I met with my author friend in Berlin-Neukölln to discuss her new play and to talk about work and whatever else was important in life. I was happy to see her. We hadn’t met in a while because she had been to the Netherlands and Serbia, so we had to catch up on quite a bit. We were sitting outside in a café, chatting and laughing. It was a hot day and it was nice to sit outside in the evening sun. We were speaking Serbian.
At the table behind me were some Germans. People from Berlin, drinking beer and discussing their daily business. The women were fighting over something. They were in their forties, I think. They were typical people from former West-Berlin. I don’t know, I still have trouble understanding this specific behavior, sense of humor, way to talk and everything. To me it still comes across as impolite, rude, and to be perfectly honest, nasty.
My friend had brought me proja. Proja is a Serbian type of bread made of corn flour, milk, and some other ingredients. Although it’s a typical Serbian dish, all of us former Yugoslavs know it. My mom and grandma used to make it for me sometimes when I was a kid. So my friend had made me proja to say thank you for helping her. I was moved. Because there was nothing to thank me for. I was just as happy to have met her and to have somebody to work with on new ideas. It worked both ways. But of course I was glad and couldn’t wait to eat it. It was still warm and it smelled delicious.
All of a sudden, a gypsy street musician showed up with his accordion, playing a nice tune. He was singing, too. He had a beautiful voice. He was pretty good, actually. There’s more and more gypsies from Southeast Europe coming to Berlin, a lot of them are wandering through the streets, playing music. There’s another side to it, of course. Most of the newly arrived live in stark poverty, children are being sent out to the streets and metros to beg. But there’s the music, too. I like the music.
The people behind me, however, felt disturbed by the music. They didn’t like it. They started bitching and badmouthing the man. One guy, the leader of the group, explained to the others that there were more and more people coming over from the Balkans now that the EU was growing and that it was getting worse and worse with those people.
I felt my heart beat. My friend wasn’t paying attention to what they were talking about, but she noticed I couldn’t concentrate on her anymore. I told her what the guy was saying. She shrugged it off as bad behavior and kept calm at first. I tried to relax, too. But I couldn’t. I was willing to get into a really bad fight if necessary. On the other hand, I didn’t know what to do because I felt like I couldn’t speak. I felt immobile, paralyzed.
The German group leader continued with his ranting and raving and with his nasty laugh. His laughter was what insulted me most. The hollering, constrained, ostentatious laughter of the self-righteous. He explained to his friends how disgusting the Balkans were, and how they shouldn’t eat any Balkan food because you never knew what kind of shit there really was in Ćevapčići, for example.
“Ajmo na ćevape!”, my grandfather and uncle and parents used to say, “Let’s go grab some Ćevapčići!”. I was a little kid, maybe six years old. I had spent my whole summer vacation with my family in Bosnia while my parents were working. They just came at the end of the vacation to pick me up. It was so hot and the soil was so dry that it had cracked open. The scars of the earth made a beautiful pattern and I was watching it for hours. When I couldn’t take the heat anymore, my uncle hosed me down. “Ajmo na ćevape!”, and they took me to the town, to a little diner. We sat outside at a table with a red and white checked table-cloth. And the waiter brought us Ćevapčići. They were freshly made, little hash rolls steaming out of the soft, warm, white bread. Onions there were, too.
I was close to a heart attack. I couldn’t take it anymore; I didn’t know what to do. I felt desperate. I told my friend what these other people were saying. The expression on her face. She was thinking. She was trying to calm me down. She told me to unpack the proja because she felt hungry and we had our dinner together in this café in Berlin-Neukölln and celebrated our Balkan spirit.