In the shade of the building gather smooching young couples.
Inside it smells like sweat and urine. One part of the once grand building is nowadays a parking lot, there is a basketball hall, a fitness centre, a paintball-arena as well as a language school. In front of the steps that lead up to the building is sitting a typographical sculpture. In metal letters it forms the word “NEWBORN”. It was revealed on February 17, 2008 , the day Kosovo officially declared independence from Serbia. After years of war and fighting the birth of a new country could be celebrated. Since 2013 the artwork gets a new coat of paint at its anniversary. Once it was the flags of the countries that recognised Kosovo’s independence, then again it was painted in camouflage with pink hearts. This year its covered in clouds and barbed wire.
A wide open sky but unreachable due to insuperable boundaries. With a passport from Kosovo it is hard to escape all this. Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey can be travelled without a visa. With a visa it is possible to go to one of the 109 countries that recognise Kosovo. But who can afford that? The monthly income is at around 200€. “That is why we drink so much! To at least travel around in our fantasy,” explains Ardi. The 21 year old is studying at the University in Pristina. Just recently he quit his studies of Agricultural Economics. Maybe journalism might be better. But what then?
The glass domes of the University and National Library of Kosovo are sparkling in the midday sun. Opened in 1982 it is nowadays found on every list that states the “Most ugly buildings in the world”, from the Forbes Magazine to the Daily Mail. A steal net is nestling around the modular building, each separate element is crowned by a crystal shaped cap. Well-fortified and brutal, the library marks the centre of the university compound, like a fortress of knowledge. But one question appears: Is the steal cage meant to keep all the information, all the historical artefacts and cultural gifts inside of the building safe? Or is it meant to keep it from getting out into the world? Is it providing safety or is it a prison?
The inside gives a completely different picture. A beautiful floor mosaic in the entrance area. Exquisit stone facings on the walls, wooden desks with matching chairs in the reading rooms. Everything is covered in natural light provided by the countless domes. Inside and outside does not seem to match each other. A strange but beautiful place.
Despite all the hardship the architectural ugliness (and I do not mean that in a bad way; if you know me you are aware of my big heart for absurd architectural designs) that is present everywhere in Pristina it is a good place to stay. The capital tries to be as european as possible. That also shows in the local cuisine: in the city centre it is hard to find traditional food. Here we eat international! The vibe is lively, full of energy and drive, lots of young people and with an unexpected gourmet coffee scene, including the best macchiatos ever. But then again: Which café is meant to be the best one? „It does not make any difference, they are all good! There’s nothing else to do than becoming a barista anyway.“ says Flamur,a young architect. The unemployment rate here is at around 35%. In Germany for example it is 6%. A lot of young Kosovars desire to live in Central Europe. Many even spent a part of their childhood there. In Switzerland, Germany, Belgium. After 2008, they returned back into Kosovo. Partly because the respective governments did not grant any residence permits but also because there was a hope for a future in new Kosovo. Most of those dreams met the harsh reality “On the one hand you can get everything here with money, “ continues Ardi, “Freedom, a university degree, everything. I bought my drivers licence. Everyone here is corrupt. And that also does not help our country.” During the extant of my stay in Kosovo I had many conversations like this. But more about this later.
One evening chaos brakes loose on the streets in front of the hostel. Sirens everywhere, police, fire fighters, ambulance. It turns out: an Albanian and a Kosovan rapper hat a dispute with each other. In the middle of the busy pedestrian zone “Mother Theresa Boulevard” they had a gunfight. Three people were shot.
Meanwhile there’s the newest Star Wars on TV. Original with Albanian subtitles.
As I already said: Pristina hurts!
Some useful tipps for your stay in Pristina:
Where to stay? Hostel Han, Amazing staff, clean dorms and bathrooms, super central!
Where to eat? MIQT off Mother Teresa Boulevard. Try the meat balls!
What not to miss? The National Library is a must visit!
Anything around Pristina to visit? The old Serbian Orthodox Gracanica Monastery, a 30 minutes bus ride from the main bus station, is worth a visit if you want to grant your eyes some rest from the roughness of Pristina.