My landing in Belgrade coincided nicely with the 2011 Belgrade Beer Fest – a five day long beer festival complete with an amusement park, a stage for live music, a ‘food island’ and about 70 domestic and foreign beers. So Saturday night, after my mother’s dinner party, my brother and I piled into a car with the sons of the Algerian ambassador to Serbia (who we were introduced to earlier in the evening) and made our way to Park Usče along the Danube river.
Anticipating a big crowd, we parked about a 5 minute walk away from the entrance and headed towards the fun. Along with several others, we walked towards the distant lights and sound, feeling somewhat empowered by the solidarity that comes with knowing you are all young, and going to the same place to share in the same experience. As we got closer and I could see the lights glaring through the trees in the woods, I felt a growing sense of optimism for the night’s potential.
In a move that is unheard of in New York, entrance into this 5 day boozing extravaganza was free! Once in, we met up with my brother’s friends and the drinking commenced. I tried several local and regional beers including a Grape Cider which was surprisingly light, and quite delicious – none of them costing over 150 RSD (Serbian dinar) which is equivalent to about $2.
Once the initial introductions were made, hands shaken and names exchanged, we sat in a circle on the ground. At this point one of my brother’s friends casually told me that 10 people had been stabbed at Beer Fest the night before by some psycho on the loose. Alarmed but assuming he had been caught, I didn’t dwell on it too much. The next day however, I found out that the stab-happy lunatic was still on the loose and had been stabbing people every day of the festival, including Saturday night before we arrived! Thankfully no one died, but I did meet someone who saw one of the stab victims bleeding out on the ground. Did I mention he witnessed all this high? Poor kid… The crazy thing is, while everyone knew about these incidents, it didn’t actually deter anyone from going to Beer Fest. Serbia is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.
Anyway, once we were considerably boozed up, we headed over to the mechanical bull where some of us tried our luck. I don’t think anyone stayed on for more than 30 seconds but it was entertaining even if it didn’t prove to be a great testament to our skills as bull riders.
I think the icing on the cake, the event that differentiated it from just another night of drinking, was the bumper cars! Until last Saturday, I was 15 the last time I had been in a bumper car. But I can’t pretend that it wasn’t just as fun (maybe funner) at the ripe old age of 22.
We concluded the night with a trip to the food vendors, where I got a traditional Serbian hamburger (pljeskavica) that I devoured with unbridled relish before returning home around 4 am. I went to bed that night with a belly full of beer and burger, and a rekindled, revisited passion for bumper cars. Oh, and no stab wounds. So, life is good!